If you experience a headache that lasts for 15 days or more per month, you may be suffering from constant headaches. This can affect both adults and children, and it can be debilitating and interfere with their day-to-day activities.
The term “constant headache” is rather broad and includes several different types of headaches that can occur on a daily basis:
- Tension headaches, which feel like a tightening band has been placed around your head.
- Migraines, which feel like a very intense throbbing headache that can occur on one or both sides of your head.
- Cluster headaches, which can occur on and off over a period of weeks or months and can cause severe pain on one side of your head.
Hemicrania continua, which occurs on one side of your head and feels similar to a migraine.
Symptoms of constant headaches
The symptoms of a constant headache can vary depending on the type of headache you’re experiencing and can include:
- Head pain, which can involve a pulsing, throbbing or tightening feeling on one or both sides of your head.
- Variation in intensity, from mild to severe.
- Nausea or vomiting, sweating and sensitivity to lights or sounds.
- A stuffy or runny nose.
- Redness or tearing up of the eyes.
Causes of constant headaches
It is still unclear what actually causes headache symptoms, but some possible causes include:
- Tightening of the muscles of the head and neck, which can create tension and pain.
- Stimulation of the trigeminal nerve, which is the primary nerve that’s found in your face. Activation of this nerve can cause pain behind the eyes in addition to stuffy nose and eye redness that’s associated with some types of headache.
- Fluctuating levels of certain hormones, such as serotonin and estrogen.
Usually, lifestyle or environmental factors such as stress, changes in weather, caffeine use or a lack of sleep can trigger headaches.
Also, the overuse of pain relievers can also cause a constant headache. This is called a medication overuse headache or a rebound headache, which happens if you take OTC or prescription pain medication more than two days a week.
Diagnosing a constant headache
You can visit your doctor to discuss your constant headaches. You may also be referred to a neurologist, which is a type of doctor that specializes in conditions that affect the nervous system.
When making a diagnosis, your doctor will first check your medical history. They may ask questions like “How often do you get headaches?” “Where is the pain located and what does it feel like?” or “Do you have a family history of some types of headache, such as migraines?”
Your doctor will then perform a physical examination. Laboratory testing typically isn’t necessary unless you have symptoms of an infection or systemic illness. During their examination, your doctor will work to rule out any possible secondary causes of headache, which can include:
- Medication overuse or medication side effects.
- Infections, such as meningitis or a sinus infection.
- Obstructive sleep apnea.
- Traumatic brain injury.
Your doctor may also use imaging tests, such as a CT scan or an MRI, to help diagnose the cause of your headache.
Treatments for constant headaches
There are various possible treatments for constant headaches. Your doctor will work with you to determine which treatment will be best for you. These treatments will depend on the underlying cause of your headache. If your doctor cannot determine an underlying cause, they will prescribe a treatment that focuses on effectively preventing your headache pain.
Treatments for constant headache include the following:
Medications that can be used to prevent or treat constant headaches include anti-depressants, such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline, which can help prevent headaches. They may also help manage the anxiety or depression that can occur along with constant headaches. You may also be recommended nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). Use these medications in moderation, as they can lead to medication overuse or rebound headaches. In some cases you may also be recommended Botox injection, which is an option for people who cannot tolerate daily medication.
Your doctor may recommend non-medication therapy treatments. Non-medication therapies include:
- Behavioral therapy, which can be given either alone or in a group. This can help you understand the mental effects of your headaches and discuss ways to cope.
- Biofeedback, which uses monitoring devices to help you understand, learn about and control body functions such as blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension.
- Occipital nerve stimulation, which is a surgical procedure where a small device is placed at the base of your skull. The device sends electrical impulses to your occipital nerve, which can relieve headache pain in some people.
- Acupuncture, which involves inserting tiny hair-thin needles into specific places on the body, although it hasn’t been proven to improve constant headaches.
- Massage, which can help with relaxation and reduce tension in muscles.
You may be required by your doctor to make some lifestyle changes to help manage your headaches or avoid triggers. These lifestyle changes may include getting enough sleep, avoiding high caffeine consumption or smoking cigarettes.
When to see your doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms if you experience any of the following:
- Three or more headaches in a week.
- Headaches that get worse or don’t improve even when using OTC pain medication.
- Having to use OTC pain medication almost every day to control your headaches.
- You notice that physical exertion or strenuous activities trigger your headaches.
- Your headaches begin to interfere with your day-to-day activities, such as sleep, work or studies.
Sometimes a headache may be a symptom of a more serious problem, such as a stroke or meningitis. You should seek emergency medical attention if you experience the following:
- A severe headache that comes on suddenly.
- A headache that includes symptoms of infection, such as high fever, stiff neck, nausea or vomiting.
- A headache that includes other neurological symptoms, such as confusion, numbness or problems with coordination, walking or speaking.
- A headache that occurs after a head injury.
Got a question, or anything I can help with? My name is Steve Stretton, and I’m the owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. You can drop me a line here. Good luck!