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What are the common causes of headache and facial pain?

Headaches and facial pain can stop people in their tracks and have a major impact on day-to-day activities. Most people experience a headache at some point in their life, but recurring, chronic (long-standing) or severe headaches can become a serious problem for some people.

Common types of headaches include migraines, cluster headaches (severe attacks of one-sided pain in the head, usually around the eye) and tension headaches. They can be caused by lifestyle factors including dehydration, alcohol intake, lack of sleep and stress. Ironically, headaches can also be caused by taking too many painkillers (analgesia), which often leads to a vicious cycle of ‘analgesic’ headaches.

Facial pain can be caused by headaches. Other common causes of facial pain include sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses, often occurring with cold or flu), dental problems, pain around the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint dysfunction) and problems with one of the nerves in the face (known as trigeminal neuralgia).

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What are the symptoms of headache and facial pain?

HEADACHE

Specific symptoms of headaches will vary depending on the type of headache and underlying cause:

Migraines have a set of characteristic symptoms or patterns. Sometimes a ‘funny feeling’ known as an ‘aura’ can be felt just before the migraine. It then begins typically with a ‘throbbing’, one-sided headache, that is made worse by light and noise. Lying in a dark, quiet room can commonly relieve the pain.

Cluster headaches are felt as an intense, ‘stabbing’ sensation, usually around the eye; they can sometimes cause the eye to water.

Tension headaches are described as a sensation of a ‘tight band’ around the head, usually across the forehead.

FACIAL PAIN

As with headache, specific symptoms of facial pain will vary depending on the underlying cause:

Sinusitis can cause pain on either side of the nose and across the forehead. This can be made worse by bending forward.

Trigeminal neuralgia (a condition affecting the nerves in the face) can cause a shooting pain that is triggered by even gentle touch or movement. It is often likened to an ‘electric shock’ sensation.

Dental issues and problems with the jaw joint will often cause facial pain associated with eating or talking.

How are headaches and facial pain diagnosed?

Any headache or facial pain that is severe, or interferes with daily life requires a medical assessment by a doctor. Headaches that cause waking from sleep, problems with speech or other functions, or that are worse with coughing or sneezing need an urgent review.

The doctor will ask questions about the symptoms, how they started, and if there is anything that seems to make the pain better or worse. They may also need to ask more general questions about occupation, overall health and both medical and family history.

Keeping a detailed diary of the symptoms over a period of time can be very helpful in making a diagnosis. Many causes of headache and facial pain can be diagnosed from these questions and the symptom diary alone.

In some cases, further investigations may be needed. These may include blood tests, neurological tests or imaging such as an MRI or a CT scan.

What treatments are available for headache and facial pain? 

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause, how severe the pain is and how frequently it occurs. For example, experiencing two migraines that settle on their own over the space of a year may not require any additional treatment (as long as there are no changes). Avoiding the things that trigger the headache may be enough in these cases.

Many types of headaches can be prevented with simple measures. Identifying things that trigger the headache and then avoiding them, is an important step. Triggers can include the overuse of painkillers, dehydration or lack of sleep.

Regular, severe headaches or migraines may need to be treated, and prevented, with medication. This is usually started by a specialist who will help put together a suitable management plan. More severe symptoms such as those associated with cluster headaches can be treated with oxygen.

Facial pain such as trigeminal neuralgia can be treated in our facial pain clinics with specialised medications for symptomatic relief.

Why choose The London Clinic?

Here at The London Clinic, we are able to offer comprehensive care for people struggling with headaches and facial pain. Our comfortable facilities and experienced multidisciplinary team can offer a wide range of treatments to support the management of these conditions.

We uniquely offer extensive physiotherapy and osteopathy services. These clinical support teams work closely with expert specialists in the field of pain management to deliver a holistic care approach.