Headaches are one of the most common health complaints. They are caused by a variety of factors and can be divided into the following groups:
This is the most common type of headache. The pain may be felt in the forehead, temples, neck, or around the eyes. Doctors are uncertain about the cause of this type of headache but believe they are due to stress, sleeping or working in unusual positions, clenching jaws, grinding teeth, or chewing gum. These kinds of headaches are usually temporary and can be relieved by an over-the-counter pain reliever.
Migraine headache is a common neurological condition that occurs in about 20% of the population and in 50% of women. Migraine pain is related to activity in the brain that swells blood vessels of the scalp, causing throbbing pain, nausea, sensitivity to light, sounds, or odors, and pain that increases with movement. Migraines can run in families and can affect young children as well. It is not clear how a migraine works, but it is believed that the basic cause is an abnormality of serotonin, which is a chemical used by the brain cells. During a migraine, changes in serotonin levels cause the blood vessels in the brain to constrict. This decreases oxygen supply in the brain. In rare cases, a stroke is possible.
Certain foods like aged cheese, chocolate, red wine, and caffeine may trigger migraines. Hormonal changes during pregnancy, menopause, and menstrual periods also are associated with migraines. People with migraines often have a family history of headaches or prior histories of motion sickness.
Symptoms of migraines include nausea, sensitivity to light or sound, pounding pain, and some visual symptoms, including a blurring spot, an expanding border often described as zigzag lines or shimmering, and vision loss in only one eye. Rare symptoms include double vision or a change in pupil size.
Treatments first seek to avoid any known factors that precipitate a migraine attack, including environmental factors, medications, and food. Medications for migraines may be prescribed. If migraines are severe, medication on a regular basis may be necessary.
Cluster headaches are less common than migraines and affect more men than women. They are called cluster headaches because they come in daily bouts of 30 minutes to two hours and continue for one to two months. These bouts can occur several times a year. The pain is felt on one side of the head, is very severe, and can be accompanied by tearing or red eye on the affected side, sweating, and stuffy nose.
Eye disease is the least common cause of headaches. Headaches caused by eye disease are usually felt in the eye or brow on the side where the disease occurs. These headaches are often associated with symptoms like blurred vision, halos, and sensitivity to light. Headaches can also be caused by high blood pressure or brain tumors, although headaches caused by brain disease are rare and become dramatically worse over time.
Headaches in General
Headaches can include symptoms that may affect vision or your eyes, but they are not directly caused by eyestrain. A thorough examination by your primary physician is recommended for any chronic or recurring headache. An eye exam by an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) may be helpful in some cases.