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Headaches are the number one health complaint, and affect nearly everyone at some point in their lives. Though most cases of headache do not represent serious health concerns, in some instances they can be signs of deeper, more serious health problems. Conventional doctors typically treat headaches by prescribing painkilling medications, ranging from common aspirin to prescription drugs. This approach only suppresses headache symptoms. In addition to pain relieving natural cures, practitioners of alternative medicine focus on addressing the underlying causes of headaches as well, in order to prevent them from recurring.
Types and Symptoms of Headaches: There are 12 main categories of headache, each based upon the specific symptoms and underlying causes associated with it. What follows is an overview of each of the 12 headache types and their particular symptoms.
Allergy Headaches: Headaches caused by allergies or sensitivities are one of the most prevalent types of headaches, and typically occur within four to 12 hours after exposure to the offending substance. Substances that can trigger allergy headaches can potentially be anything, ranging from chemicals, foods and jewelry, to personal hygiene products, scents, and even another’s touch. Allergies are estimated to cause as much as 70 percent of all headache cases in the U.S. each year. Despite how common allergy headaches are they often are misdiagnosed because of the range of symptoms they can cause. The key to effective treatment lies in first determining what substance or substances trigger the headache and then eliminating them, while simultaneously helping the body to build up its resistance to further allergic reactions. Though it can sometimes require time and patience to accomplish these goals, allergy headaches, overall, are among the least difficult headaches to resolve.
Cluster Headaches: Cluster headaches are the most painful type of headaches. They get their name from the fact that the intense pain they cause concentrates or “clusters” around the eyes. In addition, they typically occur in periodic “clusters” of time ranging from weeks to months. Once a cluster headache strikes, it can also trigger facial flushing, sinus congestion, and tearing of the eyes. Typically, the attacks are sharp and pronounced and last for hours, before subsiding, only to flare up again a few hours later. At times, the pain of a cluster headache can be so excruciating that the person affected by it may become highly agitated and literally bang his or her head in an attempt to stop the pain. In some cases, the pain can even lead to suicide. Cluster headaches most commonly strike men between the ages of 30 and 50 who are driven, “Type A” personalities bent on achieving their goals, usually to the point that they ignore other aspects of their lives and fail to obtain necessary rest and relaxation. They also often smoke and consume alcohol beyond moderation.
Dental Headaches: Dental headaches are caused by structural imbalances in the mouth, jaw, and/or teeth. Usually the pain they cause is focused in front of or behind one or both ears or along the sides of the jaw. In some cases the pain may also occur in the mouth itself. The most common causes of dental headaches are misalignments of the jaw, especially temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ). An uneven bite or dental problems such as abscessed teeth or gums and/or mercury amalgam dental fillings can also be significant triggers of dental headaches, as can the tendency to clench or grind one’s teeth. People who wear dental bridges can also experience dental headaches if the bridges become faulty. All such factors limit blood flow to the brain, causing pain and overall body dysfunctions.
Exertion Headaches: Headaches caused by physical exertion, although they can be quite painful, are usually brief and pose no underlying health threat. As their name implies, they are caused during or soon after physical activities, including sex. They can also result from coughing, sneezing, or forceful elimination due to constipation.
Eyestrain Headaches: Eyestrain headaches refer to headaches caused by straining vision, such as what occurs while reading in a poorly lit room or while working at a computer. They can also be caused by tension and misalignments in the musculoskeletal system, and by digestion problems. The pain caused by eyestrain headaches is normally mild and diffused across the face and forehead and behind the eyes. Sometimes symptoms of dry eye can also occur. Such headaches are not usually serious in nature, but they can become chronic if unhealthy work or reading habits are not corrected.
Migraine Headaches: Migraine headaches affect up to 20 percent of all men, and 30 percent of all women in the United States. Migraine headaches typically occur on one side of the face, affecting the temple and the eye and causing pain that can be quite severe and often throbbing. Other symptoms of migraine include blurred vision, dizziness, fatigue, hot and cold spells, lightheadedness, nausea, numbness or tingling along the affected side of the body, extreme sensitivity to light and sound, and vomiting. In many cases of migraine, symptoms are preceded by a warning sign known as an aura or another indication is brief visions of little dancing sparkles. However, migraine can also strike suddenly, without warning.
Organic Headaches: Organic headaches are both the rarest form of headache and also the most dangerous. They occur as a result of serious underlying health imbalances, including brain infections and tumors, diseased or swollen blood vessels, glaucoma, internal hemorrhages, and/or high blood pressure. Organic headaches usually strike without warning, and can be accompanied by intense pain, severe vomiting, seizures, difficulties speaking and/or walking, and personality changes.
Caution: If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Rebound Headaches: Rebound headaches are caused by the “rebound affect” that can occur following the discontinued use of various addictive substances, including coffee and other caffeine products, drugs (both pharmaceutical and illegal), soda, and various commercial, non-herbal teas. Pharmaceutical drugs most likely to cause rebound headaches are those used to treat allergies, colds and flu, menstrual problems, pain, and weight gain and obesity.
In most cases, rebound headaches occur within 12 to 24 hours after such substances are discontinued, and will usually resolve themselves within five to seven days, unless the offending substance is used again. If so, this sets up the potential for later rebound headaches to occur. Typically, the symptoms of rebound headaches involve persistent dull, throbbing pain on both sides of the head and face. In many ways, rebound headaches are similar to the withdrawal symptoms that are commonly experienced by people in the early stages of alcohol and drug abstinence. The difference is that usually people who suffer from rebound headaches don’t realize that their symptoms are related to the substances they have been using. For example, people who crave coffee every day, are highly likely to experience a rebound headache if they go a day or two without coffee, only to have their symptoms quickly disappear once they have another cup of coffee, yet they will very often fail to make the connection that links their headache to coffee. Making patients aware of such connections is an important step for successful treatment of rebound headaches. In addition, rather than sudden withdrawal from the offending substance, holistic health practitioners recommend that people who suffer from rebound headaches slowly wean themselves off of the substances they crave over a period of time. Doing so can greatly reduce the severity of symptoms caused by rebound headaches.
Sinus Headaches: Sinus headaches are also a rare form of headache, despite popular belief. The reason for this misperception is that more frequently occurring headaches, such as migraine and tension headaches, can cause swollen sinuses to occur. True sinus headaches manifest with symptoms of gnawing pain within the nasal cavities that is usually accompanied by swelling. Pain symptoms of sinus headaches can also occur along the sinus cavities along the forehead and cheekbones. In addition, sinus headaches usually go hand in hand with symptoms of a cold such as minor fever, secretions of mucus and phlegm from the nose and throat, sneezing, teary eyes, and a diminished sense of smell.
Tension Headaches: By far the most common type of headache is a tension headache, which is caused by tension occurring somewhere within the musculoskeletal system and/or the muscles of the face, head, or neck. The tension is usually caused by compressed nerves due to habitually poor posture, misalignments in the spine, or chronic stress. Nerves that are irritated by metabolic waste products can also cause or worsen tension headaches, as can injured and unhealed ligaments in the neck, which can cause muscle spasms that trigger headache pain. Symptoms of tension headaches usually begin in the back of the head or neck, and then spread upward and forward to encompass more of the head and face. The pain tends to be dull but persistent, as if a tight band was wrapped around the skull.
Trauma Headaches: Trauma headaches are usually the result of physical injuries to the head, neck, or back and typically are due to accidents. They can sometimes be misdiagnosed as tension or migraines headaches, because the symptoms they produce are similar to both other types of headache. One major difference, however, is that trauma headaches tend to persist and resist attempts to treat their symptoms, especially drugs. In addition, symptoms of trauma headache can vary greatly in terms of their intensity, and either be focused in a specific area of the head, or affect the entire head, face, and neck. Moreover, it can sometimes be months after the actual physical trauma occurs before symptoms manifest, making accurate diagnosis difficult. To effectively treat trauma headaches, you must first determine and then alleviate the lingering effects of the original physical trauma.
Vascular Headaches: Vascular headaches are caused by problems in the arteries, which can create compression of the nerves that triggers pain. Symptoms of vascular headaches can mimic those of cluster and migraine headaches, both of which are also included under the category of vascular headaches, as well as symptoms of rebound headaches.
Caution: Vascular headaches can be a sign of underlying problems with circulation and/or cardiovascular health. If symptoms persist, see a doctor immediately.
Note: All of the above types of headaches can also strike children. This is a fact that is often overlooked by parents and physicians alike. In addition, the risk of certain headaches among children, such as migraine, is increased if one or both of their parents are also prone to such headaches.
Headaches due to food and/or environmental allergies are also quite common among children. Allergy headaches due to food can usually be determined by keeping a record of your child’s food intake. If a headache occurs within 96 hours of eating a certain food, notice what occurs if the food is eliminated from your child’s diet for four to six weeks, and then reintroduced. If reintroduction of the suspected food triggers another episode of headache, it is highly likely that your child’s symptoms are due to allergy or food sensitivity. To help children avoid headaches, encourage them to eat a healthy diet (see Diet below), NO GMOs, buy organic, and to drink adequate amounts of pure filtered water each day. Also ensure that they get enough regular exercise and are breathing clean air. In addition, children should be encouraged to express their feelings so that they do not become “bottled up,” causing internalized stress.
Caution: If you are experiencing a headache that is accompanied by blurring vision, convulsions, dizziness, fever, head trauma, loss of consciousness, localized pain anywhere else in your body, or rapidly progressing pain, seek immediate medical attention. In addition, recurring headaches in children or people who are elderly, or which occur suddenly for the first time, are also indications that medical attention may be required.
Causes of Headaches: The key to successfully treating headaches and achieving long-term relief of headache symptoms lies in determining all of the underlying causes that trigger headaches. Holistic health practitioners recognize that chronic headaches are most often the result of systemic imbalances throughout the body, not just in the head itself, and that the potential causes of headaches can be varied, ranging from food and/or environmental allergies, constipation, gastrointestinal problems and hormonal problems, to infections, musculoskeletal problems, nutritional deficiencies, stress, and physical trauma. What follows are overviews of the most common causes of headaches.
Allergies: Allergies, especially those caused by food, are a predominant cause of headaches, especially migraine. In fact, according to research published in The Lancet, food allergies contribute to 93 percent of all migraine headaches. Food allergies can also cause or contribute to other types of headaches, as well, as can chemical and environmental allergies (see below). Among the most common foods that can trigger allergy-related headaches are all dairy products, eggs, wheat, corn, rye, sugar, chocolate, coffee and other caffeine products, alcohol, pickled or cured meat and fish, shellfish, game (hare, pheasant, venison), fatty and fried foods, brewer’s yeast, and pickles. Seasonings such as bay leaves, cinnamon, chilies, and sassafras; as well as certain fruits, including avocados, bananas, citrus fruits, peaches, plums, and raspberries; and certain vegetables such as beans, eggplant, onions, spinach, tomatoes, and nuts, can also trigger allergy-related headaches; as can food colorings and additives such as aspartame, benzoic acid, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrate, tartrazine, and tyramine, as well as other dyes and food colorings.
Blood Clots: Blood clots can cause a variety of headaches, especially vascular headaches, because of how blood clots cause arteries to become constricted. This, in turn, results in diminished blood flow to the brain, as well as reduced levels of oxygen.
Caution: Blood clots are potentially life-threatening. If you suspect you suffer from blood clots, seek immediate medical attention.
Chemical and Environmental Factors: The incidence of headaches continues to rise due to ever-increasing amounts of chemical and environmental pollutants that are released into our air, soil, and water supplies each year. Natural environmental substances, such as molds and pollens can also cause headache attacks. Common chemical irritants that can cause headaches, as well as contribute to a host of other health problems include carbon monoxide, chlorine, chemical deodorizers, formaldehyde, hydrocarbons, perfumes, pesticides, plastics, and radioactive fallout. Exposure to cigarette smoke, including secondhand smoke, can be a headache trigger. The nicotine contained in cigarettes causes blood vessels to constrict, while the carbon monoxide that cigarette smoke contains has the opposite effect—unhealthy expansion of blood vessels. Both of these factors can trigger headaches, especially cluster headaches and migraines. Cigarette smoke also interferes with your body’s supplies of nutrients and oxygen, both of which are necessary to prevent headache, as well as many other types of disease. Heavy metal poisoning, which can occur following exposure to animal feeds, fossil fuels, and polluted drinking water, is another common cause of headache pain. One particularly insidious form of heavy metal, mercury, lies in the mouths of many unsuspecting headache sufferers. The cumulative build-up of poison caused by silver mercury fillings may be the underlying factor behind many mysterious illnesses, including headaches, depression, allergies, fatigue, and menstrual disorders. Other chemical and environmental factors that can cause headache include bright light, noise, high altitude, weather changes, and poorly ventilated enclosures causing prolonged exposure to pollutants.
Dental Problems: One of the most prevalent dental factors related to headache is the mercury that is contained in dental amalgam fillings. Over time, the mercury escapes from the fillings in the form of vapors to settle in various tissues and organs, contributing to a wide variety of health problems, including headaches. Other dental factors involved in headaches include gum disease, low-grade dental infections, tooth decay, and muscle spasms caused by temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ). All of these factors can reduce proper circulation in the brain, causing blood vessels to constrict, triggering headache pain. To determine if dental factors might be contributing to your headache pain, answer the following questions. The more “yes” answers you have, the more likely it is that your problem is being caused by dental factors.
1. Do you favor one side of your mouth when you chew?
2. Do you grind your teeth?
3. Do you have trouble swallowing three or four times in a row? Do you have a poor sense of balance?
4. Do you feel tired after eating due to chewing?
5. Do you have to strain to smile?
6. Do your gums bleed?
7. Do you make a clicking sound when you open or close your mouth?
8. Do you have dental amalgam fillings?
Gastrointestinal Disorders: Common gastrointestinal disorders that can cause or contribute to headaches include candidiasis (systemic yeast overgrowth), constipation, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and “leaky gut” syndrome. Enzyme and nutritional deficiencies are other common headache triggers. “Leaky gut” syndrome occurs when the intestinal walls become damaged. This allows undigested food particles, as well as the chemicals contained in commercial, processed food, to pass through the intestinal wall and enter into the bloodstream, where they can cause a variety of health problems, including headache. Headache symptoms may not occur until 12 to 96 hours after the offending toxins enter the bloodstream however, making headaches related to “leaky gut” syndrome difficult to detect.
Hormonal Imbalances: Hormonal imbalances, especially in women, can play a significant role in headache pain. Typically, the most common hormonal imbalances in women are diminished progesterone levels and elevated levels of estrogen. Men and women can both also be affected by hypothyroidism, a condition in which the body is unable to produce adequate amounts of thyroid hormone. Hormone levels can also be negatively impacted by systemic yeast overgrowth (candidiasis), and by the onset of puberty. Birth control pills, synthetic hormone therapy, pregnancy and menstruation can also cause hormonal imbalances that lead to headache and migraine pain. Lifestyle Factors: Lifestyle factors that can contribute to headaches include unhealthy diet, skipped meals, overwork, and sleep problems. Work-related factors, such as long hours at a computer, reading, and close-up work, especially in poor light, can also cause headaches, as can prolonged watching of television or playing video games.
Musculoskeletal Imbalances: Holistic practitioners recognize how important the musculoskeletal system is to overall health. When the musculoskeletal system becomes imbalanced or misaligned, proper nerve signaling to and from the brain and the body’s various organs can become compromised. The circulation of blood and oxygen throughout the body can also be compromised. As misalignment of the musculoskeletal system sets in, your body’s muscles can become either contracted or stretched beyond their proper shape, setting the stage for chronic pain, including headaches, to occur. Imbalances to the musculoskeletal system that can cause or contribute to headaches include head and/or muscle trauma, misalignments of the spine and/or the coccyx (tail) bone, and poor posture. Injured or weak ligaments and muscles in and around the neck can also cause headaches.
Pharmaceutical Drugs: The following types of drugs can all cause or contribute to headaches: antihistamines, asthma medications, birth control pills, blood pressure medications, diet pills, diuretics, heart medications, painkillers, and synthetic estrogen and other synthetic hormones.
Stress: Stress, whether it is caused by physical or mental/emotional factors, is one of the primary causes of headaches. As stress becomes chronic, it causes your body’s muscles to become contracted and tense, especially the muscles of the face, head, neck, upper back, and shoulders. This, in turn, causes the muscles to tire and to also be deprived of adequate amounts of oxygen, due to diminished blood flow. In addition, muscle tension due to stress can result in an excessive production of chemicals by your body, such as histamines. As these chemicals are created to excess, they can cause neurons in the muscles to fire, creating headache pain. Psychological stress, caused by repressed or improperly expressed anger, anxiety, depression, fear, and sorrow, can also result in or exacerbate headache symptoms.
Psychological stress, caused by repressed or improperly expressed anger, anxiety, depression, fear, and sorrow, can also result in or exacerbate headache symptoms.
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