The most common headache types are tension and migraines. Although sinus headaches are a common complaint, they are actually much less common than people think. Most headaches are tension headaches.
Tension headaches are far and away the most common. Typical tension headaches originate at the back of the head and are felt on both sides. The pain is often described as a vise-like pressure, like a band around the head. They can be disruptive, but are not usually incapacitating. To say that a tension headache is purely the result of muscular tension would be to oversimplify a complicated physiological response to stress. However, treatment does not have to be complicated. Counseling, exercise, getting adequate sleep and a healthy diet with plenty of water can all help to curb tension headaches. There are also some muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety medications and anti-inflammatory medications that can be very effective when taken properly. Usually, if the stress can be eliminated or abated, the headaches will too.
Chronic self-medicating can actually bring on headache symptoms. When a patient forms a pattern of taking headache medicine more than twice a week or in larger than prescribed doses, they may experience what is known as a rebound headache. The overuse of over-the-counter or prescription medications can begin to have the opposite effect for which it is intended, and the medication actually perpetuates headaches instead of relieving them. This type of headache is referred to as rebound because the pain subsides briefly after taking the medicine and then returns, creating a cycle of chronic headaches. Rebound headaches can be difficult to treat because the patient may have to suffer through a few headaches without medication in order for the rebound effect to subside.
Compared with tension headaches, migraines can be much more severe. Pain tends to be located on one side of the head and is usually described as throbbing or even stabbing. During a migraine, which can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days, sufferers may experience extreme sensitivity to light and sound, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
Although it is a less common symptom, some migraineurs (people who experience migraine headaches) notice an aura at the onset of the headache. Auras are often visual disturbances like blurred vision, blind spots, flashing lights or even loss of vision on one side. These usually indicate a migraine is imminent and fade away as the pain of the headache sets in.
The cause of migraines is thought to be quite complex, involving vascular restriction as well as chemical interactions in the brain, possibly linked to serotonin. As of yet, there is no hard and fast explanation as to why some people suffer from them at some times and others do not or why more women between the ages of 15-40 experience migraines than any other demographic. One theory suggests, according to the National Headache Foundation, "migraines arise from an inflammatory process resulting from an interaction between the trigeminal nerve and the blood vessels surrounding the brain."
Although there is no silver bullet answer for migraines, there are medications that can prevent them from occurring as frequently and other medications that can offer immediate relief. There are two types of medications commonly prescribed, sometimes in combination: preventive and abortive. Abortive medications are taken to stop the pain of a migraine as it occurs. For mild migraines, your doctor may suggest an abortive, over-the counter drug such as Tylenol, Advil or Aleve. For severe migraines, prescription abortive medications called triptans are migraine specific and can be dramatically effective. Imitrex is the prototype for triptans but other commonly prescribed medications include Maxalt and Frova.
Preventive medications are generally prescribed for someone who suffers from migraines in excess of two or three times a month. Some of the first line therapies for preventive care include Topomax, Depakote and Inderal.
In the relatively rare instances that a sinus headache occurs, the pain is located in the face, around the eyes, nose and cheeks and is usually the result of congestion or a sinus infection. If you are not suffering from other symptoms associated with allergies or a cold, then it is more likely that you are experiencing a tension headache or possibly a migraine.