The symptoms of many headaches can be reduced with over-the-counter pain relief medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol). Some medications, like Extra-Strength Tylenol, can help if you have chronic headaches.
Treatment is most effective when it’s based on the exact cause of your headache.
Treating arthritis headaches
Arthritis headaches are best treated with anti-inflammatories and heat to reduce inflammation.
Treating headaches caused by poor posture
Headaches caused by poor posture can be treated immediately with acetaminophen. In the long term, you can treat or try to prevent these headaches by improving your posture. Purchase an ergonomic work chair with good lumbar support, and sit with both feet on the ground.
Treating headaches caused by herniated disks
Headaches caused by herniated disks rely on the treatment of the underlying condition. Treatment for herniated disks include physical therapy, gentle stretching, chiropractic manipulation, epidural injections for inflammation, and surgery if needed. Good results may be maintained through exercise.
Treating occipital neuralgia
Occipital neuralgia may be treated through a combination of warm/heat therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical therapy, massage, and prescription muscle relaxers. In severe cases, your doctor may inject a local anesthetic into the occipital area for immediate relief. This treatment option can last up to 12 weeks.
Treating tension headaches
Tension headaches are typically treated with over-the-counter pain relievers. Your doctor may prescribe prescription medications for severe, chronic tension headaches. Your doctor may also prescribe preventative medications like antidepressants or muscle relaxants to reduce headaches from occurring in the future.
For migraines, your doctor may prescribe both a preventative medication, like a beta-blocker, and an immediate pain-relief medication.
Some over-the-counter medications, like Excedrin Migraine, are designed specifically for migraines. These may work for mild migraines, but not severe ones. Your doctor may also help you discover what triggers your migraines so that you can avoid these stimuli.
Treating cluster headaches
Treatment for cluster headaches focuses on shortening the headache period, reducing the severity of attacks, and preventing further attacks from occurring.
Acute treatment may include:
- triptans, which are also used to treat migraines and can be injected for fast relief
- octreotide, an injectable artificial version of the brain hormone, somatostatin
- local anesthetics
Preventative methods may include:
- calcium channel blockers
- nerve blockers
In extremely severe cases, surgery may be used.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if:
- you start experiencing new headaches that last for more than a few days
- your headaches interfere with your normal activities
- the pain is accompanied by tenderness near the temple
- you experience any new changes in headache patterns
If you develop a severe headache that’s worse than you’ve ever had, or if your headaches become progressively worse, you should make an appointment as soon as possible.
If your pain becomes impossible to think through, go to an emergency room.
There are some symptoms that indicate an emergency. If you experience headaches alongside any of the following symptoms, seek emergency medical attention:
- sudden changes in your personality, including uncharacteristic mood swings or agitation
- fever, stiff neck, confusion, and decreased alertness to the point where you’re struggling to focus on a conversation
- visual disturbances, slurred speech, weakness (including weakness on one side of the face), and numbness anywhere in the body
- severe headaches following a blow to the head
- headaches that come on extremely abruptly when they normally don’t, especially if they’ve woken you up