What Exactly Is a Headache & When Should You Be Concerned?

Headaches always seem to come at the worst times. While it's true that there is no convenient time to get a headache, it's also never fun to deal with a throbbing head during your child's clarinet recital or basketball game. A fleeting headache as a result of stress or poor lighting is one thing, but when should you be concerned?

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First, let's talk about what a headache exactly is. Obviously, a headache refers to any pain experienced in your head, but it can be caused by many possible triggers such as dental pain, sinusitis, migraine, excess pressure inside the skull, and neck pain. Murray Grossan, MD, says that most headaches are due to tight muscles. If your muscles in your neck remain tight, toxins called lactic acid build up in the muscle, which can result in a painful headache. For example, Dr. Grossan says that if you work in front of a computer, in a bad chair and in poor lighting, your neck muscles could get strained, causing lactic acid to build up and cause a headache.

According to Dr. Grossan, migraines are caused when blood vessels in your neck become tight and forcibly slam open, which causes lactic acid to leak out into the tissues and create pain. When ibuprofen, aspirin and migraine medicine isn't working, try showering! Letting the warm water come down on the back of your neck can help train your blood vessels not to be spastic, and can actually remove some of the lactic acid causing the headache. Make sure you're turning around in the shower so the water hits all parts of your neck.

>> Read more: 7 Natural Methods for Headache Relief

Headaches that cause vision problems are most likely migraines and necessitate a doctor's visit. Vision problems from a migraine can range anywhere from seeing spots before your eyes or seeing flashing lights to decreased visual fields. Dr. Peter Glassman, MD, PhD, warns of the warning signs of diseases associated with incapacitating, pulsating migraines.

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"When the headache involves one eye as part of the pain, it could be symptomatic of multiple sclerosis or other systemic diseases even rare ones like scleroderma," Dr. Glassman said. "A diffuse non-specific headache with double-vision or single eye visual field loss could be a sign of a space-occupying lesion (tumor)."

Dr. Glassman also warns that a high blood pressure headache usually starts at the back of your head and if untreated could indicate an impending stroke. You should especially seek emergency room treatment if you experience a headache following any head trauma.


>> Read more: Recognizing Stroke Symptoms

While most headaches are caused by stress or tight muscles, you can never be too careful when it comes to taking care of yourself. Click here to see healthy ways to relax and de-stress to potentially prevent any future headaches.