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We’ve all felt the symptoms of a headache at some point in our lives. Usually they’re a minor annoyance that can be relieved using over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication.
But what if your headaches are constant, occurring almost every day?
Chronic daily headaches are when you have a headache for 15 days or more per month. Both adults and children can have chronic, or constant, headaches. Having constant headaches can be debilitating and can interfere with your day-to-day activities.
The term chronic daily headache is rather broad and includes several different types of headaches that can occur on a daily basis:
- Tension headaches, which feels like a tightening band has been placed around your head
- Migraines, which feels 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
Read on to learn more about constant headaches, what may cause them, and how you can manage them.
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 one or both sides of your head
- feel like a pulsing, throbbing, or tightening feeling
- vary in intensity from mild to severe
- nausea or vomiting
- sensitivity to lights or sounds
- a stuffy or runny nose
- redness or tearing up of the eyes
Doctors still don’t have a good idea about what actually causes headache symptoms. 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.
- Changes in the levels of certain hormones, such as serotonin and estrogen. When the levels of these hormones fluctuate, a headache can occur.
Often, headaches are triggered by lifestyle or environmental factors such as stress, changes in weather, caffeine use, or lack of sleep.
Overuse of pain medication can also cause a constant headache. This is called a medication overuse headache or a rebound headache. You’re at risk for these types of headache if you take OTC or prescription pain medication more than two days a week.
There are many possible treatments for constant headaches, and your doctor will work with you to determine which treatment will be optimal for you.
Your treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your headache. If your doctor cannot determine an underlying cause, they will prescribe treatment that focuses on effectively preventing your headache pain.
Treatments for constant headache include:
Medications that can be used to prevent or treat constant headaches include:
- Antidepressants called tricyclics, 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.
- Beta-blockers such as propranolol (Inderal) and metoprolol (Lopressor)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). These medications should be used sparingly, as they can lead to medication overuse or rebound headaches. Shop for NSAIDs.
- Anti-seizure medications such as gabapentin (Neurontin) and topiramate (Topamax)
- Botox injection, which is an injection of a neurotoxin derived from the bacteria that causes botulism. This can also be an option for people who aren’t tolerating daily medication.
Treatment for constant headaches doesn’t just involve medications. Other therapies may be used as well, possibly in combination with medications. 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 to understand and learn to control body functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension
- Occipital nerve stimulation, which is a surgical procedure in which 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
Your doctor may suggest making some lifestyle changes in order to help manage your headaches or avoid your headache triggers. These can include things like making sure that you get enough sleep and avoiding using caffeine or smoking cigarettes.
You can visit your primary doctor to discuss your constant headaches. Your doctor may also refer you to a neurologist, which is a type of doctor that specializes in conditions that affect the nervous system.
To reach a diagnosis, your doctor will first take your medical history. They may ask questions like:
- How often do you get headaches?
- How long do your headaches last?
- Where is the pain located and what does it feel like?
- Do your headaches occur at a certain time or after a specific activity?
- Do you have any additional symptoms with your headaches?
- Do you have a family history of some types of headache, such as migraines?
- What medications are you taking?
Your doctor with 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
In order to receive the most effective treatment for your constant headaches, you should visit a doctor to receive a diagnosis.
You should 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 when you use OTC pain medication
- you use an OTC pain medication almost every day to control your headaches
- you notice that things such as physical exertion or strenuous activities trigger your headaches
- your headaches begin to interfere with your day-to-day activities, such as sleep, work, or school
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
Constant or chronic daily headaches are when you have a headache for 15 days or more out of a month. There are many types of headaches that can become constant, including tension headaches and migraines.
A variety of treatment options are available for managing constant headaches. Speak with your doctor about your symptoms to receive a proper diagnosis and the most effective treatment for you.