Managing Headaches Without Pain Medication

Migraines affect women more often than men, but men suffer more from cluster headaches.

"Hallmarks of a cluster headache are that it's short-lived, and exclusively around the eye, with symptoms around the eye," said Lipton.

Often, a person with a cluster headache will get a runny nose on the side of the pain, their eye might droop and they might sweat.

The headaches may last from 15 minutes to three hours, and often occur every other day in "clusters" for several weeks in a row, according to the American Headache Society.

The majority of patients might experience a remission for several months before the clusters come back, but about 10 percent of people don't have any remission from the headaches.

Secondary Headache: Sinus Headaches

A very well-known secondary headache is the sinus headache. Just as the name implies, the pain is caused by the pressure of a sinus infection.

The American Rhinologic Society says sinus headache pain is located over the sinuses -- forehead, corners of the eye, and cheek areas -- with occasional pain behind the eyes and in the back of the neck.

But for it to be a genuine sinus headache, it must also stem from a sinus infection, and so will be accompanied by nasal congestion, nasal drip and often discoloration of the mucus.

The pain patterns on the face and behind the eyes that accompany sinus infections can be similar to the pain of a less severe migraine. But unlike migraines, sinus headaches aren't likely to strike a person several times a month or year.

"Most people who show up in my practice think they have a sinus headache, and they have a migraine," said Lipton. "It's unlikely that you're getting a sinus infection three times a month."

The American Rhinologic Society recommends oral decongestants or a nasal spray, which will relieve true sinus headaches for a few days. If symptoms persist, the society recommends seeing a doctor.

How to Treat Common Headaches

Tension-type headaches and migraines might be different, but Lipton said doctors follow the same three approaches in treating them: behavioral, acute therapy and prevention.

"Behavioral treatment means learning to manage whatever your trigger is," said Lipton, who mentioned stress, red wine, skipping meals or not exercising as common culprits.

"If your trigger is sleep deprivation, then getting enough sleep helps," said Lipton.

Acute therapy involves taking medicine "when the headache begins to stop the pain," said Lipton.

Many medications are used for acute therapy from over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to barbiturates to opiates and, more often for migraine, triptans.

Aside from behavioral and acute therapy, Lipton said people who have migraines 10 percent of the time could benefit from medicine taken every day to prevent migraines.

Unfortunately, the agony of a severe headache such as a migraine can be challenging to control without medication, despite the risk of medication-overuse headaches.

Below are some helpful tips from Dr. Joel Saper, founder and director of the Institute and the inpatient Head and Pain Treatment Unit at Chelsea Community Hospital, in Ann Arbor, Mich., to help avoid over-reliance on medications.

For additional information, visit our On Call Pain Management Center.

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