Deciphering the causes and categories of headaches

Deciphering the causes and categories of headaches

If you have ever experienced a migraine or a tension headache, you may have wondered, why do people have headaches? Given the vast range of headache categories, it is not surprise that there are a wide variety of reasons, and causes of headaches. 

Types of headaches range from sinus and tension headaches to cluster, migraine or ocular headaches. Some people suffer chronic and/or severe headaches, while others experience only occasional or moderate headaches.

Why do people have headaches? Here is a list of some of the primary causes of headaches:

Environmental Factors:   Anyone who has experienced allergies understands that natural environmental factors such as pollen, allergens, dust and wind can lead to headaches. Headaches caused by airborne allergens are typically referred to as sinus headaches or allergy headaches.

Alcohol:   Ever drink too much wine or experience a hangover after a night of excessive drinking?  If so you may have wondered why do people have headaches from alcohol? There are two factors that cause the headache typically known as a ?hangover?. The first is that alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing the body to loose water, as well as potassium and magnesium. The second factor is that alcohol contains toxins that cause blood vessels to dilate. The extreme dilation of blood vessels near the brain stem can impact the brains’ pain sensing nerves.


Chemicals or Pollutants:   Ever get a headache at a gas station while you are pumping gasoline? Many people cite gasoline, carbon monoxide fumes, formaldehyde, even house hold cleaners, as triggers that can spark both minor and severe headaches.

Certain Foods/Dietary Causes:   Some foods have been known to bring on migraine headaches. Foods that have been proven to lead to migraine headaches include foods high in tyramine, such as aged cheeses and some chocolates, food high in nitrates such as preserved meats, foods and beverages high in caffeine, such as sodas, and foods containing the preservative MSG (Monosodium Glutamate.) 

Internal Causes/Brain Chemistry:   Scientific and medical research has proven that individuals suffering from migraine or chronic headaches often have low serotonin levels, which can adversely effect the sensory impulses carried by the trigeminal nerve located in the brain stem. Pain medications, supplements, or other treatments may be recommended for those who suffer chronic or regular headaches.

Hormonal Causes:   Many women experience headaches either prior to or during menstrual cycles, or during ovulation. Hormonal headaches can also become more suddenly or severe as a woman’s hormone levels begin to shift during peri-menopause or at menopause.

Vision Stress:   Headaches caused by vision problems or eye strain are typically referred to as tension headaches. In the work place, tension headaches can result from starring at a computer screen for too long. Tension headaches are often the first indication of vision problems in young children, who strain to see blackboards in a classroom environment. Tension headaches in children are typically resolved with glasses or contact lenses.

There are a multitude of distinct types of headaches and different reasons for each. While the vast majority of the population will suffer from a headache at one time or another, most headaches are not a serious health concern. However, regular, chronic or disabling headaches can be indications of a more serious or deep seated health problem.

For example, headaches are the most common initial symptom of brain tumors. Brain tumor headaches have been described by cancer patients as worse in the morning, with gradual improvement over the course of the day. Brain tumor headaches do not usually respond to standard headache remedies or medications.

If you are concerned about serious or chronic headaches, consult a physician. Maintaining a headache journal, to keep track of location of a particular headache, time of day, and repeated occurrences is one way to track serious headaches and help doctors to correctly treat or understand an individual’s unique category of headaches.