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When is Your Headache a Cause for Concern?

When is Your Headache a Cause for Concern?

Headaches come in all shapes and sizes and affect children as well as adults. Most cause only temporary discomfort and are often linked to poor posture, dehydration, or stress. Even skipping a meal or two can bring on a headache. There are some headaches, however, that need a doctor’s attention.Board-certified family physician and emergency medicine specialist Dr. Nabil Salib and his team at MyDoc Urgent Care provide quality medical care for residents of all ages in and around the New York communities of Forest Hills and East Meadow.Read what Dr. Salib recommends you keep in mind when considering medical treatment for headaches.

Headache basics

Doctors generally categorize headaches as primary or secondary.

Primary headaches are those that are not triggered by an underlying disease or illness. The most common types are:

  • Cluster headache
  • Migraine with or without aura
  • Tension headache

Common causes of primary headaches include:

  • Ingestion of alcoholic beverages, particularly red wine
  • Certain foods, especially those that contain nitrates
  • Changes in sleep patterns or lack of sleep
  • Poor posture
  • Stress

Secondary headaches are those that occur as a symptom of an underlying illness or disease. The possible causes of secondary headaches are numerous, ranging from easily treatable sinus congestion to rare, but potentially life-threatening, brain tumors.

Other conditions that may trigger secondary headaches include:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Head trauma/concussion
  • Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  • Dehydration
  • Dental problems
  • Ear infection
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Flu and other febrile (fever) illnesses
  • Overuse of pain medication
  • Stroke

Note that secondary headaches are often accompanied by symptoms of the underlying illness triggering your discomfort, such as ear pain (ear infection), nasal stuffiness (allergies), fever (viral illness).

When to see a doctor for your headaches

Most headaches cause only temporary discomfort that’s managed with an over-the-counter pain medication. Sometimes, however, migraines, tension headaches, and other types of headaches can interfere with your daily routine and significantly reduce your overall quality of life.

We typically recommend a visit to MyDoc Urgent Care when your headaches:

  • Occur more often than usual
  • Are more severe than what you typically experience
  • Don’t improve despite use of over-the-counter drugs
  • Prevent you from working, sleeping, or participating in normal activities

Depending on your symptoms and the results of your exam, your provider may recommend diagnostic studies or lab tests to further clarify the underlying cause of your pain before prescribing treatment.

When should I worry about a headache?

Generally, headaches that require immediate attention occur alongside other concerning symptoms, such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion, memory loss, altered mental state
  • Facial drooping and/or numbness, weakness, or partial paralysis in the arms or legs
  • Difficulty walking, clumsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness
  • High fever
  • Seizure

Also seek immediate care if you develop sudden or severe head pain that’s unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

Visit MyDoc today for health care you can rely on. Take advantage of our convenient walk-in urgent care services, or schedule a same-day doctor visit.


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