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When Headaches Attack

YCAN - When Headaches Attack



You’re on your fifth cup of coffee and approaching your sixth hour of the company’s annual cloud-computing report. 

Then, you feel it creeping in:  the sensation that a sumo wrestler sat violently on your head, that your skull is being split open by a million nutcrackers, that your retinas are melting -- well, you get the point.

It’s The Attack of that dang dreaded headache.

How do you define a headache, you ask?

“A headache is a pain anywhere in the head, the exception is that sometimes when the pain occurs in the areas of the face, we don’t call it a headache, we call it facial pain,” said Stephen Silberstein, M.D., professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson University

According to the National Headache Foundation, one of the most common types of headaches is the tension headache, which can be chronic or episodic.  In particular, the occurrence of a chronic headache is day in and day out, and over-the-counter medication typically does not provide relief.

On the other hand, symptoms of episodic pains include pressure and tightness around the head and neck, and the occurrence of them are sporadic.  “Episodic is a headache that comes and goes,” Dr. Silberstein explained. 

Some other types of headaches, as detailed by the foundation, include the following:

  • Migraine:  defined as a constant throbbing near the temples, oftentimes combined with nausea, vomiting as well as visual and auditory sensitivity.
  • Sinus:  generally a result of inflamed nasal passages or infection, which can be treated with medication.
  • Cluster:  an attack of headaches that occur in groups, typically localizing on one side of the head.  Symptoms may include tearing, a runny nose, or blood shot eyes and can be expressive as one of the most painful types of headaches.  Prescription medication and oxygen are generally the recommended treatment.
  • Rebound:  over-use of medication can lead from one headache to another.  If a headache-relief medicine contains caffeine, for instance, the effects of the stimulant can then trigger a successive headache.
  • Organic:  caused by an abnormality in the skull or brain.  Typically the result of a tumor, aneurysm, brain infection, meningitis or cerebral hemorrhage.

Dr. Silberstein explains that deciphering among headaches is crucial, so that you’re better able to treat it faster and more effectively.  For instance, the symptoms between a sinus headache and a migraine are different, requiring specific treatment of each. 

“If you have a sinus headache, you have puss coming out of your nose and you’re sick as heck,” said Dr. Silberstein, “with a sinus headache, the treatment is antibiotics.”

On the contrary, rest and relaxation are general methods for alleviating the symptoms associated with migraines.

Dr. Silberstein also points out that the most common triggers for headaches include getting too much or too little sleep, eating certain foods like MSG (monosodium glutamate), getting bopped in the head, being exposed to bright lights or certain odors, experiencing stress, as well as drinking excessive amounts of caffeinated beverages.

If headaches are routine, record possible triggers like amount of sleep and dietary habits in a diary.   That way, you’ll be able to collate data and thereby observe any trends over time.  You’ll then know which factors to omit from your lifestyle in an attempt to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.

To prevent the onset of a headache, Dr. Silberstein advises that patients establish a regular bedtime routine, eat well-balanced meals according to a similar, daily schedule as well as exercise on a frequent basis.  Additionally, the practice of therapy techniques like biofeedback and relaxation are effective preventative measures.

Should the pains of a headache come on suddenly and worsen, or if the headache is combined with weakness and the inability to walk and talk, seek immediate medical attention.  Likewise, if you experience a brand new headache that you’ve never had before, call up your physician.

And, as a final note to all of you headache sufferers, know that the constant presence of headaches isn’t normal and that relief is achievable.

“Headaches can be disabling,” concluded Dr. Silberstein, “there’s no reason to suffer from headaches.”

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