Headaches are extremely common, so much so that nearly everyone in the world will experience at least one during their lifetime.
In simple terms, a headache is defined as pain in the head or neck area, and symptoms vary depending on the type that is being experienced.
The two main categories of headaches are primary and secondary, also known as benign headaches and organic headaches, respectively.
Primary headaches are not due to any underlying medical condition and while they are unpleasant and often disabling, they are usually not dangerous. These include tension headaches, cluster headaches, and migraine.
Secondary headaches, on the other hand, are caused by a serious illness or injury and can range from harmless to life-threatening. Sinus headaches are an example of secondary headaches, and possible causes include brain bleeds, tumors, infections, and head injuries.
Tension headaches are by far the most common and are characterized by mild, generalized pain. These headaches can be classified as either chronic or episodic and are believed to be caused by factors such as severe stress, fatigue, poor posture, and holding the head in an improper position for an extended period of time.
Whether episodic or chronic, tension headaches often create pressure in the forehead region known as a helmet effect, since it feels like wearing a tight helmet. Other symptoms include severe tension and spasms around the eyes and upper forehead, as well as a dull gnawing pain that typically increases throughout the day.
About 90% of all headaches that people experience are episodic, which last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. As for chronic tension headaches, these are relatively rare and are often due to head and neck injuries.
Cluster headaches are experienced by less than 1% of the population and are an extremely painful type of headache in which attacks appear in ‘clusters’, or cyclically. During a cluster cycle, excruciatingly severe attacks recur anywhere from 1 to 8 times per day, and cycles can last for weeks or even months. These types of headaches are characterized by moderate to severe unilateral pain over the eye, the temple area, or the forehead and include so-called autonomic symptoms, such as redness of the eyes, sensitivity to light, a runny nose, and the secretion of tears.
Migraine headaches last 4 to 72 hours and are accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, extreme sensitivity to light and sound, visual or sensory disturbances, and tingling or numbness in the face and extremities. This type of headache may be pulsatile or lateralized and occurs in approximately 3 times as many females as males. Migraine headaches are the 6th most disabling illness in the world and significantly impact a person’s ability to perform simple everyday tasks.
Sinus headaches are caused by sinusitis, meaning an inflammation or swelling of the nasal tissue. They often show up after colds and seasonal allergies and are accompanied by fever, facial swelling, and tension in the forehead or cheekbone. A deep pressure or pain will be felt in the forehead and this pain will intensify with sharp movements, especially around the eyebrows and under the eyes. Other symptoms include a running or blocked nose, as well as feelings of fatigue. If untreated, sinus headaches can last for several days with no improvement, which is why they usually require medical attention.