Headaches have a wide variety of causes, ranging from eyestrain to inflammation of the sinus cavities to life-threatening conditions such as encephalitis, brain cancer, and cerebral aneurysms. When the headache occurs in conjunction with a head injury the cause is usually quite evident; however, many causes of headaches are more elusive. The most common type of headache is a tension headache. Some people experience headaches when they are hungry or dehydrated.
There are different types of headache and many different causes, which explain why the condition is so common. Recurring headache can be caused by different factors working together.
Stress and muscular tension
Stress is thought to trigger the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, which is characterised by shallow breathing, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and increased amounts of ‘stress chemicals’ like adrenaline. Stress can cause or worsen a headache in a number of ways, including:
- Tightening the muscles, particularly of the upper back, shoulders, neck and head.
- Lowering a person’s tolerance to pain.
- Nullifying the effects of medications like painkillers.
- Reducing the levels of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkilling chemicals.Hormones
Researchers are not 100% sure about how hormones affect headaches. It is observed that the change in estrogen levels can cause headaches in women who are confirmed to have migraines. These women report headaches before or after menstruation. This period is when the level of estrogen in a woman’s body drops. Pregnancy and menopause could also increase the chances of woman to experience headaches. Contraceptive pills, which contain hormones, can also make the headaches worse.
It is usually the migraine patients, who are most sensitive to light and in whom glaring lights might trigger headaches. Especially slow “flickering” lights rather than rapidly flickering ones might lead to a headache.
It is quite common to see people complaining of headaches because of eyestrain. It might be true that certain activities might lead to refractory errors in the eye thus leading to eyestrain and consequently to headaches.
The conditions which put a strain on the eyes can be sitting in front of the computer or television for too long, playing video games, or, reading in improper lighting conditions. But apart from these, a poor posture, stress, and long periods of concentration are also causes for headaches.
Diet and food sensitivities
According to some studies, what we eat and when we eat it plays a significant role in headache and migraine. Different causes of headache include:
- Fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which can lead to spasm of the arteries in the head.
- Caffeine withdrawal, commonly caused by regular and excessive consumption of coffee and tea.
- Food additives, such as MSG (monosodium glutamate).
- Naturally occurring chemicals in foods, such as amines.
Ear, nose and throat disorders
There are many disorders of the ear, nose and throat that can cause recurring headache. Some of the more common include:
- Sinus problems – caused by infection, cold, flu or allergic reactions such as hay fever.
- Labyrinthitis – the general term for any type of inflammation of the inner ear.
- Infection – of the ear, nose or throat, caused by either bacteria or viruses.
- Trauma – such as blows to the ear, or perforation of the ear drum.
- Hay fever – when the immune system overreacts to such irritants as pollen.
- Tonsillitis – an infection most often caused by the bacterium streptococcus.
- Tumours – brain tumour is a relatively rare cause of recurrent headache.