There’s nothing worse than a headache — that thundering, battering, pulsating pain.
It feels like there’s a little man with a giant hammer living between your ears. There’s the weight of a cement mixer above one of your eyes. The constant pounding rivals the noise of a 747 taking off inside your head, and a running lawnmower is buzzing around where your brain used to be.
Over half the world’s population suffers from recurrent headaches. And in the U.S., one in six — or more than 37 million Americans — admit to having migraines or severe headaches. (1,2)
Headache disorders are considered among the most common and debilitating health concerns globally. Around 14% of adults around the world get migraines, accounting for some 3 billion people. In fact, according to one study, migraines were the primary cause of disability among women under 50 and the second-most prevalent cause overall. (1,2,3)
Therefore, every day, nearly 16% of people everywhere have a headache. Ouch. (1)
The following is some information on headaches and migraines that you can really wrap your head around.
What Are the Different Types of Headaches?
Although they may seem to blend together into a mishmash of pounding, blinding, excruciating pain, headaches actually come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors. There is no single one-size-fits-all headache. Rather, there are many types, several symptoms, and a long list of causes.
Keep in mind that it’s possible for headache types to overlap — you can have different types of headaches at the same time. For example, you might have migraine pain so severe that your jaw clenches and neck muscles tense up, causing you to get a tension headache.
Here’s a look at some of the most common, universal headaches: (4,5)
This type of headache involves pain on just one side of your head that originates in the neck. Following a significant or rough movement of the neck, discomfort or strain can travel from bony or soft tissues in your neck up to your head, causing a headache. You may also simultaneously have a stiff neck or difficulty moving your neck. (6,7)
Due to similar symptoms, cervicogenic headaches are often mistaken for other types of headaches.
These headaches are so-named because you don’t have just one of them. They come in groups or “bundles” of multiple headaches, usually occurring at the same time daily for consecutive days. You might have several headaches a day for weeks or even months. In between clusters, people experience headache-free remission periods that may go on for years. (3,4,5)
Cluster headaches happen when blood vessels inside the brain dilate during the release of serotonin and histamines. This type of headache can be caused by such things as bright lights, high elevations, and physical activity. (3,4,5)
The pain may be so bad that many people wake up in the middle of the night with throbbing pain on one side of their head or around one of their eyes. The aching can sometimes spread to the rest of the face, head, or neck.
In addition to intense pain, many people with cluster headaches also experience: (3,4,5)
Pale or flushed face
Red or watery eyes and/or tearing (usually on one side)
Stuffed-up or runny nose (usually on one side)
Sweating on the forehead or face, especially on the side where there is pain
Swelling around the eye and/or drooping eyelid (usually on one side)
This variety of headache is a vicious circle of head pain, attempts at getting rid of it, and more head pain.
Medication-induced headaches, also known as medication-overuse headaches, are a neurologic disorder that can change a simple headache into a more serious and chronic problem. They occur when someone who is already dealing with migraines or tension headaches takes too much medication in hopes of eliminating the headache pain. (6,7,8)
Unfortunately, if used in excess, many medications — even those intended to treat headaches — can actually cause additional head pain. If this cycle continues, it can become a chronic condition. (6,7,8,9)
Migraines: What are they and how do they differ from other headaches?
Although migraines are usually extremely intense and debilitating headaches, they are more than that. Migraines are a severe headache, plus. They are a type of neurological disease in which chemicals, nerves, and the brain itself play a role. Yet not everyone will experience extreme pain. Migraines vary in both how much they hurt and how long they last. (10,11)
What are the symptoms of a migraine?
When someone has a migraine, the brain activity is altered, which, in turn, affects the blood and tissues in and around the brain. This leads to a variety of symptoms beyond just booming pain, such as: (12,13,14,15)
Nausea and/or vomiting
Sensitivity to light, noise, or smells
Tingling in the arms or legs
“Visions” known as auras, which include flashes of light
The four migraine phases
Migraines are often broken down into several phases. Not every person with a migraine will go through all of the phases, however. These phases include: (16,17,18,19,20,21)
Prodrome phase: This is the “warning phase,” letting you know that a migraine is on its way. There are several signs that a migraine is coming, such as:
Aura phase: Not everyone gets auras, but those who do usually get them before or during their migraine. Auras can involve seeing bright lights, having blurred vision, or experiencing blind spots that may worsen as time goes on. Some people may also have tingling in their limbs or slurred speech.
Headache phase: When the headache hits, it’s the worst phase for most. The extreme pain can prevent some people from functioning normally. And any little thing, from light to noise to certain smells, can make the pain even worse. A lucky few will get by with only a minor headache, and rarely, some people may not get a headache at all.
Postdrome phase: This is the calm after the storm. The headache pain has finally gone away, leaving people feeling disoriented, fatigued, and/or sick.
What causes a migraine?
There are many things that can cause or trigger a migraine, including: (22,23,24,25,26)
Environmental triggers: Anything that might cause another type of headache can also trigger a migraine, including certain foods, not enough sleep, stress, strong smells,weather changes, and many other factors.
Genetics: A susceptibility to developing migraines is hereditary. Research suggests that a genetic mutation may be behind this.
Hormones: Three times more women get migraines than men, and this is likely due to hormone changes during menopause, menstruation, and other times of hormonal fluctuation in a woman’s life.
Inflammation: Migraines are caused by inflamed blood vessels, so anything that results in significant inflammation in the body — including allergies and illnesses — may also cause migraines.
If a cold or sinusitis hasyour sinuses plugged up, you may find yourself with a sinus headache. These headaches are a result of swelling in your sinus passages, which leads to pressure or pain behind your cheeks, eyes, and nose, or in your brow and forehead area. The pain often intensifies when you lie down or bend over. (27,28,29)
Sinus headaches are often accompanied by other symptoms, such as nasal congestion, tiredness, and tooth pain.
The most common type of headache, tension headaches are often caused by such things as bad posture, eyestrain, hunger, lack of sleep, and stress. In fact, tension headaches are sometimes referred to as stress headaches. (9,10)
The pain usually starts at the back of your head and then spreads forward and around on both sides. It often feels like something is squeezing your head tightly, and the pain can be linked to muscle pain. (9,10)
What Causes Headaches?
Everyone is different, and what results in a headache in one person may not cause the slightest pain in someone else. Yet there are definitely common triggers at the root of many people’s headaches. Although you’ve read about some of them above, here’s a more comprehensive list of typical headache triggers: (21,24,25,26,27)
Dehydration (this is why you get a headache after you’ve had a little too much to drink the night before)
Eye strain or vision problems
Food allergies or sensitivities
Improper alignment, poor posture, and/or strain on the body
Insomnia/lack of sleep
Pain that originated in and then was transferred from the jaw, neck, or sinuses
Poordrainage (constipation is often a headache trigger)
Toxins and pathogens (see below)
What Sorts of Toxins and Pathogens Cause Headaches?
The many toxins that we’re exposed to on a regular basis can have a real effect on our health. So can the pathogens that live inside us. These various poisons can cause a range of symptoms and health issues, of which headaches are just one.
Here’s a look at some of the toxins and pathogens that could be causing your headaches.
The gut-brain axis is an ever-important channel of communication between your mind and stomach that may also play a part in why you’re getting headaches.
If your head is hurting, bacteria might be the culprit. Some research suggests that bacteria in your mouth could cause headaches. And it also might be caused by the bacteria in your gut. (2,11,12,15)
For example, the consumption of foods and drinks high in nitrates and nitrites — which includes some of our all-time faves, such as bacon, chocolate, hotdogs, and wine — may trigger migraines. (13,14)
The bacteria in your mouth and gut break down the nitrates that you eat, converting them to nitric oxide in your bloodstream. This chemical can cause the blood vessels in your brain to dilate and cause migraines. (13,14,15)
Research has found a connection that backs this up: People with migraines have been tested and tend to have more of those nitrate-chomping bacteria in their bodies, which translates to more nitric oxide and therefore, more headaches. (13,14)
Lyme disease bacteria
Lyme disease is a common and often chronic illness, and as many as 476,000 people worldwide are diagnosed with it every year. The disease is caused by the Borrelia bacteria and is transmitted to humans through the bite of a tick. Lyme disease often coincides with other bacterial and parasitic infections, includingBabesia, Bartonella, and Ehrlichia. (30,31,32)
Many people with Lyme disease — as many as 78% of children and 50% of adults — complain of chronic and painful headaches or migraines. This is because Lyme disease causes inflammation in the body, and, as discussed above, inflammation can lead to headaches. (33,34,35,36,37)
The fungus candida usually lives peacefully and harmlessly in our bodies and doesn’t bother us a bit. Healthy bacteria and our immune system normally keep candida in check. (38)
But taking antibiotics or undergoing stress can kill off some of those healthy bacteria or cause the dysfunction of our immune system. And when that happens, candida may grow uncontrollably and cause fungal infections.
A common symptom of too much candida (a condition known as candidiasis) is a sinus infection. And as you already read, where there are sinus infections, there are often headaches. This is usually caused by congestion and a build-up up mucus inside your head. (39,40,41,42)
Just remember that if you take antibiotics to treat a fungal sinus infection, it might make matters worse.
Mold toxicity is a dangerous and prevalent affliction. Anywhere water or water damage exist, mold can grow. And exposure to mold can be very detrimental to our health. Headaches and/or migraines are among the more common mold-related symptoms. (16,17)
Mold spores in the air may trigger an allergic reaction that can cause inflammation inside your head, resulting in a headache. Breathing in mold spores also frequently causes inflammation of the mucous membranes in your nose and sinuses, leading to sinus infections and headaches. In addition, headaches can be brought about by the toxins — known as mycotoxins — that molds often release. (16,17,43,44)
Everyone has parasites, but some are worse than others. If you find yourself with chronic and perhaps unexplained headaches, it could be parasites.
Several different types of parasites have been linked to migraines and other headaches. Probably the most common one is a type of tapeworm larvae that lives in infected pork. It can also be found on raw fruits and vegetables if they’re not properly washed. (18,19,20)
When people eat contaminated food, the baby tapeworms hatch and eventually find their way up to the brain. Sometimes the larvae congregate together and form cysts, which can block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and cause pressure to build in your brain. Not only can this result in a headache, but it can cause additional symptoms and is very dangerous. (18,19,20)
There are other types of parasites, including blood flukes and other varieties of tapeworm, that like to set up shop inside your head. Not surprisingly, parasites in your brain can cause headaches. (45,20)
Many headache-inducing parasites release toxins that mess with your central nervous system and result in head pain. They may also produce histamine, which can cause the blood vessels in your brain to dilate and your blood pressure to drop. This can also lead to a severe headache or migraine. (46,47,20)
How to Treat Your Headaches
No one wants to live with headache pain. Even if having a headache has become part of your daily routine, it doesn’t have to be. Yet sometimes, getting past headache pain can be difficult, frustrating. It can feel like you’re banging your head against the wall.
Here are some tips that help with most types of headaches:
Avoid your triggers: From allergies to altitude, medication to muscle strain, whatever it is that seems to be giving you a headache, first identify your triggers, and then try to limit exposure to them.
Call in some chiropractic care: For tension headaches or migraines, sometimes it pays to get the help of a professional who can assist you with better alignment, improved posture, relaxation, and more.
Decrease any muscle tension: Tense muscles often mean headaches. To reduce those clenching muscles that can lead to head pain, here are a few options to try:
Ice or moist heat on the back of your neck for 5-10 minutes
Peppermint and lavender essential oils on the back of the neck or temples to ease pain (peppermint cools and relaxes muscle tension)
Stretching and/or massage
Topical pain relievers on your neck or temples (avoid the eye area)
Reduce nausea: If you’re experiencing nausea alongside your headaches or migraines, try drinking ginger ale or peppermint tea. You can also add a small amount of ginger or peppermint to warm water or hot tea to make your own headache-fighting elixir.
Stay hydrated: It’s recommended that you drink between 60 and 100 ounces of water per day, depending on your body makeup, health and activity levels, and gender.Staying hydrated can help fight headaches and provides countless health benefits.Distilled water is the most pure and toxin-free option.
Steer clear of stimulants and inflammatory foods: Certain foods and substances found in foods, including caffeine, dairy, gluten, and white sugar, are known headache triggers. If you’re prone to headaches, try to limit your intake of these things.
Take supplements: Supporting drainage will help remove toxins, which can be contributing to the inflammation and gut issues that might be behind your headaches.
Try some aromatic support: Diffusing essential oils can help you relax if stress or tension is the source of your headache. You can also diffuse peppermint oil to ease nausea.
Get Your Head Back in the Game
Headaches can really knock you out. They can make it difficult to function and can affect your quality of life. Almost everyone gets headaches — approximately 95% of people will have a headache at some point. But if your headaches are severe or regular, that’s not normal. And it doesn’t have to be that way. (21)
If you’re tired of the feeling that someone has a vice grip on your temples or is playing a drum riff in your head, seek solutions. You can work on eliminating the root causes of your headaches and treating the pain in your head. With a little help and dedication, you’ll be heading for healthy in no time.
Detox is a trendy term, and “cleansing” regimens abound. But many of them go about it the wrong way. That could leave you feeling worse than when you started. An effective detox regimen starts with drainage. Learn more about the body's drainage funnel and how it impacts your health.
The lunar cycle has a unique link to nature, from animals to the ocean tide. But how does the lunar cycle influence human health and behavior? Learn how the lunar cycle affects hormones, the insidious connection to parasites, and ways to support your body during the next fullest phase of the moon.
Those musty smells in your basement could point to a hidden culprit behind your chronic health problems: mold poisoning. Its toxins can wreak havoc with your health and lead to a host of symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, and muscle aches. Learn more about mold toxicity and why mold illness often goes unrecognized.