It’s one of the most common health niggles, affecting up to 10 million people in the UK. And, in most cases, headaches are relatively harmless. If they don’t disappear on their own, an over-the-counter painkiller soon does the trick.
But for some people, the discomfort never quite goes away, and instead snowballs into a debilitating, long-term problem.
Should you be among the unlucky ones, it’s important to pinpoint which type of headache you are experiencing, as this will determine the best treatment.
Moreover, if you suffer repeated headaches, and notice other symptoms along with the head pain, it’s always best to check in with your GP.
If that still doesn’t help and your everyday life is suffering, referral to a specialist could be the best way forward.
Here, we outline the different kinds of headaches and how to manage them…
The most common type, characterised by a dull pain, tightness or pressure around your forehead.
It might feel like there is an invisible band or clamp circling your head.
These attacks can last anything from 30 minutes up to several hours, or even, in more severe cases, for several days. Some people also suffer pain and stiffness in their neck.
Emotional stress, or pressure at work, are among the most common causes, as well as poor posture, dehydration and squinting.
Painkillers such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen can be used to help relieve the pain in the short-term, but it’s important not to become too reliant on over-the-counter medications. Speak to your GP or pharmacist for advice if symptoms persist for more than a few days.
In the long-term, massage, yoga and other types of exercise can help manage the symptoms and cut down on stress.
Have you suffered intense bouts of headaches, with excruciating pain in the area around or behind your eyes?
Cluster headaches are rare but are more commonly developed among men in their 30s or 40s.
Along with a sudden, piercing pain radiating from the eye to one side of the head, they can also cause a runny nose, watery eyes, and sweating.
Cluster headaches are immensely painful and debilitating. It has never been established exactly why they occur, but they have been linked to activity in part of the brain called the hypothalamus.
If you think you may be suffering cluster headaches, book an appointment to see your GP.
Tests may be required to rule out any other conditions with similar symptoms, and help accurately diagnose the condition.
Over-the-counter painkillers aren’t effective. Your doctor or a specialist will be able to discuss with you suitable treatment strategies, such as sumatriptan injections or oxygen therapy.
Headaches can often be brought on by other medical conditions, such as sinusitis.
Your sinuses are hollow pockets inside your forehead, cheekbones and behind your nose.
When these become inflamed, often as a result of an infection, they swell and produce more mucus, which can block draining channels.
This build-up pressure can lead to sinus pain, which may be mistaken for a regular tension-type headache. Sinusitis usually clears up on its own within a few weeks but getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty water and taking painkillers can also help relieve symptoms.
Your pharmacist might also recommend decongestant sprays or drops to help unblock your nose and relieve some of the pressure.
In some cases, sinusitis can become a chronic problem, or be linked with an acute bacterial infection. If symptoms are severe or keep coming back, check in with your doctor.
Millions of people suffer migraines. Left unchecked, they can be extremely debilitating.
The first thing to know is that a migraine technically isn’t a headache. The name refers to an extremely painful collection of neurological symptoms, one of which is throbbing head pain.
The exact cause of migraines is unknown, although they’re thought to be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain.
Additional side-effects include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and increased sensitivity to light or sound.
Migraines can also come with an “aura”.
This can mean visual disturbances, or sudden, dizzy, disorientated feelings, signalling the start of an attack.
Migraines also tend to come and go on a long-term basis, with “attacks” brought on by certain triggers. It is best to see a GP if you suffer frequent or severe symptoms, particularly if they occur on more than five days per month.
While there is no cure, a number of treatments are available to help soothe symptoms and minimise attacks.
Again, over-the-counter painkillers may not prove effective, and could even cause additional headaches if taken for too long – so it’s important that the problem is properly diagnosed and managed.
During a migraine attack, many people find resting or lying in a darkened room, avoiding bright lights and screens, helps, too.
Keeping a symptoms diary is a good way to identify any foods or activities which may cause attacks.