Misconceptions About Chronic Headaches

photograph of woman suffering from a headache

Routine headaches can cause immense pain and lead to difficulty with work or school if left untreated. Approximately 30 percent of the population even suffers from the headache gene, causing repeated and often difficult to manage headaches in children and adults. As much as we know about headaches, there remain many misconceptions about chronic headaches. However, the severity and frequency of chronic headaches can be managed with healthy practices and the right medication.

“Part of the problem with headaches is there are so many myths out there,” said Dr. Joe Elser of the CHI St. Vincent Headache Clinic which sees both pediatric and adult patients. “People look for things to try to get help and, a lot of times, go down the wrong road. We try to direct them toward appropriate treatment and avoiding things that really have no basis in science.”

Finding relief from headache pain requires patients to recognize the cause and identify the appropriate treatment. Dr. Elser provides clarity on some of the most common misconceptions about chronic headaches.

Misconceptions About What Causes Headaches

As a side effect of many other illnesses and ailments, recognizing the cause of frequent headaches can be a challenge for many patients before being diagnosed with the headache gene. Oftentimes, the headache is incorrectly seen as a byproduct of vision problems. “Every patient I’ve seen in the last 34 years goes to see the eye doctor before they come to see me thinking they have vision problems, and they rarely, if ever, do,” said Dr. Elser.

Vision problems aren’t the only thing often misidentified as the source of chronic headaches. Particularly when presenting in children, frequent headaches have also been associated with allergic reactions or a result of a change in diet.

“Allergic diseases are asthma, hay fever and eczema, but allergies don’t cause headaches,” Dr. Elser said. “Part of the issue in these misconceptions about headache triggers is that most of it is not based in science. It’s based on anecdotal evidence that isn’t always necessarily true.”

Misconceptions About Treating Headaches

The pain caused by chronic headaches can be agonizing and relentless, so understanding appropriate treatment options is essential for patients as well. While it can be tempting to lean on ibuprofen or acetaminophen for fast-acting relief, Dr. Elser is quick to point out that there is no magic pill for treating chronic headaches.

“It’s a combination of good health habits and the right medication,” he said. “We take appropriate medication and we eat right, we sleep well, we hydrate, we exercise and we work on our stress.”

For those diagnosed with the headache gene, healthy practices should be implemented and maintained as part of a daily routine aimed at relief. However, it’s important to note that these steps are a means of managing the frequency and severity of headaches rather than a cure.

“Our goal is control,” said Dr. Elser. “Control is headaches that are relatively infrequent, relatively severe and don’t interfere with what people need to do or want to do.”

To learn more about compassionate care at CHI St. Vincent and the team of specialists at the Headache Clinic, visit: chistvincent.com/headache