Regardless of whether you slant red or blue or what side of the political fence you lean on, Americans can likely agree on one thing: the 2016 Presidential race has been long, very loud and less than pleasant. So it’s perfectly understandable if you might be experiencing a headache or two, or two hundred.
Campaign or not, headaches are one of the most common health complaints people of all ages, gender and political persuasion experience. And figuring out what kind of headache you have and how to best treat it can be, well, a headache in and of itself.
Consider this: more than 150 different types of headache exist, some more serious than others. Three of the most common types are:
- Tension headaches: Identified by persistent ache and pressure at the temples and in the back of the neck. Typically treated with over-the-counter medication.
- Sinus headaches: An infected sinus tract can cause headache pain, and is typically treated with antibiotics.
- Cluster headaches: Intense pain localized in one side of the head, often comes with a runny nose on the same side of the face. These typically recur over time, can be debilitating and are often confused with migraines. Though there is no cure for cluster headaches, a specialist can help manage the condition.
But there’s also the dreaded migraine – a “seriously debilitating condition that can carry huge personal and societal costs,” explains Dr. Marcelo Hochman, a Roper St. Francis affiliated head, neck and facial plastic surgeon whose wife and sister both suffer from the condition. Nearly 28 million Americans, and some 400,000 South Carolinians, suffer from crippling migraine attacks, headaches marked by throbbing pain and nausea that can last from four hours to three days and are typically followed by a period of mental fogginess and fatigue.
Migraines often begin during childhood and peak between ages 25 and 55, but people of any age can experience them. Women, 18% of whom suffer from the condition, are three times more likely to experience migraines than men. There’s often a genetic link.
Most treatment programs begin with medication, including both drugs intended to halt the pain (including triptans, steroids and IV infusions) and medications to ward off migraines before they start, such as beta-blockers, anti-seizure medication and anti-depressants.
For more long-term relief, doctors have begun to use nerve blocking—when an anesthetic is placed around specific branches of the trigeminal nerve and a cluster of nerve cells in the nose, to block pain information from being sent to the brain. Although the medicine only blocks the nerves for a few hours, the relief often lasts much longer. “It’s like turning the power off on a computer,” says Dr. Hochman. “When it reboots, everything comes back to normal.”
If nerve blocking works, additional treatment options such as Botox injections, may be used. Though designed as a way to minimize fine lines and wrinkles, Botox—which was approved by the FDA for the treatment of chronic migraines in 2010—has been found to decrease the contraction of the muscles surrounding pain-sensitive nerves, providing migraine relief that can last for several months.
And for headaches simply brought on by too much CNN or Fox News? We recommend turning off the campaign rhetoric and going outside for a refreshing and relaxing evening stroll.