Overview of Acute Headaches from a Top Chicago Pain Clinic

Acute headaches cause different kinds of pain with their own unique sets of symptoms. They happen for several different reasons, and they all require various kinds of treatments. With the help of your doctor, you can find a treatment that’s right for your headache and talk about future prevention measures.

What are the types of acute headaches?

The most common types of headaches are:

  • Migraines: Affects any age. Causes throbbing, pounding with a sensitivity to light, sound, and at times, smells. May vomit or feel nausea, lose appetite, have upset stomach with pain. May feel dizzy, have blurry vision, occur with fever, and look pale (especially children). May last from few hours to three days, one to four times a month. Severe in pain. A small percentage of children who develop migraines will develop digestive symptoms such as vomiting, usually once a month. Another name for this is abdominal migraines.
  • Tension headaches: Adults and teens affected mostly. The headaches are also called stress headaches. Mild to moderate pain.
  • Sinus headaches: May develop a deep and constant pain in the bridge of your nose, and also, in the forehead and cheekbones. The cavities of the head called sinuses get inflamed. Mild to moderate and some severe pain has happened.
  • Cluster headaches: Cluster headaches are the most severe type of headaches, and the most common of headaches. Most people experience pain so extreme that they can’t be still during an episode. The burning behind the eyes can be a very intense and throbbing pain. The word “cluster” comes from the fact the headaches happens in a particular period of time. For instance, one may experience a headache once a day, or three times in a day, for two weeks or up to three months. They will go into remission only to return again months or years later.
  • Mixed headache syndrome: This condition is a mix of tension and migraine headaches which are usually called transformed migraines. Adults and children can get these headaches.

What causes acute headaches?

Many things can bring on an acute headache. Causes include:

  • Infection – A sinus or respiratory infection can be the cause of acute headaches, which usually affect children. They usually start all at once and disappear shortly after onset. If the nerves aren’t involved, the cause is usually an infection.
  • Illness – Cold or fever resulting from sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), throat inflammation, and ear infections all contribute to acute headaches.
  • Accidents – Receiving an injury to the head as in falling or getting hit may cause headaches.
  • Environment – Chemicals from household items such as air fresheners, laundry cleaners, personal grooming products, gel nail polish, perfumes, and deodorants all are causes of acute headaches. Other environmental causes are tobacco smoke, pollution, changes in weather, and certain foods and drinks containing harmful chemicals.
  • Stress – Mental, emotional, and physical stress can be common causes for headaches. For example, neck and back strain, eye strain, overdoing medication, skipping meals, alcohol, depression, poor posture, and sleep disorders all contribute to stressful situations which can cause headaches.

How are acute headaches diagnosed?

During an examination, a doctor will evaluate your symptoms. He/she will need to know what you think causes the headaches, what makes the pain and symptoms worse, and what you feel makes the symptoms better. The doctor may order tests if the condition worsens. Testing incomes laboratory blood work, sinus x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Keep a diary of daily activities to keep track of what could cause your headaches. This will help you to stay away from anything which could trigger them. Practice good habits such as:

  • Steady exercise
  • Healthy eating
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Lessen stress

How common are acute headaches?

Headaches affect around 50% of the general population at some time during life. The worldwide prevalence of headaches is around 66%. Acute tension-type headaches account for around 25% of all headaches, and 10% of acute headaches are migraine type. Regarding chronic daily headache, the prevalence is approximately 5%, but they are more common among women (prevalence rate 9%) and Whites.

Premier Pain and Spine offers top headache management including cluster, tension, sinus, mixed and migraine headaches. Treatment ranges from medication management to procedures and often a customized combination.

Most insurance is accepted at Premier Pain and Spine’s several pain clinics in Chicago. Call us today for relief from our Chicago headache specialists!


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Scher AI, Stewart WF, Liberman J, Lipton RB. Prevalence of frequent headache in a population sample. Headache. 1998;38(7):497–506.

Wiendels NJ, Knuistingh Neven A, Rosendaal FR, et al. Chronic frequent headache in the general population: prevalence and associated factors. Cephalalgia. 2006;26(12):1434–1442.

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