Almost everyone, at some point, has experienced some form of headache. While most will run their course and an individual can return to normal functioning, some headache types are quite disabling and cause disruption to one’s life. This article will focus on some of the most common headache types including sinus, weather-related, and migraine. Each type will be described and treatment options discussed. Keep in mind that an individual can have more than one type of headache (I like to say “dogs can have ticks and fleas!”).
Sinus headaches are often migraine headaches with associated sinus symptoms. Sinus headaches are only considered “true” sinus headaches in the presence of a sinus infection characterized by fever, pressure/pain around the cheeks or forehead, purulent phlegm, congestion, and response to an antibiotic. By definition, a true sinus headache should resolve by completion of the antibiotics. Patients might also find relief from nasal decongestants, saline nasal sprays, and antihistamines. Acute and chronic sinusitis infections are often managed by Otolaryngologists (Ear, Nose and Throat physicians or ENT).
Studies have been done showing that sinus symptoms including facial pain, nasal and sinus congestion, and pain with leaning forward are most often migraine attacks. If a disabling headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light are present in addition to the sinus symptoms, then the diagnosis of a migraine headache is likely. This type of headache should respond to migraine specific medication like a triptan. In fact, the triptan (like sumatriptan) should help the sinus symptoms as well as the headache to go away.
A weather-related headache is usually a migraine headache triggered by weather changes, specifically drops in barometric pressure but also temperature changes, high humidity, stormy weather, and extremely dry conditions. This affects the pressure in the external environment, including the external ear canal. A change in barometric pressure of as little as .20 millibars impacts the pressure in the ear canal and can trigger migraines.
How can this be treated? An example of a safe treatment approach for weather-induced headaches is the use of WeatherX, an ear pressure device that can be placed in the ear canal to minimize the change in barometric pressure between the external environment versus the inner pressure in an individual’s inner ear, sinuses, and Eustachian tube. WeatherX looks like a small set of ear plugs (drug & latex free) and is designed to control the rate of barometric pressure changes in the ear canal adjacent to the ear drum (tympanic membrane). This device is best used in conjunction with the free weather app (WeatherX) that can alert an individual about a predicted drop in barometric pressure. To learn more, an individual can go to www.weatherx.com
Migraines are characterized by disabling attacks often including throbbing/pulsating pain, nausea, sensitivity to light, and the desire to be in a dark quiet room. Migraine is the 3rd most prevalent illness in the world. Common triggers include changes in sleep patterns, skipping meals, dehydration, weather changes/barometric pressure changes/altitude changes (including airplane travel), exercise, and stress. Also strong smells (perfumes, detergents), bright lights, smoke/pollution, motion sickness (car, train, boat), and changes in hormone levels that commonly occur during pregnancy, menstruation, menopause, hormone replacement therapy, and oral contraceptives. There are many things in our diet that can exacerbate or trigger migraines- alcohol, aged cheeses, nitrates, others.
With my patients, I try to address as many triggers as possible and that means taking a holistic approach. The category of medication that can be very helpful for acute treatment of migraine is triptans. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) and anti-nausea medications are usually in the discussion as having a migraine “toolbox combination” can be most beneficial to abort their headache. If my patient’s trigger is lack of sleep or diet/hydration issue, we address that. In the case of weather/barometric pressure triggers, I recommend trying WeatherX earplugs. Using the WeatherX app, my patient is alerted to a significant drop in barometric pressure change thus the possibility of using the device to prevent the headache altogether.
In summary, these are just several types of common headaches but medical research and development has led to many safe, non-invasive treatment approaches. Correct diagnosis of headache type is critical to lead to effective treatment.
About Dr. Molly Rossknecht
Dr. Molly Rossknecht, Medical Advisor to WeatherX, is a neurologist who focuses on holistic and drug-free remedies in finding patients headache relief at the OC Migraine & Headache Center in California. Originally from South Florida, Dr. Rossknecht attended Florida Atlantic University and graduated with a BS in Biology and MS in Biomedical Science. She completed the dual degree DO/MPH program at Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr. Rossknecht completed her internship and neurology residency at Garden City Hospital in Michigan, a program through the Statewide Campus System of Michigan State University. She is a proud fellow of the Headache Medicine program at the University of Michigan, directed by Wade Cooper, DO.