Headaches are a very common ailment. The most common kinds are tension-type headaches. The National Headache Foundation estimates 88 percent of women and 6 percent of men get tension-type headaches. They are characterized by dull, non-throbbing pain or tightness around the head.
Migraine headaches affect nearly 30 million Americans, three times more women than men. They cause severe, throbbing pain on one side of the head and are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. Many people with sinus headaches really have a type of migraine.
Cluster headaches are severe headaches centered around or behind one eye, sometimes described as being stabbed in the eye with a hot poker. Each headache lasts only a brief time (15 minutes to a few hours), but reappears at least once daily to several times a day. The headache pattern lasts several weeks, then disappears for some time. Cluster headaches are not very common and affect about one percent of people in the U.S., men more often than women.
Some people experience headaches after exposure to specific triggers. During the summer, there are many different types of headache triggers. Bright sunlight can be a big trigger, especially for people with migraines. Changes in air temperature, barometric pressure, humidity and wind may also be triggers. Noah Rosen, M.D., Neurologist/Psychiatrist with The Headache Center in Manhasset, NY, says changes in routine, like a summer vacation, can set off a headache for various reasons, like changes in caffeine consumption, sleep disruption or missing meals. Dehydration from spending too much time in the heat without adequate fluid intake and MSG in processed picnic food can trigger headaches in susceptible people. Research suggests even seasonal allergies and air pollutants can trigger headaches.
It can be tricky to track down the cause of a headache. Rosen says people who get headaches with some regularity should start a headache diary to keep track of when symptoms occur. The diary should list the symptoms, duration and severity of each episode, what kinds of treatments were used to alleviate the pain, food eaten that day, activities, time of the meals, sleep schedule, exercise schedule, weather, exposure to lights, sounds or smells, level of stress and, for women, day of the menstrual cycle. While this is a lot of information to track, Rosen says it often will provide clues about the nature of the headache and possible triggers.
If headaches are disabling, or you are unable to get adequate relief from home treatments, see a physician. Rosen says once triggers are recognized, patients can take steps to avoid triggers or take medications at the first sign of symptoms, when the headache is more likely to respond to treatment.
Research compiled and edited by Barbara J. Fister
American Headache Society, http://www.achenet.org
American Migraine Foundation, http://www.americanmigrainefoundation.org
National Headache Foundation, http://www.headaches.org
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, http://www.ninds.nih.gov