Migraine vs headache: What are the most common headaches we experience and how can we treat them?

How can you tell the difference between a migraine and a headache? Find out the three most common types of headache, how to tell which one you have and how to treat it.

Experiencing a migraine or a headache can be debilitating and, if not treated early, you may find that you have to head home from work and lie in a dark room for several hours.

Migraines and typically more severe than headaches however both can be just as painful as the other, and there are many different types of headaches you can experience. In this article, Parvinder Sagoo, Superintendent Pharmacist at Simply Meds Online reveals the different types of headaches we experience and how to treat them.

What are the most common headaches we experience and how can we treat them?

To help you identify what kind of headache you have, and what to do to treat it, we’re going to look at the three most common types of headache:

  1. Migraines
  2. Tension headaches
  3. Cluster headaches

1) Migraines

Here’s how to recognise and treat a migraine.

What are migraines?

Migraines can be described as an excruciating, debilitating and throbbing pain which gradually builds up over the course of a few hours or a few days, typically on one side of your head. It can become pretty intense and even doing simple acts such as walking or talking can make it worse, so most people find they have to lie down.

You may feel nauseous and be sensitive to light or odours, this is most especially the case in the summer months where the sunlight is intense all there are more hours of sun. A change in appetite or cravings or changes in how often you urinate can happen the day before a migraine. Some people see flashing lights, wavy lines or blind spots during an attack.

What causes migraines?

There are many different reasons why some people develop migraines and some don’t, environmental factors and genetics play a huge role. Normal triggers are usually stress, anxiety, hormonal changes, smoking, sleep problems, strict diets, bright flashing lights or certain foods and beverages.

Migraines are likely to be triggered during the summer months because of the hotter weather, increased sunlight and daytime hours and dehydration. A bad sleep pattern or lack of sleep may also trigger a migraine, and in the summer, we usually find it harder to sleep due to the heat, so this could mean a higher chance of suffering an attack.

What is the best treatment for migraines?

The best treatment for migraines is to ensure you rest, you should lie down in a dark room and place a cold compress on your forehead, try to also keep your eyes closed and rested. If you feel nauseous you should drink plenty of fluids such as water. In the summer it can be difficult when a room is hot, and sunlight is flooding in, so you may want to try black out blinds or wear an eye mask which should help prevent any light from hitting your retinas and worsening the pain.

Try to stay cool with a fan and wear light cotton clothes when lying down. You may want to talk to your GP for treatment options if you suffer with migraines regularly in the summer months however Zolmitriptan tablets are commonly used to treat migraines. They are effective as they work by narrowing blood vessels around the brain to stop any pain signals.

2) Tension headaches

Here’s how to recognise and treat a tension headache.

What are tension headaches?

Tension headaches are also known as muscle spasm or stress headaches and are the most common types of headaches people may experience during the summer months. The pain is most commonly on both sides of the head and can often feel as though something is being pulled tight around your head, or as if something is pressing down hard on the face, head or neck. You may also be sensitive to light and sound.

What causes tension headaches?

Causes of tension headaches are usually body positions that put your head and neck under stress, such as sitting in front of a computer for hours in the same posion, or pressing your phone with your shoulder when taking a phone call, these can also cause tension headaches.

Other triggers may be stress, a heavy workload, skipping meals, depression, anxiety and a lack of sleep which affects the areas in your neck, face, scalp and jaw which can further lead to tension headaches. 

What is the best treatment for tension headaches?

Tension headaches can occur due to other health issues such as arthritis, sleep disorders or the grinding of teeth, your GP may treat these symptoms first before trying anything else however if this does not reduce the amount of tension headaches you are experiencing then you may want to opt for over the counter medication such as ibuprofen, aspirin or paracetamol.

Other ways you can quickly alleviate any pain is to take a warm shower or place a warm washcloth on the back of your neck, other techniques could be meditation which may help to control any stress which is causing these types of headaches

3) Cluster headaches 

Here’s how to recognise and treat cluster headaches.

What are cluster headaches?

Cluster headaches usually occur suddenly and randomly and may cause real pain either on one side of your head or behind one of both eyes. They may appear at the same time every day for weeks and you may find that they are the most debilitating because of how often they occur.

The pain is typically worst for the first 10-15 minutes after its started and can last for many hours. Your eyes may turn red and your nose may swell on the side where the pain occurs. You may also experience some light, sound and odour sensitivity, some people may also feel slightly nauseous.

What causes cluster headaches?

Cluster headaches commonly occur at night, so it has been suggested that they are caused by irregular sleep. You may find that you are suffering with cluster headaches more in the summer, this is because in the heat we find it harder to sleep and our sleeping pattern may be disturbed which in turn means we are more susceptible to cluster headaches. Cluster headaches can also be triggered by smoking and alcohol.

What is the best treatment for cluster headaches?

If you are experiencing regular and severe cluster headaches your GP may prescribe Sumatriptan tablets which are used to treat cluster headaches, however in more severe cases other medicines may be prescribed.

While there are many different types of treatments for cluster headaches, Sumatriptan and Zolmitriptan fall into the more affordable range of medicines, however there are also a range of fast-acting medicine’s such as Zomique Nasal spray and Imigran Nasal spray. Of course, you can also try ibuprofen, aspirin or paracetamol for headaches, however you may need something stronger if the cluster headaches are severe.

Simply Meds Online is now offering a same day delivery service for all purchases made before 3pm.

Photo by Keenan Constance