You never really know what you’re going to get with March. Each day could bring a dramatic shift in weather from cold to warm to rainy to snowy to mild. It’s the time of year that triggers allergies and colds, and it’s likely you’ve experienced a headache that has caused more than minor discomfort.
The head is one of the most common parts of the body to feel pain. A headache can be hard to describe, but common symptoms include throbbing or squeezing in either a specific area or the whole head. In order to help with diagnosis and treatment, the International Headache Society classifies three major categories of headache based on the source of the pain.
Primary headaches include tension, migraine, and cluster headaches as well as a variety of other less common types. Some occur occasionally and resolve quickly while others are debilitating. The cause of tension headaches is generally unknown, but stress is the most common trigger. Migraines are caused by inflammation or irritation of structures that surround the brain, and several factors such as the weather and allergies may trigger them for you. Cluster headaches tend to occur daily for periods of a week or more, but unlike the other primary headaches, there are no clear causes or triggers. Treatments for primary headaches range from over the counter medications to stronger prescriptions.
A secondary headache is usually a symptom of an injury or an underlying illness. This broad group of medical conditions includes dental pain, sinus infections, and life-threatening conditions. Concussions and hangovers fall into this category as well. To resolve a secondary headache, your doctor will have to diagnose and treat the condition causing it.
The third category includes cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches and the pain is usually long-term. Cranial neuralgia, or nerve pain, describes the inflammation of one of the 12 cranial nerves coming from the brain that control your muscles and carry sensory signals to and from your head and neck.
Many patients with chronic headaches report that their pain typically comes from the neck, or more specifically, the base of the skull known as the occipital nerves. Often that pain arises on one side or the other and extends forward to some combination of the face and head resulting what’s known as occipital neuralgia.
The pain travels through the nerves producing what you might think is a migraine. However, occipital neuralgia differs from migraines in that it triggers quickly with even a simple touch like brushing your hair, wearing a hat, or lying on a pillow. The most severe part of an attack is brief, with piercing, throbbing, or electric-shock-like pain lasting only a few seconds to a few minutes. A dull ache may persist between attacks.
Your doctor can prescribe a variety of non-interventional medications to treat occipital neuralgia. There is also an interventional method called occipital nerve block, which involves an injection of a corticosteroid and local anesthetic through a small gauge needle. The procedure is relatively simple to perform, but you want to make sure you receive treatment from a well-trained physician.
Headaches of any kind can ruin your day, and while it’s hard to concentrate, you should pay attention to your symptoms, triggers, and factors surrounding you. If pain persists, consult a physician so that you can get some much-needed relief.