Seasonal Allergies or Chronic Headache? Here are the Differences.

With spring comes warmer weather, rain showers, fresh flowers and the dreaded seasonal allergy symptoms. Frequent sneezing and itchy eyes are common this time of year, and some people may even experience intensified or continual migraine. It’s important to know, however, whether or not ongoing headache is due to seasonal allergies or a sign of a much larger problem. Here are some factors to consider.

What Causes Springtime Headache?

April showers bring May flowers, and flowers bring pollen-induced allergies and headache. Pollen is microscopic and can travel virtually anywhere — most notably, into a person’s nasal cavity. Commonly known as “hay fever,” this can lead to Rhinitis, the irritation and inflammation in the mucous membrane of the nose. This inflammation can cause an ongoing headache. Another culprit is the turbulent spring weather, which leads to changes in barometric pressure.  It is thought that changes in barometric pressure can activate nerves in the sinuses, nose or ears to produce headaches. Therefore, the springtime can represent the perfect “soup” for more frequent headaches.  

What Makes Them Different?

There is no formal definition for allergy or sinus headaches. However, patients often complain of a dull pain of mild to moderate intensity located in regions where the sinuses reside, such as the forehead, between and behind the eyes and cheekbones. The headaches often occur along with a runny nose, nasal congestion and drainage.   

Unfortunately, because of the location of the sinuses – cheekbones, bridge of the nose, forehead, etc. – a sinus headache is confused with migraine. However, migraine symptoms are specific and usually more intense than those of an allergy headache. A migraine sufferer may also experience nausea, sensitivity to light or noise, throbbing localized pain or increased pain when active.

What are the Treatment Options?

Headache and migraine differ from person to person, making it crucial to visit a specialist if you suspect a chronic illness. Some individuals are reluctant to call their doctors or go to an Emergency Department because they don’t want to arrive only to learn that nothing out of the ordinary is wrong. Remember, though, that it is better to be safe and start treatment early. Click here for a list of symptoms that should be reported to a doctor.

If you are looking for more information on how to best communicate your pain to a doctor, click here.

Headache? When to Seek Medical Attention

When to See a Physician for Your Headache:

There are times when headaches or uncharacteristic migraine symptoms are indications of something that needs medical attention. Some individuals are reluctant to call their doctors or go to an Emergency Department because they don’t want to arrive only to learn that nothing out of the ordinary is wrong. Please, don’t be concerned about that; get medical attention if you think you fit the following criteria.

  • You have more than the occasional headache
  • Your headaches are severe or come on quickly
  • Your headache is accompanied by any of the following:
    (And you have not discussed these symptoms with your doctor before)
    ο  Confusion
    ο  Dizziness
    ο  Fever
    ο  Numbness
    ο  Persistent vomiting
    ο  Shortness of breath
    ο  Slurred speech
    ο  Stiff neck
    ο  Unpredicted symptoms affecting your ears, nose, throat pr eyes
    ο  Unrelenting diarrhea
    ο  Vision loss
    ο  Weakness
  • Your have a headache that persists, and continues to get worse or won’t stop
  • Your headaches interfere with your normal activities of daily life
  • You find yourself taking pain relievers more than two days a week
  • You take over-the-counter medications for headache relief but the recommended dosage is not adequate
  • Coughing, sneezing, bending over, exercise or sexual activity cause headaches
  • You have headaches that continue and that began after a head injury, or other trauma
  • The characteristics of your headaches change
  • The symptoms of your migraine attacks change

See your Physician Immediately or Go to an Emergency Department if:

  • You are having the worst headache ever
  • You are having your worst migraine attack ever
  • Your headache is accompanied by the following symptoms:
    ο  Unresolved loss of vision
    ο  Loss of consciousness
    ο  Uncontrollable vomiting
    ο  The pain of your headache lasts more than 72 hours with less than a solid four-hour pain-free period while awake
    ο  You experience a headache or a migraine attack that presents unusual symptoms that are abnormal for you and frightening

What They Say vs. What They Mean: How Doctors and Patients Miscommunicate

What Doctors and Patients Say

Doctor: Tell me about your headaches, Mrs. Jones.

Patient: Well, it all started when I was 3 years old. …

Doctor: Yes, yes, that’s fine. How frequent are your headaches? Do you have an aura?

Doctor: I see you brought your MRI scan. I’ll show it to you. See, this is the brain, and this is the skull. And see these little white spots? They’re high-signal intensity abnormalities on T2- weighted images that can occur with headache.

Patient: Oh. Continue Reading

What You Should Expect From Your Headache Doctor

Any healthcare professional who is going to treat you for chronic headache should also be a person you feel comfortable with. The following are some characteristics that often contribute to a positive doctor-patient relationship. They are essential qualities in a comprehensive headache clinic. You have a right to expect such characteristics in the person to whom you are entrusting so much. Continue Reading