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Sharp Pain in the Head

Sharp Pain in the Head

Causes of sharp head pain can range from migraine, cluster or tension headaches to brain tumor. Identifying the exact cause early can help in treating the condition effectively.
Madhura Pandit
Last Updated: May 7, 2018
Headache is second only to backache in being one of the most common conditions experienced by people. Minor headaches can be caused due to several reasons like eye disorders, allergies, acidity, etc. However, sharp or piercing pain in the head is usually a sign of a serious medical condition. Sometimes, this type of headache is also experienced when coughing, bending over, or having certain type of food, and restrains the daily activities of the person.
Causes and Treatment
Cluster Headache
Cluster headaches are periodic pains, experienced only in one side of the head. They can occur once or twice a year, and last for a couple of days or even weeks. The pain is so severe that the person becomes agitated and cannot carry out his daily activities. The exact cause of cluster headache is not known, nor there are any trigger factors for it.

Although there is no cure for cluster headaches, treatment methods like oxygen therapy, use of steroids and drugs, local anesthetic nasal drops, etc., are used to alleviate the symptoms. If none of these work, a surgery may be recommended by the doctor.
Migraine headache is experienced on one side of the head. Sometimes, the pain is so intense that the person is unable to perform even his daily activities. Apart from severe headaches, the person may also experience other symptoms like sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, vomiting, vision loss, hyperactivity, irritability, etc. Migraine is more commonly observed in women than in men. The pain can be mild or severe, and its duration can last from a few minutes to a couple of hours.

Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicines can help in treating the symptoms of migraine. Although there is no cure for it, having medications regularly and staying away from the trigger factors can help in treating migraine.
Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges, i.e. tissues surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. Meningitis is caused due to bacterial or viral infection, and can be fatal. Sharp pain all around the head and a stiff neck are the most common symptoms of meningitis. Besides, other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, seizures, unconsciousness, loss of appetite, etc., are also observed. Sometimes, complications like gangrene, septicemia, and increased heart rate can also be observed.

Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics and steroids. Viral meningitis is treated with antiviral medications. Other medications are also prescribed to relieve the other symptoms. Taking rest and drinking plenty of fluids is essential to treat viral meningitis.
Sinus Infections (Sinusitis)
Severe pain in the head, behind the eyes or ears, is usually caused due to sinusitis. Among the various types of sinusitis, sphenoid sinusitis can cause intense headaches, specially behind the eyes. Whereas, frontal and ethmoid sinusitis can cause severe pain in the head, behind the ears or eyes. People suffering from chronic sinusitis experience severe headache when bending over.

Antibiotics (in case of bacterial sinusitis), pain reliever medication, nasal sprays and decongestants, oral steroids, etc., either of these, or a combination, are the treatment methods for sinusitis. Staying away from allergens is essential to prevent allergic sinusitis.
Encephalitis, a rare life-threatening disease, is the inflammation of the brain caused by viral infection. The earlier symptoms of this condition are similar to those of flu. But, other symptoms like severe headache, nausea, vomiting, seizures, convulsions, etc., are observed later. Encephalitis can result in death due to respiratory arrest.

Anti-viral drugs, anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, psychotherapy, rest, etc., are the treatment methods used for treating encephalitis. Sometimes, anticonvulsants and sedatives may also be prescribed.
Brain Tumor
A sudden onset of severe and sharp head pain, usually without any history, can be a symptom of brain tumor. A tumor is defined as uncontrolled growth of cells in the brain. As the tumor grows, the pain increases and becomes intolerable. The other symptoms observed are seizures, convulsions, confusion, or loss of mental alertness, etc. A traumatic brain injury due to any reason can also lead to sharp pain in the head.

Brain tumor treatment methods include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and medications.
Apart from these major causes, hangover, withdrawal effects of certain drugs, coital cephalalgia, spinal or vascular headache, hormonal headaches, etc., can also cause severe head pain. Whereas, pain in the back of the head can be caused due to stress, mental tension, depression, or improper posture.
How to Prevent Headache
  • Stress is one of the significant causes of chronic headaches. Therefore, reducing stress is essential to prevent headache and other accompanying symptoms like irritability, anxiety, etc. Yoga, meditation, and relaxation techniques can help in reducing stress.
  • Secondly, you may not be aware, but, certain foods may trigger off headaches. Coffee, olives, cheese, wine, red and cured meat, etc., are believed to trigger head pain.
  • If you suffer from migraine or other chronic conditions, it would be wise to abstain from smoking and alcoholism as it can aggravate the condition.
  •  Injury or trauma to the head can be prevented by wearing helmet while riding, and seat belt while driving.
It is essential to note that these measures cannot help in prevention of the health disorders mentioned above. But, they can surely help in preventing headache in minor cases. In case you suffer from severe head pain, it would be wise to consult the doctor immediately.

Most of the aforementioned causes can be treated effectively, if the underlying cause is diagnosed and treated immediately. Minor cases of headache can be treated by medications and painkillers. In either of the cases, it is recommended to consult the doctor.
Disclaimer: This information is meant for educational purposes only. It is not to be used as a substitute for doctor's consultation and treatment.