Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and is also known as an 'everyday headache' or 'stress headache'. It’s often described as a tight band around the forehead, but it can also cause dull/pressure pain behind your eyes, other parts of your head, neck, and shoulders. It’s not usually severe enough to affect everyday activities. Tension headaches usually come and go over a few hours, but some people can have a more chronic type that lasts longer.
A long list of things can trigger tension headaches, but the cause is unclear. We call them primary headaches because they are not caused by an underlying condition. Stress, dehydration, tiredness, menstruation, certain smells and noises, poor posture, and poor light and squinting are some of the many potential triggers.
They are managed by addressing some of the triggers previously mentioned. Drinking plenty of fluid and adequate nutrition, relieving stress through physical exercise or meditation, applying cool packs to the forehead or massaging the muscles in the neck or shoulders to relieve pressure, reducing your screen time, and ensuring you have recently seen an optician to check in on your vision is also sensible. Chronic tension headaches can be prevented with acupuncture sessions over a 5-8 week period and sometimes with medications such as amitriptyline.
You don’t usually need to see a doctor for management of your tension headache, your local pharmacist can provide you with support. They may suggest pain killers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. These medicines shouldn’t be taken for more than a few days at a time. Codeine based medications are usually best to avoid unless recommended by a doctor.
It is advised to see your doctor if you are unable to control your headaches with simple measures or if your headaches are more severe than expected or happening more frequently than a few times a month. You should see your doctor if you experience headaches that come on suddenly and are the worst you have ever experienced. If there are any changes such as slurred speech, confusion, weakness, and numbness, or if your headaches occur with fever, nausea vomiting, or stiff neck and confusion it would be best to treat this as an emergency and call 999 for a more urgent review.