Headaches and back pains are the most common causes of doctor visits in the United States. Headaches certainly impact work life and family life throughout the world.
There a huge variety of types of headaches. Nevertheless, they can be roughly categorized in three groups: Acute, Chronic Periodic, and Chronic continuous. This description will touch on all three groups, but we need to emphasize the eRemedies from eremedyonline.com/module/24/headache/ will be effective only for those in the Acute category.
The term “acute” refers to sudden onset, self-limited (in the sense that it would go away on its own eventually), and often unpredictable. Examples of headaches of this type would be those caused by: fever, head injury, sun exposure, stress or tension, hangover, and sinus infection. The quality of each of these differs, as do the medical dynamics underlying the pain.
All mammals have an evolved ability to generate fever in the presence of infection. Normal body temperature in humans is 97.6º F according to worldwide research in the 1990s; previously it was believed to be 98.6º F by informal observation.
Viruses and bacteria have a narrow temperature tolerance, so a rise in body temperature burns them out. There is no danger in fever, because the hypothalamus has an automatic shut-off at 106º F. Artificially lowering a fever using paracetimol, aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen does relieve fever symptoms temporarily but prolongs the infection and increases the chance of secondary infection which can be more serious.
Most fevers in the developed world are brought on by viruses such as sore throat, influenza and sometimes pneumonia, but can be a sign of meningitis or encephalitis. In the developing world, malaria and typhoid are more important causes, as was Ebola in recent times in West Africa.
The body’s temperature regulation mechanism is well-delineated. It involves constriction and dilation of peripheral blood vessels and control of sweating, all mediated by a temperature-control center in the hypothalamus, a deep and primitive region of the brain.
When a bacteria enters the blood stream, an antigen called lipopolysaccharide (LPG) stimulates the hypothalamus. Other chemicals in viruses can do a similar thing. Sometimes a nonspecific inflammatory reaction mediated by a class of chemicals called “cytokines” can have a fever-inducing effect as well. In response, cells releases the pyrogen prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) which then triggers the hypothalamus to activate vessels, muscles, and sweat glands appropriately. The above image describes the feedback mechanisms which keep this regulated safely.
Headache in fever causes opening of blood vessels in the head. This congestion causes throbbing and triggering of nerve endings, causing pain.
eRemedies for each type of fever – whether from an unknown fever or influenza or malaria or typhoid or even Ebola – can be found at eremedyonline.com/module/21/fever/ or via the individual modules if the diagnosis is known: eremedyonline.com/module/22/influenza/, eremedyonline.com/module/14/malaria/. These do not suppress in the same way as paracetimol, acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. They act by rapidly activating the body’s mechanisms to speed through the natural process.
Of course, injury to the head can cause pain. The brain gets knocked around inside the skull and can cause concussion, traumatic brain injury, or, even worse, bleeding. Whenever possible, this needs to be evaluated in a medical facility where a CT or MRI and S100B blood test can be done, along with neurological exam. These rule out possible serious consequences.
eRemedies can be very effective in safely relieving this pain even when there is concussion (though not if there is bleeding between the brain and skull). The appropriate eRemedy can be found through the expert system eremedyonline.com/module/24/headache/, although specifically for head injury a better module might be eremedyonline.com/module/10/head-injury/.
Many people can tolerate virtually unlimited amounts of sun without getting a headache. However, some people develop headache within a short time in direct sun.
Sun itself, even in the absence of heat, can trigger headache in some people mostly through glare affecting eyes. More often, heat is a larger factor and causes head congestion directly and perhaps dehydration.
The obvious solution is to get into shade, wear sunglasses if available, and drink plenty of liquids. People often misjudge their degree of dehydration; they may try to get relief from a few swigs of water when a liter might be needed. A simple approach might be to keep drinking liquid until you are peeing good volumes of clear urine every half hour or so.
Once these measures are taken, you can try an eRemedy from eremedyonline.com/module/24/headache/. Relief should come within minutes to an hour or so.
Stress or Tension Headache
When under intense work stress, a family crisis, loss of a loved one, or even a frightening experience, muscles in the neck and head contract tightly leading to a band-like sensation from the back of the head to the forehead. It can also happen from overuse of the eyes as in overstudy, spreadsheet work, etc. This pattern is characteristic of tension headache.
People frequently rub their temples or the back of the neck in an effort to break up a vicious cycle – stress tenses muscles, muscles press on nerves at trigger points, trigger point pain causes more muscle tension, and the cycle goes round and round even after the stress has ended. Nowadays this can be called fibromyalgia, or if it involves the jaw it is called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome. Basically, they are all the same dynamic.
For relief, a good massage with attention to trigger points can be a big help. Sleep usually helps if the pillow is good. Acupuncture and acupressure can help. Chiropractics is very helpful if available. Pain killers are usually of minimal value because they don’t really deal with the whole vicious cycle. Finally, eRemedies available at eremedyonline.com/module/24/headache/ can provide rapid relief.
Most tension or stress headaches are acute, of course, and limited to the circumstance. Some people are more prone to stress in general, though. In these cases, providing temporary relief will not be enough over time, even by eRemedies. A more thorough solution can be obtained by seeing a Classical Homeopath who can delve into the whole story in depth – mental, emotional, physical. A good Five Element acupuncturist can be very effective in such cases as well. Psychotherapy and stress management therapy in developed countries may be helpful.
Headaches from over-indulgence in alcohol is common throughout the world in practically all cultures. Alcohol itself is a vasodilator, opening up blood vessels and causing flushing in many people. It also dehydrates people, which can lead to headache on its own. Once you finally sleep, the vessels go back closer to normal size. Upon waking there is a rebound effect opening vessels once again, this time in the midst of dehydration and perhaps even electrolyte imbalance. It can be a complex mechanism.
Hangover cures abound all over the world. “Hair of the dog” dampens the rebound effect if done in moderation. Rehydration is very important and usually not done adequately. Electrolytes can help. Pain killers do help, especially those with caffeine. Various herbs are claimed to be helpful. A simpler and more direct approach would be to take an appropriate eRemedy from eremedyonline.com/module/24/headache/.
When allergies congest sinuses above and below the eyes and even deeper behind the eyes, headache can ensue. Sinuses can also get infected, producing fever and pus that add to pressure in sinus cavities that have small openings for relief. Such pain can be excruciating, especially during an airplane flight!
For immediate relief, once again an eRemedy from eremedyonline.com/module/24/headache/ can produce rapid relief. Decongestants from a drugstore can reduce congestion and produce some relief. If the cause is allergies, antihistamines can also help. Nasal saline irrigation helps by loosening up mucous so it can flow more freely.
One trick for flying helps immensely if done before takeoff and again a half hour before landing when on a flight longer than 4 hours: First take a decongestant (not antihistamine, but decongestant) like Sudafed a half hour before the flight or before landing. After half hour, spray or drip Neo-Synephrine nose drops into both nostrils. A few minutes later, lay down with your head tipped backward and nose pointed to ceiling; spray or drip a few drops in each nostril again, but this time holding it high in your throat behind your nose. This enables it to absorb into the membranes near sinus openings and the tube going to the ears. You hold these drops there by closing your palate (as if trying to avoid a noxious odor) and panting like a puppy for a few seconds. This procedure focuses decongestion right where it is needed and helps pressure changes equilibrate in sinuses and middle ears.
All these acute headaches can be treated rapidly by eRemedies as mentioned – because they are acute. Other intense headaches that are periodic or constant may show temporary relief for one or two times, but are unlikely to continue thereafter.
Periodic Chronic Headaches
Migraine headaches are unfortunately very common and difficult to cure by standard methods; they can only be managed. True migraines have a typical presentation: sometimes there may be an area of flashing blindness called an “aura”, followed in about 20 minutes by a throbbing headache on one side or another. Migraines are very severe. Most people are aggravated by slight light or slight noise and have to go to bed. There is often nausea and perhaps even vomiting.
Migraines are often somewhat periodic. They may be associated with hormonal changes (menstrual period in females), particular seasons, days of the week (often on the weekend after an intense week of school or work), or sun or glare exposure. Some people believe chocolate or certain nuts cause migraines. Certainly there is variation from patient to patient.
The mechanism of action is being worked out. It starts with vasodilation in the temples. This produces release of cytokines (neurokinin A, Substance P, CORP) which triggers the trigeminal nerve 5-hydroxytryptamine receptors. This signal is transmitted to the very primitive part of the brain stem and thence thalamus and finally to cortical pain centers. After a few hours to a few days, the inflammation calms down, and the migraine is gone.
Standard medicine has two types of drugs for migraines – a preventive that works fairly well, and one that quenches a migraine if taken at the very onset. These drugs do have some side effects and tend to lose effectiveness over time. Many people swear by caffeine and aspirin compounds; they give some relief but don’t phase the process itself. The herb Feverfew seems to produce temporary relief. An eRemedy might help on episode but generally will not work in the long run; for cure, a Classical Homeopath should be consulted. Classical homeopathy is relatively slow, helping cycle by cycle, but capable of permanent cure once a correct remedy is found.
Similar to migraines but much more rare in the population and much more intense in the moment, the cause and true physiology of cluster headaches is unknown so far. They are very intense headaches surrounding one eye and accompanied by watering of that eye and swelling around the eye. They can be periodic like migraines but usually are less frequent. However, when they occur the pain is very very intense. Many people experience these periodic episodes for a span of months or a few years, and then they seem to go away for life – hence the term “cluster.” In about 10-15% men (it is usually seen in men), however, they persist through the rest of their life.
Again, standard medicine has seen some preventive effect from verapamil, a calcium-channel blocker to cause some blood vessel enlargement. It has limited effectiveness. For an acute episode, oxygen has been tried, and migraine-like drugs have been used with limited effectiveness. As already mentioned, eRemedies might be of use in a single attack but probably not over time because this is a chronic condition.
Non-migraine menstrual headaches are very common, last a day or two, and may occur routinely before or during or even after the period. They are clearly hormonal, and may disappear after menopause. Usually, over-the-counter pain medications are used with some effectiveness. Again, Feverfew is sometimes effective. eRemedies may be helpful on occasion, but probably not over time.
Menstrual headaches may be migraines in a migraine-prone individual, but they are usually closer to tension headaches in presentation. Rest and massage can be helpful.
Though Vitamin B6 and Magnesium can be helpful with menstrual cramps, headaches are usually not affected.
Constant Chronic Headaches
Little advice can be given for this situation. Structural problems in the neck, such as arthritic spurs or other calcifications, can be visualized by CT or MRI.
Sometimes TMJ (temporomandibular joint) syndrome can be implicated. The concept is that the jaw joint becomes inflamed by stress and constant teeth grinding. Dentists provide appliances to help with this. Sometimes surgery is done to realign the joint.
Trigeminal neuralgia is not specifically a headache, but it is a nerve pain affecting the face in a dramatic way. There is surgical intervention that helps at least temporarily in some cases. Nonspecific pain medications are used but of limited effectiveness.
When here is constant chronic headache, the source needs to be evaluated. Brain tumor or hemorrhages are possibilities that need to be ruled out. High blood pressure, or increased pressure selectively inside the skull can occur and should be diagnosed because these can be treated with medications and/or surgery.
1. Ferri's Clinical Advisor, Mosby-Elsevier, 2010.
2. David Rakel, Integrative Medicine, Saunders-Elsevier, 2007.
3. Kenneth Pelletier, New Medicine, DK Publishers, 2005.