Headaches. They come out of the blue and we usually shrug them off, putting them down to stress or fatigue.
It’s one thing to pop some paracetamol and hope it’ll dull the unpleasant ache (after all, what can you do but hope it goes away as quickly as it materialised?), but what if you could understand why you were getting that specific type of headache?
Dr Naheed Ali offers his expertise to Metro.co.uk, telling us exactly what is causing our headaches – so we can try and prevent them in future.
He says: ‘Headaches, whether primary or secondary, can have profound impacts on daily life. Accurate identification, often based on location and accompanying symptoms, is crucial for effective intervention.
‘Prevention is pivotal, often relying on lifestyle modifications tailored to the specific type of headache.’
So, how can you tell them apart?
Headaches that present at the front of your head can be caused by a variety of factors.
Dr Ali explains: ‘You can have tension-type headaches which often arise from stress factors, persisting in dull pain throughout the head.’
Tension headaches can often feel like a tight band around the head, or across the forehead and temples.
The solution, explains Dr Ali, is to manage your stress levels through relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness and meditation.
However, if it’s an allergy or sinus headache, you’ll need a different approach.
Dr Ali says: ‘An allergy or sinus headache typically centres around the sinus regions and forehead and often linked to allergies or sinus infections.’
Monitoring and managing your allergies is the only solution for these headaches and you can get advice for this at a pharmacy.
Another type of forehead headache that many professionals may be familiar with is a caffeine-related one.
What are primary and secondary headaches?
Dr Ali highlights there are two different categories for headaches: primary and secondary.
Primary headaches are headaches that have no underlying cause and seemingly onset for no particular reason.
Secondary headaches are headaches that are caused by a pre-existing condition which causes inflammation.
There are two ways you can combat this. One, says Dr Ali, is to ‘maintain a consistent caffeine intake’, or ‘gradually reduce consumption to avoid sudden withdrawal effects’.
‘Migraines can also feature as throbbing pain in the forehead, with aversion to light and sound, nausea, and sometimes visual disturbances,’ he adds.
For migraines it’s worth keeping a diary of food and drink, as well as your sleep patterns, which will help you identify your triggers.
If that doesn’t work you should consult a doctor.
If you find yourself getting headaches in your temples, while it could be a tension headache as discussed above, it could also be one of two other culprits.
Dr Ali says that cluster headaches present themselves here.
‘A cluster headache presents as intense, piercing pain usually centred around one eye, but it can radiate to the temple.’
This type of headache is much more common in men and can be prevented by adopting a consistent sleep schedule, as Dr Ali says ‘cluster headaches have been linked to circadian rhythms’.
‘You should also limit your alcohol intake, a known trigger for cluster headaches.’
The other type of headache that can manifest in the temples is what Dr Ali refers to as an ‘ice pick headache’.
He says: ‘These are brief, sharp pains, lasting only a few seconds.’ How do you prevent them? There is no specific measures you can take but you are more likely to get them if you have migraines or cluster headaches.
Occipital headaches mean aches that manifest at the back of your head, and, again, this could be tension, but there are two other types of pain that present here.
Dr Ali says: ‘It could be a cervicogenic headache which originates from neck problems and is felt at the base of the skull.
‘It could also be a hypertension headache, which is associated with high-blood pressure and might be felt in this region.’
How do we prevent these? Dr Ali says it’s important to ensure a proper ergonomic set-up if you’re working long hours at a desk.
He says: ‘Regular neck exercises and stretches can reduce tension.
‘For cervicogenic headaches, monitor and manage blood pressure levels through diet, exercise and medication if prescribed.’
All-Over Head Pain
Lastly, we’ve all had that headache that erupts throughout our entire head, and it’s not pleasant.
The usual culprit for this is a migraine, which we are all familiar with, but Dr Ali says that widespread pain can, ironically, come from frequent use of pain medications.
‘Avoid over-reliance on over the counter pain medications to prevent this,’ he says.
Another cause could be from a recent head injury, which would be a post-traumatic headache, and these ‘can resemble tension or migraine types, affecting the entire head.’
Preventing these headaches can only be done by protecting your head during physical activities and sports, according to Dr Ali.
A note on headaches:
According to the NHS, if your headache keeps coming back or painkillers do not help them, if could be time to see a GP for further investigations.
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