Hone in on Headache Pain

May 25, 2017

How it happens—and what can help

If you’ve noticed an uptick in how often you’ve had a headache this summer, you’re not alone. Allergies, travel stress, dehydration, humidity, and extreme heat can all lead to headaches.

“Although there are several types of headaches, migraine and tension headaches are the most common,” says neurologist Michelle Noel, DO. A migraine starts deep within the brain. It involves the brain stem, nerves and blood vessels. The brain releases chemicals that inflame and irritate the nerves and blood vessels, causing pain.

Tension headaches may be triggered by tense muscles in the neck and shoulders, which may cause pain to be referred to the head and behind the eyes.

Only rarely are headaches a sign of a serious medical condition, but if you experience new or worsening headache symptoms that are not like your typical headaches, seek medical attention immediately.

What’s the difference?


A migraine causes throbbing pain felt on one or both sides of the head. This headache may also be preceded or associated with changes in sight—like seeing spots or flashes of light, known as aura—and changes in sensations or the ability to speak. You may feel nauseated or vomit. Pain may last for 4 to 72 hours.


This type of headache is usually a dull ache or a sensation of pressure on both sides of the head. It may be associated with pain or tension in the neck and shoulders. Depression, anxiety, and stress can cause a tension headache. The pain may not have a definite beginning or end. It may come and go, or it may seem to never go away.

When to get medical help

Call your doctor for headaches that happen along with any of these symptoms:

- Sudden, severe headache that is different from your usual headache pain

- Loss of vision or blurry vision

- Recurring headache or headaches that worsen over time

- Ongoing numbness or muscle weakness

- Pain following a head injury

- Memory loss

- Coordination loss

- High fever along with a stiff neck


The experts at Kettering Health Network’s Brain & Spine Center offer the most innovative care for neurological conditions. Learn more at ketteringhealth.org/brain