Headaches can be difficult to treat because they’re present in many situations. Congestion, allergies, and stress are common reasons for headaches and accompany other symptoms that make it easier to determine the cause. What about when the reason for your headache isn’t so apparent? Or, if your headache is a migraine, there could be any number of causes.
If you have headaches infrequently, they’re likely due to outside factors that will cease in time. But if you have headaches daily or ones that last for days at a time, your headache could be due to an underlying factor that is treatable. Figuring out your headaches is challenging but not impossible. First, identify your headache type, eliminate possible triggers, find the cause, and finally, seek treatment.
Step 1: Identify Your Headache Type
The four most common headaches are tension headaches, cluster headaches, migraines, and sinus headaches. We’ll focus on these four, but there are less common types of headaches to look into if these don’t seem to fit the bill.
A sinus headache is more easily identifiable than other types. You’ll feel pain or deep pressure on your cheekbones, forehead, behind your eyes, or on the bridge of your nose. Sinus headaches are from inflammation in your sinuses, the cavities that produce mucus to moisturize your nose. They’re behind your cheekbones, in your nose, and above your eyebrows. When you have a sinus headache, you may also have a fever, runny nose, a swollen face, and fullness in your ears. The most common causes of a sinus headache are allergies and sinus infections.
Cluster headaches are the most severe of these four headache types. They happen in groups, with each headache lasting 15 minutes to 3 hours. The entire cluster can last two weeks to three months with up to three headaches per day. You may experience remission for months or years, but they could return at any time. The pain with these headaches is so severe that people can’t be still during an attack. The pain feels like burning or piercing behind or around one eye. On the side of the head with the pain, your eyelid will droop, your pupil shrinks, your eye reddens, tears flow, and your nose starts to run or becomes congested.
Most cluster headaches happen at night shortly after you go to bed, and even though the pain is severe, the headaches themselves are non-life-threatening. The cause of cluster headaches is primarily unknown but could have something to do with an irregularity in your hypothalamus. Unlike many headaches, this type doesn’t have predictable triggers.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. These are likely tension headaches if you experience headaches from stress or a stiff back or neck. They can be mild to moderate and come when a trigger—like stress—is present and leave when the trigger is gone. These feel like a dull, aching pain or a tight band around your head.
Miagines are mysterious, and even though they’re common, they’re not well understood. Migraine pain is a severe throbbing or pulsing and preceded by an aura. The “aura” is a series of neurological symptoms that present themselves before the onset of a migraine. They’re different per person and migraine, but typically suffers have sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, visual disturbances, dizziness or vertigo, and sometimes even tingling sensations. The aura usually begins an hour before your migraine, and the pain can last hours to days.
Migraines have different triggers per person, but some common triggers include alcohol, stress, sleep patterns, hormones, weather changes, diet, dehydration, allergies, flashing lights, smells, and medication overuse. If you can figure out your triggers and avoid them, you may avert migraines altogether or significantly reduce their frequency.
Step 2: Eliminate Possible Triggers
Once you’ve narrowed down your headache type, it’s time to look at triggers. If you’re suffering from tension headaches or migraines, avoiding triggers can help you avoid headaches. An effective way to identify triggers is to keep a headache diary. Use the notes on your phone or paper to write down the date and time of your headache, what you were during just before you started feeling its effects, and other factors. Factors to look out for are menstruation, sudden weather changes, new medication usage, immense stress, neck pain, or exposure to a known allergen. After a time, you’ll begin to notice patterns in your headaches, and if you can avoid the triggers, start doing so to see if it helps. Be aware you may have more than one trigger.
Step 3: Find the Cause
If you’ve been able to identify triggers, you might be able to avoid your headaches, but the truth is that some headaches and migraines are unavoidable. Sometimes, they’re a sign of underlying conditions that, when treated, can relieve your head pain.
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is a common condition that often causes tension headaches and triggers migraines. TMJ is caused by a misaligned jaw joint due to teeth grinding, injury, and genetics.
Your temporomandibular joints it on either side of your head, just below your ears. They’re in charge of allowing your jaw to move up, down, and side to side. Without it, we couldn’t talk, eat, or laugh. Running through the jaw joint is the largest of your cranial nerves, the trigeminal nerve, which is in charge of feeling in your head and neck. When your joint is inflamed, this nerve becomes inflamed and causes tension that you feel as pain in a tension headache. Similarly, the trigeminal nerve can cause migraines through jammed signals and inflammation.
If your headaches are due to TMJ, they’ll have other symptoms, too, like a sore or painful jaw, worn teeth, jaw popping or clicking, ear ringing, and irregular jaw motion.
Step 4: Seek TMJ Treatment
If you think your headaches are from TMJ disorder, seek treatment with your Wilmington TMJ dentist. After treatment, you can live free of headaches and the other painful symptoms that TMJ causes. Call (910) 392-6060 or make an appointment online at Kuzma Advanced Dentistry today.