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Headaches

headaches; migraine; vision; head; injuries; sinus; tension; stress; injury; sun; concussion;

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Do you get headaches? Headaches are very common. There are many causes of headaches, and how they need to be managed depends on the cause and how often they happen.

Symptoms of headaches

  • The main symptom of a headache is the pain, which can be one-sided or on both sides of the head, at the front or the back of the head, or on the side around the jaw.
  • Bad headaches can cause a person to be irritable, to want to lie down, to want to stay away from bright light or noise, to feel nauseated ('whoozy') and even to vomit (throw up).

Causes of headaches

Causes of headaches include:

  • fever (many illnesses which cause a fever also cause headaches)
  • too much sun exposure 
  • ear, nose, throat or sinus infections
  • infections of the brain or around the brain (these are rare)
  • injuries to the brain, head or neck (bumps, concussion, heat exhaustion or too much sun)
  • migraine
  • vision (eye) problems
  • tension (stress).

Head injuries

Concussion is when a person receives a blow to the head which affects their brain function, and may cause them to lose consciousness. The brain is able to move a small amount inside the skull, and a blow to the head can cause bruising as the soft brain hits the hard skull.

  • Mild head injuries causing unconsciousness for a few seconds usually do not leave any lasting problems, but for a while after the injury (hours to days), the person can have a bad headache.
  • She may not cope well for a few days with school work or other tasks which require good concentration.
  • If the person is unconscious for a few minutes or more, that person usually needs care in a hospital.
  • More severe concussion can also cause dizziness, confusion and difficulty with concentration and remembering things - these problems can last weeks or more.
  • There can also be a long-lasting headache.
  • Extra help may be needed, including time off work or school.

If any of these happen, it is important to check with a doctor.

Too much sun

  • Staying too long in the sun, especially if it results in heat stress or sunstroke, can cause a severe headache.
  • It is important to get out of the sun, have something to drink, and rest.
  • If you don't feel a lot better within 15 minutes or so, you need to be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
  • It's a good idea to wear a hat if you are in the sun, preferably one with a brim that will protect your neck and face too.
  • Check out the topic 'Sun protection for your skin' to learn more about being sun smart.

Migraine

  • Migraine is the most common cause of repeated headaches.
    • The headache is usually worse on one side of the head than the other.
    • The person will often feel sick or vomit.
    • There may be a warning sign that the headache is coming, such as a change in vision (blurred vision, flashing lights).
  • Often the headache goes away after a sleep in a darkened room.
  • The person is quite well in between attacks.
  • Often other family members also have migraines.
  • Paracetamol at the beginning of the headache may help, but sleep is often the best treatment once the headache starts.
  • If migraine headaches are happening often, check with your doctor to see if something can be used to prevent the headaches.
  • Note: sometimes vision problems can trigger migraine headaches.
  • Have a look at the topic Migraine for more information.

Vision problems

  • Students who have trouble focussing their eyes so that they can see school work will often get headaches.
  • Focussing on a computer screen or book for a long time without looking away can make eyes dry and sore and lead to headaches.
  • These headaches tend to get worse during the day, or at night when the person is tired, and often go away on weekends.
  • If you have this sort of headache, and perhaps other signs of eyesight problems (such as needing to screw up your eyes or close one eye to see more clearly), you need to get your eyes checked.

Can you believe that some people who need glasses don't wear them because they think they are 'not cool'? Instead, they screw up their eyes, or just don't know what to do when everyone else is working! How 'uncool' is that? There are so many styles of glasses these days - it is like shopping for a new fashion accessory.

Tension headaches

  • People can have headaches because of stress, anxiety, depression or things going wrong in their lives.
  • Tension headaches can also be caused by holding the head in one position for a long time without moving. For example, people who work on a computer for several hours without stopping can get tension headaches.
  • The pain is due to tight muscles in the neck and scalp.
  • The headache causes a dull feeling of pressure all over the head, often worse over the temples and back of the head. It is not one-sided.
  • They can happen every day, or several times each week, or not very often at all.

If you are having headaches often, you should see your doctor. Tension headaches are annoying, but they don't cause long lasting problems. However, you need to be sure that it is only a tension headache.

Paracetamol or ibuprofen may help ease the pain of a headache, but it is important to try to change what is happening so that you don't get so many headaches.

  • Make sure that you always take a regular break if you are doing work that needs you to sit still.
  • Make sure that you get enough sleep.
  • Massaging the scalp and neck may help.
  • See if you can reduce your feelings of stress by relaxation or exercise. Have a look at our topics Stress - how to recognise it and Stress - learning to relax.
  • Take the time to work out what may be causing you to feel stressed, and see what you can do to change it.
    • Have a talk with your teacher if you are having problems at school with class work or the behaviours of others (eg. if you are being bullied).
    • Talk to a trusted adult if there are problems at home or with friends.

Resources

There is a very large amount of information about Headache on the Medline Plus site (National Library of Medicine, USA).

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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