Certain headaches indicate serious illness or injury and require a doctor’s attention: a sudden, crushingly painful headache; a headache accompanied by blurred vision, convulsions, confusion, numbness, or loss of consciousness; a headache with fever and stiff neck; a headache confined to an ear, eye, or one side of the head; headaches that recur with increasing frequency and severity; and those accompanied by nausea or vomiting.
Other types, although not dangerous medically, can be very painful.
Tension headaches occur when nerves are irritated by prolonged or chronic tightening of the face, scalp, and neck muscles. You can relax muscles with massage or by applying a heating pad or hot compresses to the forehead and the base of the skull; aspirin or another analgesic will relieve the pain. Try, if possible, to avoid the source of strain.
Sinus headaches are induced by swollen sinus tissues caused by infection or an allergy. Over-the-counter painkillers and decongestants will relieve the pain. If the cause is infection, an antibiotic may be needed; if it’s an allergy, an antihistamine.
Migraine headaches result from dilation of the blood vessels in the neck and head. Typically a migraine begins with sparkling lights, blurred vision, upset stomach, stuffy nose.
Migraine medication must be prescribed by a physician willing to devote considerable time to working out the type of drug and the timing and dosage that is most effective for each individual. Headache clinics, operated by many major hospitals, offer specialized services to headache sufferers. Such a clinic will probably ask that you keep a record of factors that may trigger attacks: diet (cheese, chocolate, red wine, for instance), menstrual cycle, emotional stress, environmental irritants such as cigarette smoke, perfume, glaring light, or changes in the weather.