On the surface, the term “Headache Awareness Week” seems redundant. Usually, when we have a headache, we’re quite aware of the fact. Like most people, I only experience a headache now and then. I don’t like to call them “mild” because no headache ever feels mild to the sufferer.
On the other hand, some headaches are more painful than others. There was a time in my life that I’d regularly experience very excruciating head pain. Sometimes my head hurt so much that the strongest pills didn’t help. I’d have to call in sick from work because the pain was so overwhelming.
My physician prescribed a diagnosis at a sleep laboratory because my headaches always came on during my daily sleep. (I worked the graveyard shift, so sleep was during the daytime.) The doctors informed me that I had sleep apnea. A CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure device soon became my bedside companion. The extreme headaches vanished.
Headaches are a common plague to humanity. Most of the time, we get a common headache and swallow some over the counter medicine then the pain goes away. Still, we need to know when a headache is more than just a “regular” headache and its something more serious. This week has been National Headache Awareness Week. The National Headache Foundation started the week as a way to bring attention to the various types of headaches and what health problems they might indicate.
If you have unusual or are beginning to experience “splitting” headaches on a regular basis, it’s best to consult with your physician. Thankfully, I did this in time and avoided developing any serious complications from obstructive sleep apnea. Unusual headaches might mean apnea or some other serious condition.
The National Headache Foundation lists several types of headaches. Tension-type headaches may be episodic, frequent, or chronic. If we get these several times per month, we need to see a doctor so as to avoid overuse of OTC drugs.
A special, infamous category is migraine. These are the very severe throbbing headaches sometimes accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound. At times migrains include nausea. Migraine sufferers sometimes experience visual phenomenon like light flashes, shimmering, and blind spots. The sensations are called “aura”. The aura often preceeds the severe headache. If you have migraines, you’re probably already under a doctor’s care. More women than men suffer from migraines.
The least common headaches are called “cluster headaches”. The pain appears in time periods that last several weeks or months, then spontaneously disappear for months, or even years, then recur. Sufferers of cluster headaches get from one to four headaches per day during the episodes. The cause of cluster headaches is unknown. More men experience them.
There are other headaches that are associated with allergies and chemical sensitivities. Medical diagnosis can determine if this is the case. A clinic can determine which substances may be the cause of this type of headache.
The type of headache we should worry about is one called the “thunderclap” headache. It’s the one that appears very suddenly and feels like the worst headache a human can suffer.
Because there’s no way for the sufferer to know whether the sudden extreme headache indicates a serious problem or not, an immediate doctor visit is necessary. Although most thunderclap headaches do not indicate a life-threatening problem, your doctor will need to determine whether further measures are needed. Vascular or blood vessel disorders, brain aneurysm, or stroke could be the cause.
Sufferers of common, garden variety headaches can avoid many of them by paying attention to what causes their headaches.
Sometimes, drinking enough water solves the problem. Dehydration can cause many bodily issues, including headache.
Lifestyle and substance choices make a big difference. Reducing or eliminating alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine can help. The same goes for consumption of junk food. Processed
foods that are high in sugar, sodium, and saturated fats can contribute to headaches and other health problems. Avoid taking OTC pain medicine too often. The “rebound effect” can actually cause more headaches. See your doctor for help with these issues.
Take a time out to let go or have a short meditation session.
If you have a partner, some cuddling and physical touch can reduce or prevent headaches. Although having sex may not be an option for everyone, making love lowers the stress hormones and increases the natural endorphins.