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Headaches are a common occurrence for a lot of people, but chronic, ongoing head pain should never be ignored, doctors warn. "As you get older, we get more concerned that something else is going on that's causing the headache," says Deborah Carver, MD, a neurologist and board-certified headache specialist at UT Health San Antonio. "If you used to get a headache once a month, but you're now having them on a daily basis, that's concerning. We also want to see you if the headache is located somewhere different, if the pain is different or if what's triggering your headaches changes."
1. Headaches and eye issues
Headaches can be a sign of vision issues, experts say. "One of the most common reasons for a vision induced headache is from eye strain," says Young H. Choi, MD. "Eye strain can also create itchiness, sensitivity, blurry vision, weepiness, or heaviness. For many patients, vision headaches happen because of working conditions, like looking at a bright computer screen, working in dim lighting, or staring at a screen for too long. If your job or daily activities require intense focus, we highly recommend using the 20–20–20 rule. Every 20 minutes, patients should take a break for 20 seconds and look at something 20 feet away. Different from regular migraines, ocular migraines can temporarily produce flashing lights, blindness, light sensitivity, vomiting, and nausea. Though rare, ocular migraines may lead to permanent vision problems if not treated."
2. Headaches and brain tumors
Head pain can be a symptom of a brain tumor, according to experts. "For most individuals, a brain tumor headache is localized to a specific area and is typically worse in the early morning or at night," says Moffitt Cancer Center. "They can be dull, pressure-like headaches that are made worse by coughing or sneezing. Over time, these headaches stop responding to over-the-counter medication."
3. Headaches and COVID-19
Headaches are a common symptom of both COVID-19 and long COVID. "I've seen patients while they're actively sick and also in follow-up, sometimes even months after recovering from COVID, who have post-COVID-19 headache," says neurologist Dr. Megan Donnelly. "In some patients, the severe headache only lasts a few days, while in others, it can last up to months. It is presenting mostly as a whole-head, severe-pressure pain. It's different than migraine, which by definition is unilateral throbbing with sensitivity to light or sound, or nausea. COVID headaches present more as a whole-head pressure."
4. Head pain after injury
A headache after hitting your head could be a sign of subdural hematoma (internal bleeding) and should never be ignored, doctors say. "It may have been a week ago since you fell, but you can get some delayed bleeding, especially if you're on blood thinners," says neurologist MaryAnn Mays, M.D. "Even if you're not on blood thinners, any older adult who has had a recent fall and then gets a headache definitely needs to be evaluated right away. Doing so can be lifesaving."
5. Low blood sugar migraines
Low blood sugar—known as hypoglycemia—can trigger unpleasant migraines. "The brain is one of the first organs to be affected by hypoglycemia. Therefore, it's no surprise that migraines can be caused by low blood glucose," says Mark Khorsandi, D.O. "Many symptoms are related to the brain including confusion, sweating, nausea, faintness, headaches, and hypothermia (abnormally decreased body temperature)."
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