Headache pain results from signals interacting between the brain, blood vessels, and surrounding nerves. During a headache, specific nerves of the blood vessels and head muscles are activated and send pain signals to the brain. It’s not clear, however, why these signals are activated in the first place.
Headaches that occur suddenly (acute-onset) are usually due to an illness, infection, cold, or fever. Other conditions that can cause an acute headache include sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), pharyngitis (inflammation or infection of the throat), or otitis (ear infection or inflammation).
Cluster headaches, which affect more men than women, are recurring headaches that occur in groups or cycles. They appear suddenly and are characterized by severe, debilitating pain on one side of the head, and are often accompanied by a watery eye and nasal congestion or a runny nose on the same side of the face.
During an attack, people often feel restless and unable to get comfortable
Overuse of painkillers for headaches can, ironically, lead to rebound headaches.
Culprits include over-the-counter medications like aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), as well as prescription drugs.
One theory is that too much medication can cause the brain to shift into an excited state, triggering more headaches. Another is that rebound headaches are a symptom of withdrawal as the level of medicine drops in the bloodstream.
Tension headaches, the most common type, feel like a constant ache or pressure around the head, especially at the temples or back of the head and neck. Not as severe as migraines, they don’t usually cause nausea or vomiting, and they rarely halt daily activities.
Over-the-counter treatments, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen are usually sufficient to treat them. Experts believe these may be caused by the contraction of neck and scalp muscles (including response to stress), and possibly changes in brain chemicals.
When a sinus becomes inflamed, often due to an infection, it can cause pain. It usually comes with a fever and can be diagnosed by symptoms or the presence of pus viewed through a fiber-optic scope.
Headaches due to sinus infection can be treated with antibiotics, as well as antihistamines or decongestants
Migraines can run in families and are diagnosed using certain criteria.
• At least five previous episodes of headaches
• Lasting between 4–72 hours
• At least two out of these four: one-sided pain, throbbing pain, moderate-to-severe pain, and pain that interferes with, is worsened by, or prohibits routine activity • At least one associated feature: nausea and/or vomiting, or, if those are not present, then sensitivity to light and sound
A migraine may be foreshadowed by aura, such as visual distortions or hand numbness. (About 15% to 20% of people with migraines experience these.)