In fall, the weather changes, the days get shorter and we all start spending more time inside–all things that can take a negative toll on our health. It’s especially common to get headaches when the weather starts to cool and while a lot of us are in the same boat, that doesn’t really seem to matter when it feels like your skull is splitting in two. There are over 150 different types of headaches out in the world–who knew?–but the good news is you’ll probably never experience a lot of them. There are five pretty common ones though that you should know the symptoms to so you can treat them (or know when to seek help).
1. Tension headaches
These are the most common type of headache and the most easily treated. They are characterized by a dull muscular pain, often originating in the forehead and travelling all the way to the back of the head and into the neck. They are often caused by tension in the muscles (hence the name) or stress.
Treatment: over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen can be effective here as well as applying heat or cold, depending on how you feel. If you find you get tension headaches a lot, look at triggers and try to avoid them. Address stress in your life, work on relaxation techniques and pay attention to your posture or positions that put strain on those head and neck muscles.
2. Cluster headaches
These headaches are far less common and far more severe. They are characterized by a quick onset of excruciating pain. They can last from fifteen minutes to a few hours, but come in batches of headaches that seem to recede, but then build up in intensity again shortly after–they come in clusters. There are other additional side effects associated with them like watery eyes and a runny nose.
Treatment: if cluster headaches are common for you, you need to see a doctor. If they’re unbearable, you can go to the hospital and they can put you on oxygen for 20 minutes which has proven to be effective. Medical options include an injection of sumatriptan, migraine prescriptions or even surgery to block the trigeminal nerve.
3. Sinus headaches
You tend to feel these in the forehead, cheekbones and/or nasal area, usually on just one side. While the headache can be painful, it’s usually just a symptom of an inflamed or infected sinus. Other symptoms you might have include stuffy ears, a swollen feeling in the head, unsightly discharge from the nose (yes, the gross goopy kind) or even a fever.
Treatment: if it’s a sinus infection, you need to see your doctor. Over-the-counter medications might help with the pain, but you need to address the cause of the headache–your sinus infection. Your doctor can prescribe a medicated nasal spray or antibiotics to ease swelling and fight the infection. You can also use an over-the-counter saline spray or a Neti pot for saline irrigation to relieve pressure and clear out your nasal passages.
4. Rebound headaches
You might start to get these if you’re prone to tension headaches. Rebound headaches are caused by long-term use of over-the-counter medications to treat headaches. After a time, your body builds up a tolerance for the medications so when you take them, the headache may recede for a few hours, but once the drugs wear off, it will come right back.
Treatment: you have to break the cycle and stop using the same pain medication. Typically doctors will tell you to gradually decrease your use of medication to treat headaches. If your pain is too severe to go without medication, a doctor may prescribe transitional therapies to help you out. Once you’re off the painkiller, it’s common for these headaches to go away.
Dun dun dun. Migraines can be scary because of their intensity and tendency to hit you out of the blue. Pain is typically centered around the eye and temple area but can spread to other areas of the face too. Migraines are usually associated with other symptoms like nausea, light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, weakness and numbness.
Treatment: first, you should learn your characteristic triggers so you can avoid them whenever possible. Caffein, alcohol, certain foods, loud noises, weather and flying can all set off a migraine. While there’s no cure for migraines, doctors can prescribe preventative medications or painkillers. Other treatments that have been successful for some people are botox, acupuncture and massage therapy. Talk to your doctor.