Headache or cephalalgia is one of the most common forms of pain encountered in your daily life. Almost everyone suffers from headaches at least once in their life. People who suffer from headaches, once in a while usually neglect it as it is considered common among the general population. However, there are people who suffer from severe forms of frustrating headaches frequently and consult many doctors over a period of time. Few among them know the exact diagnosis of their condition but most of them get confused with different diagnoses given by different doctors. 

Types of Headaches 

1. Migraine: It is the commonest cause of headache in the world. If you are suffering from recurrent attacks of moderate to severe throbbing pulsating headache which incapacitates you and is associated with nausea or vomiting, then you might be suffering from migraine. 

  • Other features of migraine include intolerance to loud sound (phonophobia), intolerance to light (photophobia), and symptoms of aura such as visual floaters (small dark dots that float across your vision) and light flashes (pinprick or spots of light seen in your field of vision). Auras are reversible symptoms of the nervous system.

  • Warning symptoms of migraine include constipation, mood changes, food cravings, increased thirst, and urination. 

  • A migraine attack usually lasts for about 4 to 72 hours.

  • A migraine attack can be triggered by stress, certain foods, or loud noises.

Treatment depends on its severity. Very frequent attacks of migraines require preventive therapy which includes painkillers such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, etc., that need to be taken daily.

If the patient is not responding well to such medicines, then migraine-specific medicines prescribed by your doctor might be necessary. 

2. Tension Headache: This type of headache is the second most common type, after migraine. It's usually less severe and does not impact routine activities. 

  • Patients usually complain of mild to moderate severity of headache which feels like a tight band around the forehead. 

  • Most often, there will not be an associated vomiting sensation. 

  • Tension headaches can occur in people of all age groups but are commonly observed in women.

  • Triggers of tension headaches include eye strain, emotional or physical stress, excessive intake of caffeine or alcohol.

Simple remedies such as staying hydrated, being stress-free, and reducing daily caffeine intake can help reduce a tension headache. Painkillers remain the mainstay of treatment and this can be taken after consultation with your doctor.

3. Cluster Headache: It is a rare form of headache which is very severe. Men are commonly affected and this headache usually come in clusters, which lasts for a few days to months. Cluster headaches are sudden and affect one side of your head and the area around your eyes.

  • Cluster headaches may be triggered by bright light, exertion, high altitudes, alcohol, and cigarette smoking.

  • It is so severe that it is known to cause depression and suicidal tendencies in some patients. 

  • It follows a unique circadian rhythm (a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle) and comes in particular months of each year. 

Treatment is by oxygen therapy and oral or injectable medications, in consultation with your doctor. 

4. Cervicogenic Headache: In this condition, headaches are associated with neck pain. 

  • Cervicogenic headache usually begins as a dull ache in the neck and radiates upward along the back of the head. The pain may also spread to the area around your eyes and ears.

  • If left untreated, a cervicogenic headache can become severe.

  • Common symptoms of cervicogenic headache include a stiff neck, pain while coughing or sneezing, light and noise sensitivity and stomach upset.

  • This headache usually occurs due to your posture while sitting or standing, especially while you are at work. Sleeping in an awkward position can also cause this headache.

Treatment of predisposing neck problems will cure the condition. Your doctor may prescribe oral medications to treat the pain.

5. Sinus Headache: It is one of the most misdiagnosed and over diagnosed headache types. It is usually a symptom of sinusitis. Inflammation or swelling of the sinus is called sinusitis (sinus infection). 

Sinuses are air-filled sacs (4 in number) present in your facial bones. They are located near your eyes, forehead, and behind your cheekbones. 

  • The pressure that you feel as a result of sinusitis can cause a headache known as a sinus headache.

  • Common symptoms include congested or stuffy nose, a runny nose, persistent cough and loss of sense of smell.

The sinus headache caused by sinus infection can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) nasal drops. If your sinus headache occurs repeatedly, you have to check with your ENT specialist for the correct diagnosis and treatment. In extreme cases, surgery might be recommended after a thorough examination.

6. External Compression Headache: Individuals usually complain of headaches triggered by the use of helmets, headphones, sometimes even spectacles, and other headgears. An external compression headache is caused by any type of headwear that puts pressure on your head. A headwear can also include tight hats, headbands, bandanas, wigs, and other artificial hair accessories.

  • There is no known preventive treatment except to avoid the offending trigger. One has to avoid using tight headgears and headphones.

Attacks of external compression headache can be treated by pain killers if required. 

7. Functional Headache: Sometimes stress and depression can cause chronic headaches. Such headaches are known as functional headaches. 

Symptoms of functional headaches are common to those of a migraine attack or cluster headaches, such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, etc. Sometimes, there is no cause found for these types of headaches. 

Consult your psychiatrist/ ENT specialist in case of repeated episodes of such headaches.

8. Medication Overuse Headache (MOH) or Rebound Headache: People who use non-prescription painkillers for undiagnosed headaches can eventually end up having a MOH. A rebound headache is caused by regular, long-term use of medication to treat headaches. 

  • Signs and symptoms of MOH may differ from person to person, depending on the type of medication overuse. Common ones include restlessness, irritability, nausea, and concentration problems.
  • MOH usually stops when you stop taking pain medication.

Treatment for MOH includes a diagnosis of your headache type and using appropriate medicines for that particular type of headache. 

To conclude, one has to be extremely careful while taking treatment for recurrent headaches. Proper diagnosis is mandatory. There are certain warning signs such as weakness in parts of your limbs,  severe or acute headache, change in speech, slurring of speech, dizziness associated with headache, etc.,  which may suggest an underlying brain pathology such as a stroke. One has to avoid self-medication with pain killers which may damage other organs. Consult a qualified Neurologist/Physician/ENT specialist for the correct diagnosis of your headache and its treatment.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.