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Headache, Migraine, Sinus Headache: Everything You Wanted to Know About What Is Causing Your Head Pain

By Jessica Kelner, D.O. - May 21, 2019

What is a Headache?
headache is pain in the head or upper neck (or a pain in the butt, kidding).  It may feel like a dull ache, a sharp pain, or a throbbing sensation. Headaches can be located in one specific area of the head or be present on both sides of the head.  Experiencing a headache is a very common thing for most people. However, "most" people do not experience headaches often.  

Is Sinus Pressure a Headache?
A headache is different from sinus pressure or discomfort in the face.  People often will call this sensation a "sinus headache", but this is not a true headache as it has a different cause.  Specifically, the paranasal sinuses are hollow air cavities in our face that allow for voice resonance, moisturizing the air we breathe as well as filtering the air we breathe.   The tissue lining the sinus cavities can become inflamed as well as the air flow tract may get blocked flowing in or out of the sinus cavities.  When this happens, pressure and discomfort may result.  This is different than a headache.  You may have a headache and sinus pressure at the same time.

Types of Headaches
The two major types of headaches are:

1. Primary Headaches, which are not associated with a medical condition or disease.
2. Secondary Headaches, which are caused by an injury or underlying illness, such as a concussion, bleeding in the brain, an infection or a brain tumor.

Primary Headaches include tension headaches, migraine headaches and cluster headaches.

Tension Headaches: Symptoms of a tension headache include pressure and a band-like tightness that begins in the back of the head and upper neck, and gradually encircles the head. These occur due to tight muscles, stress, dehydration, poor posture, bio-mechanical imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, glasses that are too tight, vision that is not properly corrected by glasses, or a mixture of these. 

Cluster Headaches: are headaches that occur in groups, or clusters, over a period of several weeks or months separated by headache-free periods of months or years. During the headache period, the cluster headache sufferer experiences several episodes of pain during the day, each of which lasts 30 to 90 minutes. These attacks, which often occur at the same time of day, include sharp, penetrating pain around or behind one eye, watering of the eye and a stuffy nose.

A Migraine isn't just a Headaches and a Headaches isn't necessarily a Migraine
Migraines are a specific type of episodic headache that is severe in nature. Migraines progress through a cascade of events that may last for hours or days.   It is generally associated with nausea, light and/or sound sensitivity.  Migraines affect only 12% of the population. They are more common between the ages of 30-39 and 3 times as more common in women than men. 

Migraines have a classic course consisting of 4 phases:  Prodrome, Aura, Migraine Headache, and Postdrome. 

4 Phases of Migraine Headaches
1. Prodrome: May occur up to 24 to 48 hours before the onset of the headache. It consists of  increased yawning, euphoria (happy feeling), depression, feeling irritable, food cravings, and neck discomfort. 

2. Aura:  This phase may overlap with the headache phase.  Auras develop gradually, over longer than 5 minutes, but no longer than over one hour, and have a mix of positive and negative symptoms.  Positive symptoms are symptoms that are added to what is "normal". They can be visual (bright lines, shapes, wavy lines, ect), auditory (tinnitus, ringing in the ears), paraesthesia (or burning pain), or motor (jerky movements) symptoms.  Negative symptoms are the loss of function, such as vision (blind spots), hearing, body movement (decreased).  Some patients actually experience an aura without a headache.

3. Migraine Headache: Often unilateral and tends to feel like a throbbing or pulsating sensation.  This feeling can increase over 1 to a few hours.  Patients report sensitivity to light and sound.  Patients also often feel nausea and sometimes experience vomiting during this phase. 

4. Postdrome: After the throbbing subsides, the person may have pain in the location where the headache was with sudden head movement.  They may feel drained or exhausted. 

Migraine Triggers
Migraine suffers may have triggers associated with specific foods or environmental changes such as:  hormonal changes/fluctuations, wine, aspartame, nitrates (found in deli meat), visual stimuli, stress, not eating, alcohol, smoke, and sleep disturbances.

Headaches Can Be A Warning Sign

If you experience a headache that falls into any of these categories, you should seek immediate medical attention.
  • The headache is severe. If you believe it is your "worst headache ever," seek emergency medical care.
  • The headache is different from your usual headaches in terms of its location, severity or accompanying symptoms, such as numbness or vision loss.
  • The headache starts suddenly, or is aggravated by exertion.
  • The headache causes pain significant enough to wake you from sleep.
  • The headache does not respond to treatment and instead worsens over time.
  • The headache reoccurs frequently.
  • The headache is accompanied by any of the following:
  • A head injury that involves a loss of consciousness, even for a few seconds
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Recurrent vomiting
  • Dizziness and impaired balance
  • Fever or stiff neck
  • Changes in speech, vision or behavior.

Most headaches are benign in nature and can be resolved by figuring out the cause of the headaches. Traditional headaches should not re-occur on a regular basis. If they do, you should seek medical care.  Migraine Headaches are a special kind of headache that has 4 phases. Only 12% of the population experiences migraines and they are more common in women than men. Migraines can be treated with medication or through natural treatments.  Even migraines have a root cause. 

At FORM Medical, we try to get to the root cause of the issue, to get rid of the pain or injury naturally, without medications.  If you would like to learn more about the types of treatments that we offer at FORM Medical, you can check out If you would like to schedule an appointment to find out how we can help get rid of your headaches, call 720-370-9559.