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'It feels like my head's in a pressure cooker': Common types of headache, and why they happen

Lack of sleep? Dehydration? Or your genes? Figure out what’s causing your headache here.

Image: sebra

‘I HAVE A headache’. These are four words we’re all used to hearing and saying. But what do they really mean?

We use the word ‘headache’ to cover multitudes – from slight discomfort to an incapacitating migraine. And when asked to describe what a headache feels like, different people can come out with very different things. 

Take these three: “My whole head feels full,” says Trudi, 31, of her typical headache. “It comes on gradually, right across the front of my forehead and behind my ears,” says Róisín, 32. “A kind of shimmering shadow across my field of vision,” says Stephen, 59.

There are over 175 types of headache listed in the International Classification of Headache Disorders, and it’s estimated almost half of the world’s adult population have suffered from some variety of headache in the last year.

Source: Shutterstock/fizkes

But many people’s headaches fall into a small number of common categories. Below are three of the most common. While they can be debilitating, they can usually be well managed with the right care and treatment. 

What kind of headache do I have?

1. Tension headache

If I’ve been on my laptop all day I’ll often get a headache right across the front of my forehead and behind my ears. It comes on gradually and tends to get worse and worse. - Róisín, 32 

These headaches tend to arrive slowly, with dull moderate pain on both sides of the head, the back of the head and the neck.

Why is it happening? Some of the most common triggers reported by regular sufferers are stress, tiredness or excess of screen time. You can lessen the likelihood of getting a tension headache with a regular sleep schedule, regular exercise, stress-relieving activities, and regular screen breaks.

Source: Prostock-studio

2. Sinus headache

It feels like my head is in a pressure cooker. My whole head feels full. There’s intense pressure around my eyes and across the top of my nose. - Trudi, 31 

Sufferers often describe feeling like their head is ‘full’. There’s usually a deep, constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead and across the bridge of the nose, sometimes paired with earache, facial swelling or a runny nose.

Why do they happen? Allergies or infection can cause your sinuses – the air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead – to become inflamed and produce more mucus. When they do, the channels that drain your sinuses get blocked, there’s a build-up of pressure, and you have yourself a sinus headache.

shutterstock_1383391190 Source: BUNDITINAY

3. Migraine

It feels like something is trying to slice its way out of my head with a very sharp knife. Along with that extreme pain, I’ll get pressure behind my eyes and sensitivity to light and noise. These spells usually last around a day. During each spell, even standing upright would make me dizzy. - Jo, 26

The severity and duration of migraine headaches can vary, but they often involve an intense, throbbing pain, plus symptoms like light sensitivity, nausea and vomiting. Some people will also get vision distortion known as a ‘migraine aura’.

Why do they happen? The exact cause of migraine is still unknown, though they’re thought to be linked to a change in brain activity, and your genetic makeup may increase your chances of experiencing migraines triggered by particular factors. Identifying these ‘triggers’ that boost the likelihood of a migraine could help to prevent an attack – whether it’s linked to stress, dehydration, lack of sleep or something else.

Source: Shutterstock/AstroStar

Are you a regular headache sufferer?

Now that you’ve read the descriptions above, do any of them sound familiar? Which type of headache do you experience most often?

Poll Results:

Migraine (533)
Tension headache (414)
Sinus headache (382)
Other / none of the above (259)

When should I seek medical help?

Many headaches can be managed with over-the-counter treatment, plus proper rest and hydration. However it is important to seek medical care if your headache:

  • is paired with loss of sensation in the body, shortness of breath, convulsions, double vision, confusion, or other symptoms that seem out of the ordinary
  • arrives suddenly and is paired with a stiff neck, fever, nausea or vomiting
  • comes after a head injury
  • or, if your headaches are happening more frequently and with more severity than before

Don’t let pain hold you back. Solpa-Extra Soluble Tablets uses a double action formula – paracetamol and caffeine – to help deliver effective relief for mild to moderate pain such as headache and back pain. Solpa-Extra Soluble Tablets gets to work two times faster than standard paracetamol tablets alone based on absorption data.

Solpa-Extra 500mg/65mg Soluble Tablets. For the treatment for mild to moderate pain. Always read the leaflet. To verify contact: verify@perrigo.com.

For more information about relief for mild to moderate pain, visit solpa.ie.

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