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Eye and Ear Problems

Migraine Headaches

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Migraine headaches are severe, usually one-sided headaches that often occur with nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light or sound. People often describe the headache as throbbing or piercing. The pain may range from mild to terribly severe.

Although the headaches are usually one-sided, some people have pain on both sides of the head. In some people, the pain may switch sides each time they have a migraine.

Ten to 30 percent of migraines occur with an aura, a collection of symptoms that usually occur 15 to 30 minutes before a migraine headache begins. The most common symptom of an aura is visual disturbances, such as flashing lights, distortion in the size or shape of objects, or blind or dark spots in the field of vision. An aura may also include symptoms that affect the nervous system, such as numbness or tingling in the face or arm, strange smells or sounds, or weakness on one side of the body.

Migraines are more common in females than in males. The headaches may begin during childhood, but most begin during the teens and early twenties.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are sudden, very severe, sharp, stabbing headaches that occur on one side of the head, usually in the temple or behind the eye. The eye and nostril on the affected side may be runny, and the eye may also be red.

The pain often begins at night and may last from 30 minutes to a few hours. The headache may recur several times a day. Attacks may last 4 to 12 weeks, then disappear for months or years. Cluster headaches are 5 times more common in men than in women. Many men who get them are heavy smokers and drinkers. Avoid alcohol and tobacco products during an attack.

See your doctor if you think you have cluster headaches or if you have persistent, severe headaches with no apparent cause. Also see "Headache Emergencies" on See Headache Emergencies.


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Home Treatment

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  • At the first sign of a headache, try to go to a quiet, dark place and relax. Sleeping can relieve migraines.

  • Some people find that taking a pain reliever such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen at the first sign of a headache brings relief. However, frequent use of pain relievers can cause rebound headaches (headaches that occur all the time unless you take pain relievers).

  • Apply a cold pack to the painful area or put a cool cloth on your forehead. Do not apply heat, since it may make a migraine worse.

  • Have someone gently massage your neck and shoulder muscles, or give yourself a massage.

  • Practise a relaxation exercise such as progressive muscle relaxation or roll breathing. See Roll Breathing See Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

  • If a doctor has prescribed medication for your migraines, take the recommended dose at the first sign that a migraine is starting.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If you suspect that your headaches are migraines.

  • If headaches are becoming more frequent or more severe.

  • Also see "Headache Emergencies" on See Headache Emergencies.

Professional diagnosis and treatment, combined with your self-care, can help decrease the impact of migraines on your life. Discuss relaxation and biofeedback techniques with your doctor. They help many people prevent migraines. If nondrug treatments are not effective, there are many new prescription drugs available that can help you cope with migraines.


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