YOU Magazine - November 2008 - What a Headache! A Laymanís Guide to the Three Most Common Offenders
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Lyn Bankowski     Lyn Bankowski
AVP/SR. Mortgage Loan Originator
Alaska USA Mortgage Company
Phone: 360-679-5633 / 360-969-5550
Fax: 360-279-1198
License: NMLS#304060 / CL-157293
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What a Headache!
A Laymanís Guide to the Three Most Common Offenders

What a Headache! - A Laymanís Guide to the Three Most Common Offenders

According to recent statistics from the National Headache Foundation, there are over 45 million Americans who suffer from chronic headaches. If you fall into this category you are surely familiar with the pain, as well as the other symptoms that accompany a headache. The question is, do you know what to do about it?

Headaches, known in the medical world as cephalalgia, are defined as a condition of pain in the head, and sometimes the neck and upper back. They happen to be one of the most common complaints in terms of localized pain. While the vast majority of headaches are relatively harmless, in rare situations they can be a symptom of a serious, life-threatening illness. In other words, a formal diagnosis by a medical doctor is always a good idea.

In an attempt to shed light on the subject, we've taken the three most common types of headaches and broken them down. We will tell you about their symptoms, their causes, and most importantly, some potential methods for relief.

Sinus Headaches
Characterized by an intense and constant pain in the nose, cheekbones, and/or forehead, sinus headaches are known to intensify with sudden head movements, or excessive straining of the face or head. These symptoms occur when the sinuses (the air-filled cavities located behind the nose and cheekbones) become inflamed, either due to an allergy or infection, and prevent the natural flow of mucous.

Other symptoms associated with a sinus headache include nasal discharge, plugged ears, fever, and swelling of the face. In order to officially attribute the sinuses as the cause of your headache, you need a physical examination from a doctor. In severe cases, an MRI or a CT scan may also be needed.

When it comes to treating sinus headaches the approach is usually two-fold. Both the symptoms and the cause of the headache require separate attention. If an infection is present, antibiotics are often prescribed. In the case of sinus headaches caused by an allergy, preventive allergy therapy is many times the answer.

Antihistamines such as Benadryl®, a decongestant like Sudafed®, a steroid nasal spray (to reduce inflammation), or even a vasoconstrictor (to reduce nasal congestion specifically) may be prescribed in order to help alleviate the build up of mucous. The headache itself is usually treated with various levels of pain relievers depending on the severity.

Sinus headaches can also be treated homeopathically, with acupuncture, chiropractics and Chinese herbs leading the charge. If doing so, however, please consult the help of a qualified expert in conjunction with your doctor's advice.

As far as home remedies are concerned, there are several. The two easiest remedies would be a cold compress over the area of the face that hurts, and taking a nap in a dark room. Other home remedies include inhaling steam laced with peppermint or eucalyptus oil and eating a raw jalapeño chili. Both methods have been known to drain sinuses and alleviate pressure.

Tension Headaches
Also known as stress headaches, they are the most common type of headache among adults and teenagers. Tension headaches are divided into two categories, episodic and chronic. Episodic tension headaches strike a sufferer less than 15 times a month and are characterized by a band of pressure, either around the forehead, or the back of the head and neck. They tend to come on gradually, and can last anywhere from 30 minutes up to several days.

Chronic tension headaches occur more than 15 times a month and have a tendency to be sporadic. A throbbing pain can be experienced either on the top or the sides of the head. While the intensity of these headaches will vary, their severity has a tendency to increase with frequency. Both episodic and chronic tension headaches are more common among women than men.

Unlike other types, tension headaches are not passed on genetically. The general cause for a tension headache is a tightening of the muscles located in the back part of the neck and scalp, brought on by any number of issues. Some of the issues include poor posture, lack of sleep, stress, depression, anxiety and overexertion.

Symptoms as the result of tension headaches can also vary. They can include everything from fatigue and sleep disorders, to irritability, lack of focus and sensitivity to light. In terms of treating your tension headache most doctors will prescribe either an over-the-counter or prescription strength pain reliever, a muscle relaxant, and in some cases an antidepressant.

While the aforementioned treatments can offer relief and may even prevent a headache from occurring in the first place, it's a good idea to also look into a holistic approach to treatment. The main reason is that over time many medications can lose their effectiveness, or even have side effects. In addition, many of the issues that cause tension headaches can be greatly alleviated through lifestyle changes. Exercises such as yoga and tai chi, relaxation and stress management training, and biofeedback have all been shown to reduce tension headaches.

Beginning as a dull ache, a migraine headache usually transforms into a sharper, more throbbing pain. The causes of migraines are not certain, although most doctors believe they are related to blood vessel contractions, as well as other abnormalities within the brain. The pain of a migraine can range in severity, and can last anywhere from 4 hours to several days.

Other symptoms associated with migraines are sensitivity to light, noise, and odor. Also making the list are paleness, fatigue, dizziness, blurry vision, fever, loss of appetite, as well as several gastrointestinal issues.

While it's reported that over 28-million Americans suffer from migraines, the majority are women. Studies also show that 4 out of 5 migraine sufferers have a history of it within their family.

Physiological changes may cause migraines, but it seems the changes are largely brought on by external factors. Depending on the sufferer, the trigger will be different. For some people, the chemicals released in the brain during a stressful situation are enough to cause the vascular changes associated with migraines. For other people, chemicals in food such as MSG and nitrates will do the trick.

Other potential triggers include either a lack of caffeine or the excessive intake of it, fatigue, skipped meals, changes in sleep patterns, changes in weather, and menstruation. It's also important to know that migraines may be the effect of other conditions such as asthma, hypertension, stroke, sleep disorders, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

There are several types of migraines, many of them having a signal (known as an aura) that represents the onset of the headache. The symptoms usually occur about an hour or so before the migraine and can last for 15 to 60 minutes. For many people the auras are visual. Patients complain about distorted vision, loss of vision, blind spots or bright flashing dots. Other auras include temporary paralysis, numbness, ringing in the ears, dizziness, and a change in smell, taste, and touch.

If any of this sounds familiar, it is very important to see your doctor. Depending on the type of migraine, your doctor may prescribe either an over-the-counter or prescription pain reliever. In conjunction, he or she may also prescribe either an abortive medication (taken at the first sign of a migraine) or a preventive medication (taken daily in order to reduce the number and severity of attacks).

Our best suggestion for treating your migraine is to start a journal. Anytime a migraine headache is experienced, write down everything you ate and when you ate it. You should also make note of your mental state and stress level prior to the onset. Finding a pattern to your migraine will not only help your doctor to diagnose and treat it, but it will also help you avoid them altogether.

We'd like to reiterate that if you are having frequent headaches, it is imperative that you see your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment, as they may be the sign of a more severe illness. It's important to remember that a proactive approach is always the best choice when dealing with your health.

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