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Headaches, Tension, Migraine, Cluster, Sinus. Causes and Treatments

I am a wife, mother, Nana and Christian first. I graduated from UNCC with a BSN in Nursing and a minor in Psychology.

Headaches can be debillitating

Headaches can be debillitating

What is a Headache?

Our body has a central nervous system with nociceptors that are responsible for letting your brain feel good and bad sensations. The Central Nervous System is made up of the brain and spine with neurons reaching out to every part of the body. The nociceptors can become overactive and let your brain know something is bothering you. Your brain does not contain nociceptors so it is not your brain that is hurting but the muscles in your head, neck and the covering of your brain, the meninges. Often times we have this pain from a stressor be it overwork, lack of food, tension, etc

Do you grind your teeth at night? Do you have poor posture? Do you lean over your computer screen for hours on end? Even sleeping in on weekends and changing your circadian rhythm can be a problem. All these things can contribute to headaches.

Cluster Headaches and More

Types of Headaches

Types of Headaches

Headaches can ruin your day

Migraine boy

Migraine boy

Headache Triggers

A headache can ruin your day. So many people try to ignore them hoping they will go away on there own but most headaches do have a cause be it tension, thirst or just fatigue. Sometimes you may just have missed your morning coffee and the lack of caffeine can trigger a headache that either gets worse or slowly dissipates. Some people experience a headache from a bad scent, even strong perfume, or a change in humidity. Changes in hormones can cause headaches. Many women experience headaches near their menstrual cycles.

You can easily monitor these types of headaches and keep a journal to figure out what your "triggers" are.

At the onset of a headache think about what your body may be telling you. Are you hungry, thirsty or tired? Just getting a glass of water and laying down for a little while may be enough to help you recover.

Some people react very negatively to glare from the sun. That is why sunglasses are so important not just for your eyes but also to keep the glare from triggering a blinding headache. Even Ultraviolet lighting can trigger headaches.

Food can also play a role in headaches especially if you are sensitive to things like nitrites found in some lunch meat and hot dogs or tyramine an amino acid. Tyramine, an amino acid, is found in fermented foods like red wine, certain aged cheese, sauerkraut, pickles. or even fermented asian spices like miso, soy sauce and teriyaki. Watch for these possible triggers.

If you are hungry you may feel a little weak or sluggish and a little food will go a long way in helping you to feel better. A severe case of hypoglycemia can not only give you a headache but leave you shaky and faint and generally washed out for hours. Try to always start your day with some protein and carbs such as protein shake or egg and egg beaters with toast and/or fruit. This will keep you going most to the morning. I have started making a protein shake with wheat grass in it for the protein and antioxidants. I add spinach, almond milk, carrots, fruits and flax seed or coconut oil for the tummy busting factors.

If food, caffeine, rest or water don't help you can try taking an aspirin, ibuprofen or advil or acetaminophen. Aspirin, advil and aleve are all anti-inflammatories that can irritate your stomach. Be cautious about taking too much tylenol because it can cause liver problems at high dosages. Headache medicines usually have a combination of Tylenol (acetaminophen) , aspirin and caffeine as all three work together to more rapidly reduce the tension you may be feeling. You won't want to take one with caffeine late in the day. Sometimes congestion may be the cause of your pain and an antihistamine or decongestant or both may be more effective than even aspirin.

It is important to listen to your body and respond quickly as it is easier to relieve pain before it gets to an intense level when it might take hours to relieve.

Did you know even sex can trigger a headache? Remember the nociceptors? Extreme physical activity can activate them to cause pain.

Some people experience extreme headaches or migraines that actually cause them to leave work or interrupt their activities of daily living. These headaches may be associated with nausea and/or an aura telling them the headache is starting. The medical community has come a long way in treating migraines and there are now many very effective medications for them. There are side effects as with any medication.

Still moving to a darkened room and relaxing may be one of best things you can do especially if your headache is triggered by tension or extreme light, glare or noise.

Try to prevent your pain before it begins by getting enough rest and taking frequent breaks when working on tension causing activities. When using your computer look up from your screen regularly and stand up and walk around at least once an hour. Also eating and drinking when hungry or thirsty. Caring for ourselves not only is important for our own well being but also for our loved ones that may be affected by our pain. We are human and naturally become irritable when we do not feel well and sometimes take that pain out on others without meaning to.

Some people swear by a Neti pot. for sinus headaches. It is a salt water rinse for each nostril. Just follow the directions on the box and you can make you your own saline solution. Actually you could use a measuring cup as your neti pot. Mix 1/2 tsp. salt to 1 cup of water warm water and a pinch of baking soda. Lean your head sideways over the sink and allow the solution to run in one nostril and out the other. This is effective for sinus headaches and allergic rhinitis. Be cautious with decongestants. Repeated use can lead to a rebound effect that can cause even more headaches. Try to use decongestants for short periods and if you don't feel better you may be dealing with an infection or chronic sinusitis. The Neti pot can help this quite a bit.

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A good ear, nose and throat doctor will probably be able to diagnose your symptoms and start you on safe medications to keep you pain free. Even a general practitioner should be able to diagnose and treat a sinus infection. I used to get several a year but have gotten much more diligent about taking care of the cause first.

Headache Pain Relief

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches can be severe.

Tension headaches can be severe.

Eyeglass Problems

The wrong eyeglass prescription causes stress and strain on your eyes and can also cause chronic headaches. If you are straining to see or your glasses are too strong or weak they can be a source of headache. Get your eyes checked every year or at least when you notice a difference in your vision. If you see floaters or are having constant headaches it can be a sign of something more serious. Watch for headaches over one side of your head. We forget some or the common things that can cause us problems in the long run. Be sure your eye doctor or optometrist know about your headaches.. Your optometrist should be Board Certified. Don't be embarrassed to switch doctors because of a personality problems. You need to be able to discuss your health problems openly with your health care providers. Often joining AARP or even AAA can bring significant discounts for both eye appointments and eyeglasses.

Allergy Season

Dustmites can be found all over our homes, They are very small and hide in our bedding, carpets, sofas, etc.

Dustmites can be found all over our homes, They are very small and hide in our bedding, carpets, sofas, etc.

Cluster Headaches or Suicide Headaches

Cluster headaches are rare and can be disabling. People that get them are in so much pain they can not lay still or relax. They are one sided, usually around the eye and may affect the nose causing tearing and or a runny nose. They can last for 15 minutes to over 2 hours.

Some people may get as many as 8 cluster headaches a day. Because of the severity of the pain they have also been referred to as the Suicide Headache.

Scientists are not sure of the cause but because of the way it works periodically they think it has something to do with the hypothalamus and interruption in the circadian rhythm or sleep cycle of the brain.

Possible triggers can be nitroglycerin, histamine and even alcohol.

They are 3 times more common in men than women and are rare in that only 0.1 to 0.4% of the adult population suffers from cluster headaches.

Treatment for an acute cluster headache can be 100% oxygen delivered with a nasal cannula also imitrex often used for migraines. There are other medications used and also preventative medications for chronic cluster headaches. Prednisone tapers have been found to be effective

Prevention includes medications such as lithium, some antiepileptics and others.

Allergy Headaches

As we enter fall and/or spring so many people are feeling sluggish and " headachy". Often times this is caused by allergies to pollens such as ragweed, dust and/or molds found in our environment. Try to limit your time outside to days that are not quite so windy. Go out during times of the day when pollen is down and air quality is higher. Keep your furnace filters changed on a regular basis, usually monthly. Vacuum with a good vacuum maybe with a hepa filter or wear a mask or better yet ask someone without allergies to do it. Keep a dehumidifier running in damp areas. Dust often but don't just push it around with a feather duster. Try a damp microfiber cloth. Hardwood floors are actually easier on those prone to allergies if you can keep the dust down.

If you still get those terrible sinus headaches try warm compresses over your eyes or rinse your nasal passages with a Neti pot found at your local pharmacy. You may still need decongestants and allergy sprays or antihistamines. You can now get fexofenadine (Allegra) over the counter but will have to sign for Pseudoephedrine because of the amount of people using it illegally to make an illegal methamphetamine often called meth or ice. You can also get loratadine over the counter, another good antihistamine although I do better with the fexofenadine or tavist. You might want to take Benadryl at bedtime because it is so much less expensive and it can make you drowsy.

Nasacort is a good nose spray that builds up in effectiveness to help you lose your sensitivity to your allergen but you must be consistent with it's use. Oxymetazoline hydrochloride is another nasal decongestant you can try. Again over the counter.

Sometimes using honey, one teaspoon daily, grown from your area, will help your body to build up to better tolerate the allergens around you.

It is also a good idea to get allergy covers for your pillows and change your bedding often. Washing your hair after a day outside might also be necessary. Dust mites are the culprits for the allergies we get from dust so keeping them out of our sofas and beds is very important. You can find very effective pillow covers at Washing your hair after a day outside might also be necessary. If you get a headache over your sinuses that will not go away for several days especially with fever you may have an infection and usually an antibiotic is necessary such as a Z-Pack.

You can make it through this season with a few precautions . When doing lawn work also where a mask to help with not breathing the pollen. You probably will want to open your windows but be cautious and do try to avoid windy days.

Migraine Patient

Migraine Headaches can be a major cause of loss of work time

Migraine Headaches can be a major cause of loss of work time

Causes of Migraine headaches

Causes of Migraine headaches

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches are more common in women than men. They are intense and often cause intense nausea as well as severe light sensitivity, stroke like symptoms with numbness on one side of the body and are usually on one side of the head.

They are believed to be caused by a complex series of events affecting the blood vessels in the head. Doctors still are not sure of the cause or trigger but believe it is a neurological event involving the brain with increased pain sensitivity from nociceptor and the release of chemicals called neuropeptides. The neuropeptides work on the muscles near the brain. The nociceptors pick up on changes in your routine. The muscles relax causing blood vessels to dilate and more blood to flow. Doctors believe this where the "aura" of the migraine stems from. The neuropeptides also cause the blood vessels around the skull to leak causing swelling of the surrounding tissue.

Doctors now believe increased pain sensitivity, swelling blood vessels and swelling tissues are the cause of a migraine.

Migraines are underdiagnosed and affect over 12 million people. They can last from hours to months.

Migraines do run in families and if you have a parent that has migraines you have a 50% chance of developing them

Causes are some of the factors for headaches I have already discussed, ie; alcohol, fermented foods, changes in weather, light sensitivity, and also gluten and any change in routine.

Treatment for an acute Migraine is often Tylenol or Advil . Doctors now believe the ingredients in Excedrin ie; Tylenol , caffeine and aspirin can stave off a full fledged migraine. Anti-inflammatories like advil, aleve and aspirin are used. Also Imitrex is one of the first treatments as well as getting into a dark, quiet room and resting. Imitrex is actually a serotonin mimicking drug and in patients with severe nausea from migraines nasal spray application as well as injection is effective.

Preventive measures can include antidepressants, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and even botox treatment has helped until the botox wear off. With this you get the benefit of reduced wrinkles.

Possible Causes of Migraines


Cephaly Headband

Device to prevent headaches

Device to prevent headaches


A new device that has been used in Europe for years but has just been approved by the FDA. It has helped many patients that were ready to give up. It is a battery powered headband. It is worn every day. It stimulates the nerves beneath the forehead that trigger migraines. It is usually not covered by insurance. It costs about $350.

Important Medical Note

It is important to have severe recurring or unrelenting headaches checked by a physician as they are a mimic of serious conditions, including stroke, heart attack, brain tumors and meningitis.

Usually a complete family history will help a doctor rule these out but sometimes test are needed as MRI, CT or Spinal Tap.

Some Final Tips

There are some other tips for headaches which might help. Many people find that acupuncture once or twice a week can help as well as deep breathing and practicing other yoga techniques. Paying attention to our bodies can be so important. Just this can go a long way not just when in pain but also for our general health.

I have recently learned from my acupuncturist to use soothing aromatherapy on my temples such as peppermint, lavender or even tea tree oil. Experiment and find out what relaxes you the most. You can find very good aromatherapy drops at amazon or your health food store.

Massage will help reduce stress.

Try to avoid changes in your schedule that cause tension or stress.



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© 2011 Nancy McClintock


Katie on February 10, 2018:

My mom is on her third day of having cluster headaches. She gets headaches very often. She mainly gets Migraines. She’s gotten cluster headaches in the past and usually tries to sleep them away or goes to the ER to see if they can help. Does anyone have anyway of helping that will work? Please help.

athulnair from India on April 04, 2013:

It is really interesting to know the simple remedies and common reasons behind headaches. Thanks a ton for the knowledge.

Whimsical Chair on September 13, 2011:

Your article looks good. I've never had big problems with headaches. Lucky me.

Lucy Thomas from Victoria,Canada on September 02, 2011:

Good advise to act fast when you feel a headache coming on. The longer I delay the worse it will be and the longer it will take to recover.

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