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What Is It?

Headache is one of our most common health complaints. The multimillion dollar sales of over-the-counter pain relievers is proof of how many people suffer from headaches.

Most people know headaches are not usually serious and are often triggered by such factors as stress, fatigue, food-stuffs or alcohol.

Most people also believe that many headaches are caused by improper eyeglasses causing eyestrain. This is not true; eyestrain and vision problems are not major causes of headaches.


What Causes Most Headaches?

Almost all headaches can be divided into the following groups:

Tension-type headaches
Tension-type headaches (formerly called muscle contraction headaches) are by far the most common type. The pain was generally believed to come from the pulling of muscles in the neck and at the base of the head, but this simple explanation is probably not correct. Headache specialists admit they are uncertain of the cause of this common but not serious headache. The pain may also be felt in the neck and this led to the belief that sustained contraction of the neck muscles gave rise to the head pain.

Tension-type headaches can result from temporary increases in tension in everyday life, such as stress at work or at home. They may be a result of sleeping or working in a strange position, a long period of close work, jaw clenching, grinding of the teeth during sleep or excessive gum chewing.

Headaches of this type are usually temporary and often relieved by a simple over-the-counter pain reliever. However, taking pain relievers on a daily basis can make the headaches worse.

Migraine is a common type of headache. The pain of migraine is related to a reaction in the blood vessels of the scalp and covering layer of the brain, but the actual cause of migraine is not yet known.

About one person in ten suffers from migraine. Some people seem to have a tendency to have migraine headaches, and migraine headaches can run in families. Even young children may have migraine.

Migraine can produce different symptoms in different people. Migraine can cause: *A visual display of moving jagged lines followed by a severe headache. The visual disturbance is commonly seen by both eyes and off to one side, but it may be limited to the vision of one eye

  • A visual display without headache
  • A severe headache without other symptoms

There are some common features of migraine headaches:

  • The pain is recurrent but not usually continuous
  • It is often more severe on one side of the head, but can be generalized
  • It is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting
  • The pain is made worse by activity such as climbing stairs

It is not often associated with serious complications There may be some known triggers such as bright lights, menses, certain foods such as red wine, cheese, chocolate or withdrawal from caffeine. Birth control pills and hormones can worsen migraine.

Migraine may occur with a sudden increase or decrease in stress level. For example, a person entertaining an unwelcome guest, or a hardworking executive who begins an overdue vacation, may experience migraine. Irregular sleep habits may also lead to an increased number of attacks.

Many individuals who have migraine mistakenly believe they have sinus headaches. Contrary to common opinion, sinus headaches are quite rare.

Diseases of the head, eyes, ears, teeth, etc.
Diseases are the least common cause of headache.

Headaches caused by eye disease are usually felt in the eye or in the brow on the side where the disease occurs. These headaches are often associated with some other symptoms, such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Haloes around lights
  • Extreme sensitivity to light

Headaches may also be caused by high blood pressure. A blood pressure measurement is helpful in evaluating any lasting or recurring headache. However, there are many people with high blood pressure who do not have headaches.

Headache caused by brain tumor or disease is rare, and the pain may have several unique characteristics:

  • It may appear quite suddenly or as an increasingly severe headache pattern over weeks or months
  • It may disturb sleep The intensity of the headache may change depending on body position, sometimes becoming unusually severe when the head is down
  • It is often associated with other symptoms such as numbness, dizziness, weakness or seizures; Such headaches tend to become dramatically worse with the passage of time.


How Is The Cause of a Headache Diagnosed?

Because headache is such a common problem, a thorough medical examination by your family physician is advisable for any chronic or recurring headache. An eye exam may be helpful in some cases.

You can help your physician determine whether your headache is a symptom of disease by describing your symptoms, noting when the headaches occur and providing a complete medical history, including any family history of recurring headaches.


How are Headaches Treated?

Headache treatment depends on its cause. If serious medical disease is found, it needs to be treated. If depression or anxiety is the cause, a referral may be made to a family physician, psychologist or psychiatrist.

If migraine or tension is responsible, an accurate diagnosis can be reassuring, and your physician’s suggestions for medication, self-help and assistance are the best solutions.

If your physician determines that your headache is not a symptom of a disease, what you tell your physician about your headaches can help him or her design a treatment program that is right for you.


Are Headaches Ever Caused By Eyestrain?

Almost all headaches are made worse by lengthy use of the eyes, but those that are caused by eyestrain appear only when you have used your eyes for a long period of time.

Because headaches often produce symptoms which suggest that the eyes are at fault, many people who suffer from chronic headaches feel the need to have their eyes examined. Your ophthalmologist can be of help in diagnosing the cause of the headache, even though headaches are infrequently caused by eye disease or the need for glasses.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD or DO) who is educated, trained and licensed to provide total eye care of the eyes. Your ophthalmologist can examine the health of your eyes and help to determine the presence of disease in other body systems.

If eye disease is present, your ophthalmologist will be able to diagnose and treat the problem. If there is an indication of an unusual medical cause for the headache, further testing or referral to another medical specialist may be advisable.