What Your Chronic Headaches Could Be Telling You

At best, a headache can be annoying, leaving you feeling grumpy and reaching for an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever. At worst, a headache or migraine can leave you feeling unable to fulfill even the simplest of tasks at work or home. A random headache or migraine often isn’t a reason for concern, especially if a clear cause is apparent, but chronic “mystery” headaches could easily be more serious.

Headaches are often a type of referred pain, or symptom of a problem located in a different area of the body. It could be close by like the jaw or be further away like the digestive tract. It’s also common for them to pop up when things seem off in our bodies. Think of it as your body’s way of saying “Hey! I could really use some help!”

With that in mind, we’re going to approach troubleshooting your headaches from a whole-body health perspective. This means determining the underlying cause(s) and treating it holistically rather than simply treating the headache symptom.

Types of Headaches and What They Mean

Did you know that there are over 100 different types of headaches? Some types are extremely specific to the underlying cause, but many relate only to the pain or sensation being felt. However, even the vague types are very useful in helping doctors and dentists diagnose their patients.

The three most common types of headaches include:

  • Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are what most consider the “classic” headache sensation. They are generally mildly painful and tend to disappear after taking an OTC pain reliever. Tension headaches often occur sporadically, and most people feel normal aside from the actual headache pain.

  • Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are the most severe in terms of pain felt. People who experience these often feel pulsing or constant, intense pain. The discomfort often impacts either the left or right eye in addition to the head. A cluster headache can happen randomly, last for a few minutes to a few hours, and, as their name suggests, occur in clusters.

  • Migraine Headaches

While cluster headaches feel intense and sharp, migraine cause deep, throbbing pain. Many describe migraines as feeling as though their brain is pounding in their head. Migraines can last anywhere from hours to days before subsiding, and OTC pain relievers may not help. You’ll often experience accompanying symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to light, and dizziness.

All three types of headaches can be considered chronic conditions if they occur daily or every few days.

Lesser-Known Causes of Chronic Headaches and Migraines

Sometimes the underlying cause of a headache or migraine is easily uncovered. Perhaps you’ve been drinking a lot of soda or coffee lately and not much water. Maybe seasonal allergies are doing a number on your sinuses. Or it could be that you’ve been going through a particularly stressful week.

You should never ignore chronic headaches or migraines, but mild to moderate tension ones that occur infrequently are generally considered in the realm of normalcy. However, when the cause of your headaches remains a mystery, the trigger could be one of these more unusual causes.

Some lesser-known causes of chronic headaches include:

  • Poor Nutrition or Digestion

Poor nutrition, excessive caffeine or sugar, missing meals, dehydration, and vitamin deficiencies are just a few examples of diet-related problems that can cause headaches. They can also be a symptom of digestive disorders like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, and celiac disease.

  • TMJ Disorder

A temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder impacts the jaw joint. Oftentimes headaches, jaw pain, neck stiffness, and back pain occur simultaneously. However, it’s possible for a TMJ disorder to feel like a painful tension headache or migraine with little to no pain felt in the jaw itself.

  • Sleep Apnea

Are you a snorer? If you snore most nights and often wake up with a headache or develop one first thing in the morning, you could have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA impacts sleep quality, blood pressure, and oxygen during the night, which typically causes a morning headache.

  • Poor Oral Health

Poor oral health includes tooth decay, gum disease, a misaligned bite, and bruxism (teeth grinding). It isn’t uncommon for the effects of poor oral health to not only cause toothaches and jaw pain but also trigger painful, lingering headaches.

  • Environmental Toxins

Smoke, chemicals, fragrances, and poor air quality can all trigger headaches. Sometimes the culprit may be difficult to pinpoint, such as a fabric softener, a perfume, or a countertop cleaner.

  • Medication Rebound

Rebound headaches happen when you stop taking a pain reliever that you had been taking daily. This typically occurs when someone has recently had an injury or surgery that required pain medication stronger than an OTC option. However, it’s also possible for a cycle of relying on OTC pain relievers to develop in those who already experience chronic headaches.

A Whole-Body Approach to Treating Headaches and Migraines

When you suffer from frequent or chronic headaches, it’s important to know that unless you treat the underlying cause, your headaches will never entirely stop. This is why a holistic approach to treatment is so important. A great doctor will look beyond the headache and deeper into your health and environmental factors to figure out the root cause.

A diagnosis often begins with a thorough physical exam, mental health discussion, and work and home environment observation. Your doctor will start off with what they believe is the most likely cause based on your symptoms and work down from there until an answer is found.

Your dentist can help solve the mystery behind your headaches.

Your dentist is a fantastic source of help when it comes to putting an end to your headaches. Holistic dentistry is an approach to dental care that encompasses physical and mental health factors and helps you determine if your oral health could be a contributing factor.

Ada Smile Place places a strong focus on the mouth-body connection and can determine if bruxism, a TMJ disorder, or other oral health issue is the cause of your headaches. They can even refer you for a sleep study if they suspect you have sleep apnea. From there your dentist will design a treatment plan to relieve the problem, whether it be by treating decay and gum disease or using orofacial myofunctional therapy for your TMJ pain.

If you’re in or around Ada, Oklahoma, and want to learn more, call our office or use our online form today to schedule your evaluation.