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How to Handle the 4 Most Common Types of Headache

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The first step to squashing the pain in your head is knowing what type of headache has hit. Discover how to ID (and deal with) the four most common kinds.

Headaches can range from mildly annoying to “OMG!” And oftentimes, taking over-the-counter pain medication just doesn’t do the trick — it can even put you at risk for a chronic condition called medication overuse headache. It is imperative to limit medications for the acute attack in order to avoid the dreaded Medication Overuse Headache formerly known as rebound headache.


Migraine is more than a “regular” headache. It is a complex neurological condition in which a bad headache is one of the symptoms. They tend to run in families and are more common in women than men.

There are two most common types of migraine; Migraine with aura and migraine without aura. The most common aura is visual, followed by sensory. It is important to distinguish migraine aura from other transient neurological disturbances. The migraine aura has a slow onset, progresses over minutes, reaches a maximum in about 15 to 20 minutes after which it gradually resolves. The typical duration is 20 to 25 minutes, but it is still consider normal when it lasts up to an hour. Longer duration warrants investigation as it is consider “atypical.” 

How you know you have one: While the primary symptom is a painful, throbbing headache, migraine is associated with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, sound and smells. Untreated, symptoms can last between 4 and 72 hours. An attack lasting over 72 hours constitutes status migrainosus.

How to get rid of it: Migraines require diagnosis by a healthcare provider, so see your doctor if you experience the above symptoms. We are fortunate to have multiple tools in our armamentarium. Treatment should be tailored to each individual since not everyone responds the same way. In addition, it is important to take into consideration underlying conditions and medications that are taken for other conditions that may have potential interactions. We use neuromodulators, antihypertensives, antidepressants, monoclonal antibody therapies developed specifically for migraines, Botulinum Neurotoxin, peripheral nerve blockades. Devices also play a role, cefaly, Nerivio, Spring TMS and neurstimulation. We also use repetitive intravenous infusions to break attacks. We gave a lot to choose from. If you suffer from migraine headache there is a good chance we can help you.

Sinus Headache

Most people think sinus headaches are a symptom of sinusitis. In fact, they are often migraines that cause sinus symptoms, in addition to common migraine nuisances like throbbing pain, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.

How you know you have one
: Sinus headaches are accompanied by pressure around the eyes, cheeks and forehead, as well as stuffy nose, aching in the upper teeth and fatigue. But taking a nap for a sinus headache often only makes things worse, as pain may intensify when bending over or lying down.

How to get rid of it
: Decongestants and other sinus medications will do little to treat the sinus congestion associated with migraines. It’s important to get a diagnosis from a doctor so you can get the proper treatment, which may include preventive or rescue medication, Botox or nerve stimulation.

Tension Headache

You’d think the most common type of headache would be well-understood, but it’s not. Researchers still don’t know exactly what causes tension headaches, but they are often related to stress, fatigue, depression and anxiety.

How you know you have one: These dull, aching headaches may feel like someone has wrapped a rubber band around your head. Pain typically is felt across the forehead, on both sides of the head and in the back of the head. You may also experience tenderness in your neck and shoulders.

How to get rid of it: Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to treat the occasional tension headache. However, using aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen more than two times per week can result in rebound headaches, so don’t overdo it. Tension headaches can also be relieved with rest, hot or cold showers or placing a cool cloth on your forehead.

Cluster Headache

The “cluster” in cluster headaches refers to the frequency of episodes during a specific time of the day or a season of the year. . They typically occur around the same time of day and the same time of year, and last several weeks.

How you know you have one: Cluster headaches are often described as “excruciating.” The pain is concentrated on one side of the head and behind or around one eye. Pain peaks 5 to 10 minutes after onset and can last between 45 minutes (on average) to three hours, often accompanied by eye swelling, small pupil size, eye redness and tearing, runny nose, flushed face and sweating.

How to get rid of it: Cluster headaches require medical intervention. Treatment may include prescription medications to break, typically a pulse of steroids for a short period of time and preventive medication. These include neuromodulators, and monoclonal antibody therapy. Oxygen therapy is highly effective as well as injectable sumatriptan. However, there are other options like the External vagus nerve stimulator and autonomic blockade as well as ganglion blocks.

Get Relief from Headache Pain. You don't have to live with debilitating and chronic headaches. Schedule an appointment with an Ochsner physician today.


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