North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

June 18, 2010

Headaches require various treatments

Jonathan Thigpen
The North Jefferson News

GARDENDALE — Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches among adults and adolescents. These muscle contraction headaches cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over a prolonged period of time. They can last from 30 minutes to several days.

Symptoms include:

• A headache that is constant, not throbbing. You usually feel the pain or pressure on both sides of your head

• Pressure that makes you feel like your head is in a vise

• Aching pain at your temples or the back of your head and neck

Most people can treat their tension headaches with pain relievers that you buy without a prescription, like acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or aspirin.

There are many factors to consider when deciding about prescription drugs for tension headaches.

Reasons to take

prescription drugs∑

• You have moderate to severe headaches that affect your daily activities

• You have frequent or chronic tension headaches

• Your symptoms get in the way of your ability to function and you miss school or work because of chronic tension headaches

• You have tried taking nonprescription pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen, but they do not relieve your symptoms

• Your tension headaches are related to anxiety and depression

• You have tried numerous stress management therapies but none have helped

Reasons not to take

prescription drugs

• You have mild to moderate tension headaches that are not disabling

• You get tension headaches only once in awhile

• Your symptoms can be controlled by nonprescription pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen

• Other drugs that you are taking for additional health conditions interact poorly with drugs for tension headaches

• You believe your tension headaches are related to stress, and you want to try stress management therapies before trying drugs

• You are pregnant or nursing a baby


The exact causes of migraines are unknown. Migraine pain is moderate to severe, often described as pounding, throbbing pain. They can last from four hours to three days and usually occur one to four times per month.

Migraines are associated with symptoms such as sensitivity to light, noise or odors; nausea or vomiting; loss of appetite; and stomach upset or abdominal pain. Most migraines last about four hours, although severe ones can last up to a week.

People with migraine headaches can try managing mild to moderate attacks at home with the following strategies:

• Applying a cold compress to the area of pain

• Resting and comfortably supporting the head or neck

• Drinking a moderate amount of caffeine

• Trying certain over-the-counter headache medications

• Withdrawing from stressful surroundings

• Sleeping

• When these efforts do not help, migraine headaches may be eased with prescription medications.

Sinus headaches

Sinus headaches are associated with a deep and constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead or bridge of the nose. The pain usually gets worse with sudden head movement or straining and usually occurs with other sinus symptoms, such as a runny nose, feeling of fullness in the ears, fever, and facial swelling.

For relief:

• Use an over-the-counter pain reliever. It’s an obvious solution and you’ve probably already tried it. But medications like Advil, Aleve or Tylenol will help reduce your pain. Follow the directions and don’t use them for more than 10 days at a time.

• Try a decongestant such as Sudafed. These OTC medicines can help reduce the swelling in your nasal passages and reduce the amount of mucus. But follow the instructions. Don’t use nasal decongestant sprays for more than three consecutive days, and don’t use oral decongestants for more than seven.

• Try other medicines. In some cases, inhaled steroids (prescription) and other drugs might help reduce your congestion and sinus headache pain.  

• Keep your nasal passages moist. Dry air will further irritate your sinuses. So use a humidifier or vaporizer. Rest a warm wet towel over your face for a few minutes. Try a saline solution nasal spray.  

• Use nasal irrigation. Get a bulb syringe or neti pot and flush out your sinuses with salt water. It moistens the nasal passages and can clear out your sinuses, reducing the pressure. If you’ve never tried the approach before, get some pointers from your doctor.

• Avoid irritants. Perfume, cigarette smoke and certain chemicals can worsen your sinus symptoms by irritating and inflaming the nasal passageways.

• Antibiotics. Your headache could be caused by a sinus infection. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Make sure to take the full course, exactly as prescribed.  

In summary, there are many ways to deal with headaches.

Home treatment may help you avoid headaches. Learn how to handle stress. Make sure you sleep, exercise, and eat on a regular schedule. Check your posture. Don’t strain your eyes when you use your computer. Get treatment for depression or anxiety.

Try keeping a headache diary. Every time you get a headache, write down the date, the hour, and what you were doing and feeling before your headache started. This may help you and your doctor find out what is causing your headaches.  If you have any questions about prescription or over the counter drugs, ask your doctor or visit your local pharmacy.  Your local pharmacist is a drug expert and is willing to help you in any way possible.

Jonathan Thigpen is a Pharm D Candidate at Samford University’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy, interning at The Pharmacy in Mt. Olive.