A Doctor Shares the Most Common Mistakes People Make When Treating Headaches

When a headache never entirely goes away, lingers, or returns a few hours after medication, you might not be treating your pain properly — at least that's what Dr. Roni Sharon, MD, a senior neurologist, headache specialist, and the director of headache and facial pain at Sheba Medical Center, said.

The most effective way to avoid or prevent lingering head pain is to ask your doctor for guidance on proper treatment — but only if you actually follow through on their instructions.

"Some common pitfalls when trying to get rid of a headache are not taking the treatment in time 'to see if it goes away on its own' or not taking a sufficient dose of a medication because sufferers want to take the least amount of medication possible. Remember, while all medications have side effects, not treating pain also does," he explained.

Generally, Dr. Sharon's goal is to have his patients headache-free and back to normal activities within one to two hours of taking medication — although everyone is different.

Again, your doctor will know what's best for you, but it could help to know that for migraine headaches, Dr. Sharon said finding a medication that doesn't cause side effects is essential. And depending on the scenario, he usually tells his patients to keep medication on hand to take right as a migraine hits.

For sinus headaches, Dr. Sharon said it can help to have your doctor treat the underlying sinus problem — whether it's with antiallergy medications, antibiotics, or steroids — not just the headache itself.

Dr. Sharon often finds nonoral medications, such as nasal sprays, injections, or oral disintegrating wafers, work well for rarer and superpainful cluster headaches. High-flow oxygen can be beneficial, too, he added. But again, your doctor should make this call.

In some cases, like tension headaches, Dr. Sharon offered holistic methods (along with medication) to help with prevention and treatment. Stretching or practicing yoga daily, finding comfortable positions to sit throughout the day that are ergonomic, moving around throughout the day, and getting massages (if you can do so safely!) are a few of his recommendations.

If at any point your headache isn't responding to medication, is worsening and progressive, wakes you up at night, or is accompanied by visual changes, weakness, numbness, fever, or confusion, it's essential to see your doctor for a reevaluation, Dr. Sharon added.

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