Headaches – everyone has experienced one at some point in their lives. Up to 15% of Australians are taking pain relief medication for a headache at any given time (Betterhealth, 2017). They can vary in intensity, from a dull niggling to a strong, thumping and debilitating pain in the head, face or neck. There are two kinds of headaches – primary ones, which just pop up and are not related to any other illness or injury, and secondary, which are caused by an underlying health problem.
Primary headaches tend to be more common. Some examples include cluster headaches, migraines, and tension headaches. These are often caused by eye strain, stress, bad posture, lack of sleep, or dehydration.
Lack of fluids and electrolytes causes dehydration, which is one of the most frequent reasons you’ll find yourself experiencing a headache. It’s easy to become dehydrated in an Australian summer – working outdoors or exercising in hot weather leads to excessive sweating, causing you to become dehydrated quickly.
Drinking beverages which contain caffeine also cause dehydration as they make you urinate more often. So often, just reaching for a glass of water, or even better, an oral rehydration solution which also replaces electrolytes, before taking your headache tablets will relieve headache symptoms being caused by dehydration.
Migraines tend to cause severe throbbing pain, typically on one side of the head, and may also cause symptoms such as nausea, and sensitivity to light, sound, smell and touch. They can last anywhere from four hours to three days and are usually associated with a spasm of the blood vessels leading to the brain. You should get your doctor to assess your migraine, so they can provide an appropriate preventative plan as well as adequate pain management, as standard over the counter pain relievers may not provide sufficient relief of migraine pain.
The precise causes of migraines have not been identified, but people may find that particular foods or drinks can trigger them. Other triggers can be emotional (stress, excitement), sleep (too much, or not enough) or physiochemical (excessive heat, noise, light, or exposure to certain chemicals).
Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying illness, such as a head injury or concussion, or a side effect of some medications. In women, headaches can be triggered by fluctuations in their hormones and may find they get headaches when their period is due, or when they commence taking the oral contraceptive pill.
People often get headaches when they are unwell. For example, if they have the flu or a cold, sinusitis or allergic reactions, a headache is a common symptom to experience.
It is important to note that many illnesses can cause headaches. Talk to your health professional if you are experiencing frequent headaches, or if you are finding that over the counter pain medicines such as paracetamol, aspirin, or ibuprofen are not treating the pain adequately, or if the pain is severe enough to prevent you from working or sleeping.