Cool Your Head: 5 of the Most Common Headaches

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(Photo: iStock)

If you think headaches are just another part of a busy lifestyle between juggling work, family and your sanity, think again. According to the National Headache Foundation, a little more than 45 million Americans suffer from chronic and recurring headaches, with 28 million suffering from migraines. Of those numbers, a staggering 70 percent of headache sufferers are women — not fun.

While it's best to always consult your doctor about what you're feeling, most headaches are treatable with over-the-counter medications. The trick is knowing what headache you're experiencing so you can find a quick and easy solution to nail those noggin-splitting episodes.

This type of headache of mild to moderate pressure is often caused by an excessive tightening of muscles beneath the scalp — think of a snug hairband wrapped around your head. If you experience stress, depression, poor sleeping patterns, and posture, you're more prone to it. More common among the classes of headaches, these types don't get worse when doing routine activities, but they can drag as long as migraines and last a few hours.

Since these headaches are mild in most cases, the Journal of European Neurology suggests over-the-counter medications like, ibuprofen and acetaminophen will do the trick. However, sufferers should be aware that using OTC medications more often than needed can lead to chronic and daily headaches.

Cluster (or Horton's Syndrome)
If you've ever felt a disabling ache around your eyeball that causes redness, tearing, swelling and nasal congestion on the affected side, you're experiencing one of more severe headaches. While it is the least common type among sufferers, cluster headaches are painful with attacks that last from 15 minutes to three hours. What's worse is they can fall into recurring "clusters" over weeks or months. Those who are sensitive to alcohol should be careful as the University of Maryland reports even an ounce can cause a cluster.

Unfortunately, OTC medications are not as effective with this kind of headache as they happen suddenly and might pass quickly — if you're lucky. The American Headache Society claims inhaling oxygen can stop an attack and may be a viable option for chronic sufferers.

When we experience migraines, we need giant signs around us telling others to stay away for a few hours. That throbbing ache felt around the eyes, on one side or behind your head can be incredibly disabling, forcing you into a fetal position. Usually accompanied by noise, light and sound sensitivity, migraines are the second most common type of headache. While many studies have pointed to triggers of stress, poor sleep and even the chemical, tyramine — found in red wine and chocolate — the exact cause is unknown. Nevertheless, the American Academy of Neurology points to an effect of changes in nerves, blood vessels, brain and inherited abnormalities.

Though migraines last from four hours to three days and occur one to four times a month, mild cases respond well to OTC medications like Advil or Tylenol. Yet for severe attacks, studies found doctor-prescribed triptans help stop pain and inflammation of blood vessels.

As if that time of the month wasn't hard enough, you experience a debilitating headache on top of everything. Thanks to the sudden drop in estrogen before your period, headaches usually occur three days before or two days after your period has started. Emerging at the same time as moodiness, cramping, soreness and any other usual PMS symptoms, menstrual headaches can be just as painful as others as our cycles clash with headache-related chemicals.

While an OTC like Midol is effective since it contains caffeine that helps reduce attacks, non-medicinal treatments work too. From acupuncture to relaxation exercises and triptans — sufferers can try applying ice packs to the pained area.


We spend a lot of time with technology and because of the addiction to our hi-tech BFFs, we risk our physical health's well-being. This headache, also known as a "neck headache," travels upwards and is often a result of stress, poor posture, muscle stiffness, spinal problems in the neck, disc degeneration or arthritis.

Medications alone are hopeless for this kind of condition and only provide a temporary sigh of relief. Treatment for neck headaches responds better to physical approaches, like massage, acupuncture, exercise and posture work. Moreover, if it gets worse, surgical intervention can be beneficial.