Diagnosing And Treating Headaches

Headaches are a common problem anyone may face. When headaches become ongoing or severe, determining the type of headache and finding a treatment can give you more good days and help you get back to normal.


It is important to describe all symptoms that accompany your headaches and any other information that might be helpful in making a diagnosis. For example, some descriptions of the pain and location of the headache may differentiate one type of headache from another. Sinus headaches are characteristically described as a pressure in the forehead or on either side of the nose, whereas tension headaches might be sharp and located in the temples. Sometimes visual disturbances or nausea accompany migraines. Your doctor might also refer you to a neurologist for further evaluation and to exclude other causes of your headaches.


Your doctor might want imaging tests that may help with their diagnosis and to send to a specialist before your referral appointment. Sinus problems might be obvious on x-ray, CT, or MRI. In some cases, there might be obvious debris, signs of infection, or narrowing of the sinus cavities that could be consistent with some of your symptoms. CT and MRI can be useful in ruling out tumors or evidence of a prior stroke. Migraines, cluster, and tension headaches will not show up on any imaging tests, and your results will be more exclusionary. When your imaging tests are normal, your diagnosis may primarily rely on symptoms.


Some types of headaches might be managed by your family medical care doctor. If your doctor believes your headaches are consistent with sinus problems, they will likely recommend nasal steroids. These medications are nasal sprays which can shrink inflamed tissue and help keep your sinuses open. Although these medications can be taken for a while, you should have a referral to a specialist to determine if there are any procedures that could provide long-term relief from sinus problems. Migraines are frequently treated with preventative medications, which can reduce the intensity and duration of migraines, especially if you have these types of headaches many days of the month. Cluster headaches are often the hardest to treat. Sometimes oxygen therapy can be beneficial at the first sign a cluster headache is beginning.

Severe headaches warrant prompt evaluation in an emergency room since they could be an indication of a life-threatening medical condition. Otherwise, speaking with your doctor about your symptoms can help you diagnose the problem and find the right treatment to reduce the number and intensity of ongoing headaches.