Is it just a tension headache? Your sinuses? A migraine? Here's our handy guide on how to tell.
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The scoop: This is by far the most common type of headache, affecting as many 90 percent of people at some point in their life. It’s caused by tightness in the muscles of the scalp and the back of the neck.
Symptoms: Dull pressure or tightness in a band around the head, especially the forehead. Usually no other symptoms.
Pain: Mild to moderate
Triggers: Stress or fatigue
Treatment: OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen. Taking some time to de-stressdeep breathing, gentle yoga, napping, or meditationmight also help.
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The scoop: Often mistaken for a tension or sinus headache, a migraine is a neurological condition caused by an overreactive "switch" in the brain stem.
Symptoms: Throbbing pain; sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells; nausea and vomiting; and other symptoms. Twenty percent of sufferers have aurasymptoms such as visual disturbances that precede the onset of pain.
Pain: Moderate to severe
Triggers: Stress, hormonal changes, weather changes, some foods
Treatment: Stress relief, lifestyle changes, OTC and Rx medications
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The scoop: It's extremely uncommon; most people who think they have one actually have a migraine. "Almost half of people with migraines have runny or stuffy nose or teary eyes with their headaches," Dr. Tepper explains.
Symptoms: Pain around the nose and eyes; runny nose, often accompanied by fever.
Pain: Mild to severe
Triggers: An acute sinus infection
Treatment: OTC pain relievers and sinus meds
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The scoop: Rare, it affects 0.1 percent of the people, more commonly men. Because it tends to occur at the same time every day, doctors suspect the hypothalamusthe part of the brain that controls the body clockis involved.
Symptoms: Intense, penetrating pain behind one eye that usually starts shortly after you fall asleep. They last an hour or two but come in clusters of one or two headaches a day over several weeks.
Triggers: Alcohol. Also more common in smokers.
Treatment: Prevention can include Rx drugs, nerve blocks injected into the back of your head, and melatonin. Triptans and other medications are used to treat an attack once it's started.