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Headaches are extremely common in the general population, so much so that most of us don’t even bother to think about what could be causing it. And while usually, headaches aren’t something to worry about, they could sometimes be a symptom of a serious underlying condition. Catching some diseases early can be the difference between a good and a bad outcome, so make sure you get a check-up if you’re experiencing headaches that are recurrent or very severe. Headaches can occur in people of all ages and be of many different types.

  1. Recognising a headache
  2. First aid for headaches
  3. When to see a doctor for a headache
  4. Complications of a headache

There are many different types of headache that you could be suffering from. It’s beneficial to make the distinction so you can treat it better and avoid it in the future. Some common ones are mentioned below:

  • Cluster headaches: As the name suggests, these are headaches that occur in clusters or in patterns and their exact cause is not entirely known yet. They usually affect one side of the head and around or behind the eye. Some drugs and oxygen therapy have shown to help reduce the occurrence and intensity of cluster headaches.
  • Tension headache: These are headaches where the pain feels like a band that squeezing the head. It occurs when the neck and scalp muscles become tense. It can be a symptom of anxiety, stress, depression as well as a head injury.
  • Migraine headaches: A migraine also usually occurs on one side of the head, causes throbbing pain and could be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Sensitivity to light and sound could also occur. The pain can be debilitating and last for several days.

A few things you can do when you start to experience a headache are:

  • Rest: The first thing to do when you have a headache is to stop what you’re doing, go to a quiet and preferable dark room and lie down for a few minutes. You can also sit down to rest if you’ve been on your feet before this.
  • Painkiller: As an adult, you may have previously been recommended medication to take in case of a headache. You can either take that or an over-the-counter pain killer like aspirin or paracetamol. For a child, refer to their doctor’s recommendation.
  • Massage or meditate: Different people respond to different techniques and some of them are worth trying if the headaches are new to you. Massaging your neck and head gently with a few drops of warm oil can be soothing for many people. Alternatively, many others find meditating for a few minutes in a quiet room to be effective in dealing with a headache.
  • Consult: If the headache persists, worsens or does not improve even slightly, you should consult a doctor to understand what could be causing it. In the situation that it’s a symptom of another condition, you would have to treat the underlying condition to avoid similar headaches in the future.
  • Symptoms: If the headache is accompanied by other symptoms, like redness and a bruise from an injury or fever and cough like in the flu, make a note and treat it accordingly. For example, a mild injury caused by bumping your head into something could benefit from a cold compress. Alternatively, if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms in the middle of a pandemic, you should reach out to a medical professional immediately.
  • Eat: We are the food we eat - or don’t eat. Not getting enough nutrients or skipping meals are some bad eating habits that could be causing your headache. Eat something to stabilize your blood glucose levels in such a situation and it may alleviate your headache. Make sure you drink enough water as well.

It’s unreasonable to expect one to consult a doctor every time they experience a headache. Following are a few suggestions for when it might be necessary to do so: 

  • When the headache is caused by an injury
  • When the headache does not abate or begins to worsen
  • When the headache is accompanied by any of the following:

While a simple headache itself may not have any complications associated with it, the underlying cause of it could lead to severe complications if ignored. Some such complications include brain tumours, swelling or infection, high blood pressure, acute hydrocephalus and more.

A migraine also comes with its own complications like migrainous infarction, persistent aura without infarction and migraine-associated seizure.

Taking too many medications for a headache can also lead to a complication known as a rebound headache.

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