Finding the Right Treatment for Your Headache or Migraine

A headache or migraine can cause mild to serious discomfort, and can have a major impact on your daily life when symptoms are severe. Both headaches and migraines can cause pressure and aching pain in your head, but each have different causes and respond to different treatments. Understanding the cause of your symptoms will help you get proper treatment and know when to seek further medical attention.

What is a headache?

A headache comes with mild to severe pain, usually on both sides of the head. They are most common in the forehead, temples, and back of the neck. There are many types of headaches. Some of the most common kinds are described below.

Tension headaches are the most common kind of headache. They are usually mild to moderate, and are felt in your head, neck, and behind your eyes. Typically triggered by stress, anxiety, or muscle strain, tension headaches can be chronic or reoccurring.

Cluster headaches are short, intense and painful headaches that reoccur every day for a period of weeks or months. Typically arising at the same time each year, they are often mistaken for allergies or stress. While the exact cause of cluster headaches is not fully understood, it is known to involve a nerve in the face, causing severe pain around one of the eyes.

Sinus headaches can happen when your sinuses become inflamed due to an infection or allergies. When your sinuses swell and produce more mucus, pressure can build up and cause pain in your forehead, cheekbones, or behind the bridge of your nose. The pain may be made worse by straining or moving your head suddenly. Sinus headaches are typically accompanied by other sinus symptoms, such as a runny nose, fever, pressure in the ears, and swelling of the face.

What is a migraine?

Compared to most headaches, migraines are moderate to severe in intensity. The pain is usually isolated to one side of the head, and may throb. Migraines can make working or doing everyday activities difficult due to the severity of the pain and the other symptoms that often accompany a migraine. These symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and/or sound, seeing spots or flashing lights, temporary blurring or loss of vision, and pain in the temples and/or behind one eye or ear.

With some migraines, a group of sensations referred to as an aura can occur 10 to 30 minutes before the main migraine symptoms begin. When experiencing an aura, you may feel less alert, have trouble thinking, see flashing lights or lines, have tingling or numbness in the hands or face, or have an altered sense of smell, taste, or touch.

Some migraines are preceded by a prodrome phase, which begins one to two days before the migraine attack. During this phase, you may experience constipation, depression, frequent yawning, irritability, stiffness in the neck, and unusual food cravings.

After the migraine attack, which can typically last from 4 to 72 hours, a postdrome phase can occur. You may feel either drained or elated for about 24 hours. You may also be confused, moody, dizzy, weak, and sensitive to light and sound.

What causes migraines?

Migraines are believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and may involve imbalances of chemicals in the brain, including the neurotransmitter, serotonin.

How are headaches and migraines treated?

Different treatments work for different kinds of headaches or migraines. At Physicians Immediate Care, a visit for head pain will include a full neurological exam and medical history to identify the type of headache you’re experiencing and ensure you get the right treatment.

Pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin can help with tension headaches and sinus headaches. (Do not give aspirin to anyone under the age of 19.) However, taking pain relievers frequently can result in rebound headaches, so consult a medical provider if your pain doesn’t respond to the medication. When a sinus headache is present, it can be helpful to use treatments that relieve pressure in the sinuses. This can include decongestants, nasal sprays, antihistamines, nasal irrigation, and using a humidifier or vaporizer.

Because cluster headaches occur so quickly, they normally don’t respond well to over-the-counter pain relievers. They can be treated with oxygen and fast-acting, injected or inhaled pain relievers. Calcium channel blockers, corticosteroids, lithium carbonate, melatonin and nerve blocking treatment can be used to help prevent cluster headaches from re-occurring.

For migraines, many medications are available to relieve pain or prevent the onset of symptoms. Your physician may recommend medication based on the frequency and intensity of your migraines, as well as several other factors. You may also be advised to avoid common migraine triggers.

Where can I get treatment for my headache or migraine?

If you are experiencing severe pain, frequent headaches, or have any concerns about your symptoms, you don’t have to wait long for an appointment. Physicians Immediate Care clinics are open extended hours every day of the week. Just walk-in or reserve a time at a clinic near you to get the fast, attentive care you deserve.