Headache While Lying Down: Why and How to Help

Pain arising from any part of the head is known as headache. This ache that could be felt on one side or both sides at the same time may be sharp, throbbing or dull in nature, radiating from one point to another or being localized to one particular site. You may complain of headache on standing or an aggravation in headache while lying down. Headaches can be sudden and sharp in onset, or begin gradually and may last an hour or for weeks

Main Causes and Treatments for Headaches When Lying Down

You may experience headache when lying down. But why and how can you get relief from that annoying headache? Let's throw some light on various causes and treatment.

1. Cluster Headache

The most painful, rare but not life-threatening type of headache gets its name from the cyclic pattern/clusters when it occurs. The phase of frequent attacks, or called cluster period, is consistent from period to period lasting from weeks to months and is usually followed by a remission phase where headaches disappear completely that can last years as well.

Symptoms: With cluster headache, you may experience excruciating sudden pain which is generally located around one eye but can radiate to neck, face and other regions of head. Symptoms of this headache may also include

  • Sharp, penetrating and burning pain
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Excessive tearing
  • Redness in the affected eye
  • Swollen around the affected eye
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sweaty and pale skin, especially the face
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Aggravation in headache when lying down
  • Sensitivity to light, sound and aura (on one side mostly).

Treatment can reduce the frequency, duration and severity of attacks, but the condition itself is difficult to treat because of its sudden onset and end. Acute treatments for cluster headaches include:

  • Inhale 100% oxygen via a mask with a minimum rate of at least 12 liters per minutes
  • Use medications like triptans, octreotide, local anesthetics and dihydroergotamine.

2. Brain Tumor Headache

Brain tumor is a mass of cells growing at an abnormally high rate.

Signs and symptoms caused by brain tumor headache greatly depend on its size, rate of growth and site, but it generally causes

  • Onset of headaches or headaches when lying down
  • Headaches that change patterns or become frequent and severe gradually
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Balance and speech difficulties
  • Loss of sensation gradually
  • Personality and behavior changes

Treatment of this type of headaches involves treating the underlying causes, which could include:

  • Surgery can be carried out if the tumor is accessible and can be separated from the normal tissues completely. This alone has a significant effect on signs and symptoms.
  • Other treatment options include radiation therapy, radiosurgery, chemotherapy and targeted drug therapy.

3. Cervicogenic headache

A headache arising in the region of neck is called cervicogenic headache.

Symptoms of this type of headache are:

  • Headache when lying down or pain on one side of the head and neck
  • Range of neck movement is reduced.
  • Specific neck movements tend to trigger the headache.
  • There may be pain in shoulder or arm on the same side.
  • One may also experience nausea, vomiting, photophobia and phonophobia.

Treatment: Unlike other types of headaches, therapies play a very important role in treating this type of headache:

  • Physical therapy is the first line of treatment in cervicogenic headaches.
  • If this doesn’t work as well, then your health care provider may advise an anesthetic injected into the neck or steroids.
  • Radiofrequency neurotomy may be used. It involves transmission of rays through needles to the affected nerves that create heat, which is responsible for deactivating the nerve that carries the pain signals.
  • Other therapies are biofeedback, relaxation, cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Surgery is an option when all else has failed.

4. Tension Headache

It is the most common type of headache characterized by a mild to moderate diffuse pain and often described by patients as a tight-band like feeling around the head. Episodic and chronic are two types of tension headaches.

Symptoms of this type of headache include:

  • Dull pain and headache when lying down
  • Tight band like sensation across the forehead or on the sides and back of head
  • Tenderness in neck, scalp and shoulder muscles.

Treatment: While a change in habits along with lifestyle modification does wonders in treating this headache, people usually go for over the counter medications and seek no medical advices but repeated use of OTC medications could lead to overuse headache. So, take the following medications as instructed to treat tension headache:

  • Pain relievers like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen tend to be the first line of treatment.
  • Combination medications may be more effective than single-ingredient medicine. For example, aspirin or/and acetaminophen can be combined with a sedative or caffeine in a single drug.
  • Triptans and narcotics are especially useful in patients suffering from tension headache and migraines. Narcotics however are rarely used.

5. Sinus Headache

An increased pressure in sinuses due to infection or inflammation may cause sinus headache:

Irrespective of the underlying pathology, a sinus headache has the following signs and symptoms:

  • Pain and a sense of fullness or pressure in cheeks, brow or forehead
  • Headache when lying down or when bending forwards
  • Fatigue
  • Stuffy nose
  • Pain and discomfort in upper gums and teeth.

Treatment: You can take the following medications to treat sinus headache:

  • Pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen
  • Triptans, like sumatriptan (Imitrex) or naratriptan (Amerge) can promote blood vessel constriction and block pain pathways in brain.
  • Ergots tend to be more effective in patients with pain lasting more than 72 hours
  • Anti-nausea medications like chlorpromazine are helpful, as migraines are often accompanied with nausea too. Because sinus headache and migraines often overlaps, this medication can help treat sinus headache.
  • Glucocorticoids when used with other medicine further relieve pain but shouldn’t be used frequently for risks of steroid toxicity.
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