A Closer Look at Headaches: Nearly Everyone Has Had One

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Nearly everyone has had a headache before. But not all headaches are the same. Head pain has many different causes and ranges from mild to severe.

June is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. It’s the perfect time to learn which headaches are minor and which may require medical care.

Common Headache Causes

Your head is full of nerves and blood vessels that are sensitive to things happening inside and outside your body. Though most minor headaches aren’t serious, they can quickly sideline your day. The most common causes of headaches include:

  • Allergies: Exposure to allergens like pollen or pet dander can trigger a headache. Changes in the weather can also make your head hurt.
  • Bright lights or noise: Many people get headaches from prolonged exposure to bright light or being in a loud environment.
  • Dehydration and hunger: Your head may hurt if you haven’t had enough water to drink or skipped a meal.
  • Foods and drinks: Food preservatives, alcohol, cheese or chocolate can cause headaches in some people. Suddenly cutting back on caffeine can also cause head pain.
  • Hormonal changes: Pregnancy, menstrual cycles and other hormonal shifts can lead to headaches.
  • Illnesses or injuries: It’s common to get a headache if you have a cold, the flu or COVID-19. Falling or bumping your head can also cause head pain.
  • Medications: Many medications can cause headaches as a side effect.
  • Sleep changes: Sleeping too long or not enough can lead to a headache.
  • Odors: Chemical fumes, cigarette smoke and perfumes can trigger a headache.
  • Stress: Any level of stress, from a bad day to a major life event, can cause a headache.

Headache vs. Migraine

A migraine isn’t just a bad headache, at least 39 million Americans live with migraine - a debilitating neurological disease that can last from hours to days. Though symptoms can vary, during a migraine attack you may have:

  • Moderate to severe head pain that can feel like throbbing, pulsating or pounding
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Strong sensitivity to light, smell or sound

Migraine Relief

Unlike regular headaches, migraines usually don’t get better with over-the-counter medications. An emergency room, urgent care, or in home provider like DispatchHealth can offer relief with a treatment informall referred to as a “migraine cocktail” which is a combinations of IV medications. If you have moderate to severe headaches once a month or more, see your provider. Together, you can determine whether you have migraines and how to prevent or treat future attacks.

When a Headache is an Emergency

Some headaches require immediate medical care. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you or your loved one has a headache with:

  • Confusion
  • Signs of stroke, such as numbness, weakness or drooping on one side of your face or body
  • Stiff neck

You should also seek emergency care if the headache:

  • Comes on suddenly and is very severe
  • Is the worst headache you’ve ever had and has no known cause
  • Prevents you from eating or drinking

Help for Headaches

If you get frequent headaches, you don’t have to just live with it. Contact your healthcare provider to find out the cause and possible treatment. You can also receive non-emergency care for headaches or migraines from DispatchHealth; we will come to you to treat non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries in the comfort of your home. Request a visit at dispatchhealth.com.

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