Nurse's Notes: Learn All About Headcahes

Oh, My Aching Head

Types of Headaches, Why We Get Them & How to Treat Them

By Rachel Crockford, BSN, RN, TJS School Nurse
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"Why is my head hurting? Is it possible for my brain to explode?" These are questions all headache sufferers have asked.

Understanding the Anatomy of a Headache

Even though it may feel like your brain is exploding, your brain cannot actually feel pain. The brain is responsible for telling you what is happening with your body, not actually feeling what is occurring.

So What is Happening?

Headaches are somewhat of a mystery. Science is still developing regarding the root cause of head pain. What we do know is that headaches generally happen in the nerves, muscles and blood vessels that surround your head and neck. When blood vessels contract or muscles clench, it can put pressure on nerves. The nerves then send a pain signal to your brain. In addition, science is currently exploring brain chemicals and electrical signaling and the role they play in headaches.

Why do Headaches Hurt in Different Places?

There are several types of headaches. Each comes with its own triggers, onset and sensations. Here are a few types of headaches children experience most often:

Tension Headaches

These are the most common form of headaches. They are usually triggered by stress or emotion.

How You Can Tell:

  • Gradual onset
  • Pain on both sides of the head
  • Pain can often be felt on the back of the head and upper neck area
  • Pain is mild to moderate, but usually not severe
  • Pain is described as a tightening feeling around the head
  • Not usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting or light-sensitivity

Migraine Headaches

These headaches can begin during early childhood. Often there is a family history of migraines. Boys tend start experiencing migraines around the age of seven and girls around age 10.

How You Can Tell:

  • Young children may express pain all over, but migraines can be one-sided or bilateral
  • Pain is described as pounding or throbbing
  • Migraines can be accompanied by an aura of light or heightened sense of smell
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or upset stomach and sensitivity to light may occur
  • Can correlate with hormone changes

Acute Headaches

Non-traumatic acute headaches are often the result of an upper respiratory infection, cold or sinusitis.

How You Can Tell:

  • Accompanied by nasal congestion
  • Feeling pressure on face (cheeks, nose and above eyebrows)
  • Sore throat
  • Malaise

Treating Headaches

Here are some helpful tips to alleviate headache discomfort:

  • Rest or sleep
  • Decrease light and sensory stimulation
  • Doctor-approved medications
  • Avoid triggers (foods (varies by person), lack of sleep, stress)

This blog was originally shared in Nurse's Notes, a monthly newsletter by Nurse Rachel Crockford, BSN, RN.

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Rachel Crockford

About the Author

Rachel is a registered nurse who earned her Bachelor of Science from Drexel University in Pennsylvania. She extensive nursing experience in pediatric care, and previously worked at an elementary school in Virginia Beach. Rachel's family moved here from the east coast, and her husband is pursuing his MBA at Rice University. She has two children, Duke and Colt.

Degrees Held
Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Drexel University
Bachelor of Arts in History & Political Science

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