This Tuesday, April 19, the National Headache Daythe most frequent form of pain in humans which, according to the Spanish Society of Neurology (SEN), chronically affects more than two million Spaniards. Many of these patients have seen their headaches worsen since the mandatory use of mask due to the coronavirus pandemic. But, now, the end of this rule next Wednesday is expected to relieve thousands of people.
The term “headache” refers to any localized pain in the cranial region, in the upper part of the cervical region or in the neck and in the upper half of the face. According to the coordinator of the Headache Group of the SEN, Pablo Irimia, those who suffer from it usually have a hypersensitivity increased to any stimulus, such as light, noise, or odors.
So, wearing something tight on your head, like a mask, can make the pain worse and trigger a crisis, points to RTVE.es. This is also confirmed by the professional from the Andalusian Society of Neurology, Carmen González, who explains that “the general perception of the patient is that the mask aggravates his headache”, although there are still no official data on this. “The migraineurs have complained above all,” she says.
Advice for those who will continue to wear a mask
However, the mask indoors will continue to be mandatory on public transport and hospital workers and visitors will be required to, health centers and other medical and assistance centers. Many people with headaches will not be able to do without it throughout the day, but there are recommendations that they can take into account to minimize headaches.
From the SEN, it is advised to modify the way of wearing the masks, always respecting the manufacturer’s instructions, and test which is the model that helps to minimize the symptomatology. In other words, it is proposed to use it as best suits individual needs and the one that “strains as little as possible”. For his part, González emphasizes the importance of doing without the mask during break time at work, if you have the opportunity.
But it’s not just masks that make headaches worse. Headache, apart from being a frequent symptom of COVID-19, is also a common one among people who have overcome the disease. “In some cases, the coronavirus has even aggravated a pre-existing headache in the patient”, says the expert.
After contracting the virus, most suffer from a headache that resolves in “a few months”, usually less than six. However, in some people it persists beyond this period and “does not respond well to treatment”. In fact, González explains that some cases of episodic headache have become chronic after going through said infectious disease.
Specifically, the International Headache Society studied the evolution of more than 900 Spanish patients and 16% of them developed a daily headache that persisted at nine months. Therefore, Irimia remembers that wearing a mask may still be a necessity for some peoplesince going through the disease can aggravate headaches more than using it.
Up to 46% of Spaniards have headache
According to SEN data, up to 46% of the Spanish population have some type of active headache and up to 89% of men and 99% of women have had it at some point. There are more than 200 types, but they are divided into three groups: headaches primaries, when the pain is not associated with any injury to the nervous system; headaches high schools, when due to such injuries or other illnesses; and the neuralgiawhen the pain is located in the territory of a nerve.
Within the primary ones there are three fundamental types, which are migraine, tension-type headache and cluster headache. The most common of these, migraine, is also the most “disabling”. “It is not just a headache in itself, it is a syndrome with many accompanying symptoms,” the doctor tells RTVE.es. It is usually characterized by severe nausea, vomiting, and a “decrease in higher brain function” that leads to a person being “slower” and having to lie down.
Being an epigenetic disease, migraine has a genetic component, but it can also be caused by external factors, such as environmental, habits or hormonal. Fortunately, with a correct diagnosis and treatment, it is possible to control the disease and prevent it from becoming chronic. “We can help many people who have frequent and disabling headaches to reduce the frequency and intensity of pain and improve their quality of life,” adds the SEN coordinator.
Signs of a worrying headache: explosive and sudden
Most headaches are benign. Therefore, when it comes to an occasional headache, Irimia warns that it is not necessary to go to the doctor. However, you should visit a professional when he is “explosive, sudden and incapacitating”.
Another warning sign is if it is started for the first time when the patient is over 50 years old, because it may be a secondary headache, “which in turn is a medical emergency.” If you need to take painkillers very ofteneven if the pain is well controlled, it is also time to go to an expert.
According to SEN data, around 50% of people with headache self-medicate with over-the-counter pain relievers and more than 40% of patients who experience headaches with some recurrence are still undiagnosed.