Split Headache: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Although a common condition, headaches vary greatly in their intensity, ranging from a mild nuisance to debilitating and extremely painful. A “drilling headache” usually equates to a severe headache. It is not a medical term, but a common description of a certain quality or character of headache that may have several underlying causes.
While enduring a searing headache, a person would likely find it difficult to engage in their daily routine, whether at home, at work, or at school.
This article will review the symptoms, causes, and treatment of a dizzying headache. He will also discuss when your dizzying headache could be a sign of something serious, warranting immediate medical attention.
Symptoms of a Split Headache
A shooting headache can be felt on both sides of the head or be localized in one area, such as the temple, the back of the head, or even the face. Depending on the cause of the splitting headache, it can be described in different ways, for example, throbbing, stabbing, piercing or burning, among others.
Likewise, several unique symptoms can accompany a ripping headache. Here are examples of these symptoms:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Sensitivity to light, sound or smell
- Facial flushing and sweating
- Redness and tearing of the eyes
- congested nose
- Restlessness and restlessness
- Neurological abnormalities, such as weakness or numbness on one side of the body
- Fever and torticollis
Causes of Split Headache
A division headache can be classified as a primary or secondary headache.
Primary vs secondary headaches
Primary headaches occur on their own, while secondary headaches are the result of another health condition, such as an underlying disease, pregnancy, or medication.
Primary headache disorders that can cause headache pain include:
- Migraine headache usually occur on one side of the head, are often aggravated by physical activity and may be preceded by an aura (reversible visual, sensory or speech disturbances). Migraines are throbbing and range in severity from mild to severe.
- Cluster headaches are severe unilateral headaches, usually sharp or throbbing in nature. The pain is usually localized in or around the eye or the temple. These headaches occur as attacks that last from 15 to 180 minutes, up to eight times a day.
There are several secondary causes for a darting headache.
One cause for concern is a life-threatening condition called subarachnoid hemorrhage. This is a type of brain bleed in which blood collects in the space between the brain and the skull.
A subarachnoid hemorrhage can cause a thunderclap headache. This is an explosive and extremely severe headache that begins suddenly. It quickly peaks in intensity within seconds or a minute. It is sometimes called “the worst headache of your life”.
Other serious conditions that can produce a thunderclap headache include:
- Cervical artery dissection: Tear in the wall of one of the two arteries of the neck, the carotid artery or the vertebral artery
- Pituitary apoplexy: Bleeding or loss of blood flow to the pituitary gland, located deep in the brain
- Caress: When blood flow to the brain is interrupted
- Reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome: Blood vessels in the brain suddenly narrow
- Spontaneous intracranial hypotension: Low cerebrospinal fluid pressure in the brain
- Cerebral vein thrombosis: blood clot in a vein of the brain
Thunderclap Headache is a medical emergency
If you experience a thunderclap headache, it is important to call 911 or seek emergency medical attention.
Here are examples of other health conditions that can cause a searing headache:
- Meningitis: This is an inflammation of the tissues that protect and cover the brain and spinal cord. It can be accompanied by fever, stiff neck and sensitivity to light, among other symptoms.
- trigeminal neuralgia: This rare condition develops from irritation or compression of the trigeminal nerve (your fifth cranial nerve). It causes sharp or throbbing pain on one side of the face.
- Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA): This is the most common form of vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) that affects people over 50 years of age. It causes severe headaches, usually localized in the temples. Scalp tenderness, jaw claudication (pain when chewing), and loss of vision may also be present.
How to Treat a Split Headache
Treatment for a dizzying headache involves addressing the underlying cause. For example, getting relief from a searing headache identified as a migraine usually requires some type of over-the-counter or prescription medication for relief.
Medications used for the acute treatment of migraines include:
- A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen)
- A triptan, such as imitrex (sumatriptan): These medications act on serotonin (a brain chemical) docking sites in the brain to stop a migraine and are available in several formulations, including tablets, nasal sprays and injections.
- A NSAID/triptan combination, such as Treximet (sumatriptan/naproxen)
- Reyvow (lasmiditan): This drug targets serotonin but does not cause blood vessels to narrow (which triptans do).
- A calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitor, such as Nurtec ODT (rimegepant) or Ubrelvy (ubrogepant)
In addition to medication, a migraine can be soothed by resting in a dark, quiet room and placing a cold pack or compress over the area of head pain.
If you suffer from frequent or prolonged migraines, or if your migraine attacks negatively impact your quality of life, you may be a candidate for preventive migraine treatments.
Treatment for other causes of a shooting headache involves the following:
Life-threatening secondary headaches like a cerebral hemorrhage or meningitis require hospital care, including close monitoring, intravenous (IV) medications, and/or surgery.
Complications associated with a split headache
Depending on the underlying diagnosis, various complications can arise from a dazzling headache.
For example, two rare complications associated with migraine include:
Complications associated with a dangerous untreated “thunderhead headache”, such as a thunderclap headache, include permanent neurological deficits (for example, weakness or loss of feeling on one side of the body), seizures, or even the dead.
Are there tests to diagnose the cause of a split headache?
Diagnosing your acute headache as migraine usually requires a medical and family history and a neurological exam.
Imaging or other diagnostic tests are usually not needed unless the neurological examination is abnormal and/or a cluster headache or secondary headache is suspected.
Some of these tests may include:
When to See a Health Care Provider
An acute headache that is new or associated with concerning symptoms warrants urgent or emergent medical investigation.
Be sure to consult your health care provider in the following situations:
- Your headaches occur more frequently or interfere with your daily routine.
- You have headaches and a history of cancer or a weakened immune system (eg human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
- You have a new headache or a change in your headache pattern and are pregnant or postpartum.
- You are 65 or older and have a new type of headache.
- Your headache is triggered by sneezing, coughing, or exercising.
- You suffer from rebound headaches from taking painkillers on a regular basis.
Consult an emergency doctor
Go to the nearest emergency room if your headache:
- Is severe, starts suddenly and/or is the “worst headache of your life”
- Is severe and accompanied by a sore red eye, high fever, stiff neck, fainting, or confusion
- Comes with stroke symptoms, such as weakness, numbness, or vision changes
- Occurs after head trauma
There are many possible causes of a “split” or severe headache. A common cause is a migraine, which is a throbbing headache that gets worse with movement. Less commonly, a shooting headache indicates a cluster headache or a sign that something serious is going on in the body, such as a stroke or brain infection.
In order to get to the bottom of your headache, your healthcare provider may order various diagnostic tests, such as a scan of your brain. Treatment depends on the underlying diagnosis, but often involves taking medication or (very rarely) medical intervention, such as surgery.
A word from Verywell
Elucidating the diagnosis or “why” behind your headaches can be tricky and requires investigative work from you and your healthcare provider. In the meantime, adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors like establishing a consistent sleep schedule, exercising regularly, and staying hydrated can go a long way in keeping your headaches at bay.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s causing my searing headache?
There are several possible causes. Generally, split headaches are migraines. A migraine is throbbing, made worse by routine movements, and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sound, and smell.
Is a searing headache a sign of COVID-19?
Perhaps. A headache associated with COVID-19 infection has been described as pulsating or pressing, moderate to severe in intensity, and located on both sides of the head.
How to treat a dazzling headache?
Treatment depends on the underlying cause. For example, a severe headache that is a migraine can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medication, as well as a nap in a dark, cool room.