What Causes Headaches?


Headaches can get annoying, particularly when you aren’t sure what’s causing them. In some cases, when they don’t wear off immediately or if they happen a lot, they can be enough to freak you out. Before you start getting paranoid about your health, here are some of the most important things you need to know about headaches.

What Is Headache?

A headache is a type of pain that can happen anywhere in the upper neck or head area. Since the brain doesn’t have pain fibers like the rest of your body, the pain you experience with a headache is more likely to originate from the structures and tissues around your skull and brain. This can include the periosteum, sinuses, nerves, arteries, and veins.

The Different Types Of Headaches

In general, there are about 150 different types of headaches which are divided into three major categories. The most common of them are the following:

  • Tension Headache

    This is the most common type of a headache for both adults and teens, specifically in women. It is also called as stress or daily tension headaches. It can be accompanied by mild to moderate pain which usually subsides over time.

  • Cluster Headache

    Cluster headaches are more intense. The pain you’ll feel with this is more like a burning, throbbing or piercing sensation behind the eyes. Because of how intense the pain is, you are likely to pace and be unable to stay in one position.

  • Migraine

    Similar to cluster headaches, migraines are often described as a throbbing pain. It can last for a few hours up to several days. You can get up to 4 episodes of a migraine attack in just a month. Apart from pain, migraines can also be accompanied by other symptoms, like stomach pain, loss of appetite and increased light sensitivity.

  • Sinus Headache

    The pain that goes with sinus headaches is constant and deep in your forehead, cheekbones, and bridge of the nose. It can come with swelling of the face and feeling of fullness in the ears. A runny nose and fever are common symptoms, too.

  • Hormone Headache

    As the name implies, hormone headaches commonly happen in women who experience changes in their hormone levels. They can happen during pregnancy, menopause, and menstruation. In some cases, birth control pills can also trigger headaches.

What Causes Headaches?

  • Illnesses

    There are medical conditions that can cause pain, like an infection of the sinuses, throat, and ears. It’s also possible to experience a headache after an injury, like a tough blow to the head and neck. If you are experiencing headaches due to these conditions, it’s important that you seek your doctor’s opinion.

  • Environment

    Being exposed to second-hand smoke, strong fragrances and allergens can trigger a headache. Stress, noise and sudden changes in weather are common culprits, too.

  • Food

    Your diet is probably one of the last things that will pop into your mind when it comes to causes of headaches. But, the truth is, the food you eat on a daily basis has a lot to do with your headaches.

    Foods that can dilate and constrict blood vessels top the list. This includes preservatives, such as nitrites and nitrates. Red wine and cheese have the same effect as well because of their tyramine content. Alcohol, processed meats, chocolates and soy-based food items also have tyramine.

    Soy sauce is another thing you should avoid if you want to prevent headaches. For one, it’s loaded with MSG which is a known trigger. It’s also very salty and consuming too much of it can cause dehydration. In the case of coffee and caffeine, headaches associated with these two are more common during withdrawal.

    Cold foods, like ice cream, can trigger a headache, too. It’s mostly known as brain freeze and it can last for less than a minute. It happens when your temperature-sensitive nerves get triggered along with the effects of the cold temperature on the roof of your mouth.

  • Dehydration

    Dehydration happens when you lose a substantial amount of water. This causes narrowing of blood vessels and activation of the pain-sensitive nerves in your head.

    To avoid dehydration, make sure to increase your fluid intake, especially if the weather is too hot. Drink at least 8 to 10 glasses each day and refrain from drinking sodas, alcohol and other carbonated drinks.

  • Eyestrain

    Staring too long at your computer screen can tire out your eyes and cause the muscles in the area to tighten. If left untreated, you can get more than just a headache. You can also experience burning pain in the eyes as well as twitches and spasms.

    If eye strain is the cause of the problem, consider taking frequent breaks from your computer screens and devices. Rest every 20 seconds and look at something that’s 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Consulting an optometrist might be necessary if you’ve been experiencing severe headaches or if the symptoms don’t wear off even when you’re resting.

What To Do With Headaches

Headaches aren’t always serious. They typically respond to the following self-care tips:

  • Applying ice packs or heat on the affected areas.
  • Taking pain relievers, like aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen.
  • Using a decongestant if your sinuses are the problem.
  • Limiting intake of foods that can cause headaches.
  • Reducing stressors.
  • Using relaxation techniques.
  • Massaging the scalp.

When To See Your Doctor

Headaches might be painful but, as mentioned, they aren’t always related to serious medical conditions. However, this doesn’t mean that you should disregard headaches right away. If you experience any of the following, be sure to see your doctor right away.

  • Numbness, tingling sensation or if you can’t move your body suddenly.
  • Blurry or double vision.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Excessive nausea and vomiting.
  • Fever
  • Rashes

Apart from the symptoms, you should also take note of the type of pain you are experiencing, which part of your head does it typically happen and how long each episode last. It’s also a good idea to keep track of how frequent your attacks are and what medications you are taking to relieve the pain. Take note of how many tablets you have to take per episode and how effective they are in lessening the pain.