Ice Pick Headaches: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

ice pick headachesIf you’ve ever experienced a sharp, stabbing, momentary pain in your temple that disappears after thirty seconds or less, you’ve likely suffered an ice pick headache.

These abrupt headaches can be as concerning as they are excruciating, especially because doctors have not identified a solid cause. If you think you’ve experienced ice pick headaches, this handy guide is for you. Here, you can cross-check your pain with the descriptions listed by the International Headache Society (yep, that’s a real thing), and read up on some useful treatments.

If headaches of all kinds are normal for you, it might be worth checking out this extensive guide on relieving headaches of all kinds.

Ice Pick Headaches: Diagnosis

The International Headache Society classifies ice pick headaches as primary stabbing headaches, also referred to as jabs, jolts, and – less concisely – ophthalmodynia periodica. It is a rare form of headache that only about 2% of the population experiences. One study calculated a mead onset age of 47-years-old, so this type of pain is not likely to occur in children or teenagers.

Pain associated with ice pack headaches is transient, and localized to around the eye socket or temple, generally lasting under a minute. According to IHS, one study indicated that 80% of these stabs lasted three seconds or less. The pain can manifest as a single jolt, or multiple jolts, and may appear just once a day, or various times during the day, though repetitive jolts throughout the day are rare.

If this abrupt, stabbing pain centralized around the eyes and temples sounds familiar, you are most likely suffering from ice pick headaches. Ice pick headaches are generally not accompanied by associated symptoms, such as nausea, fatigue, or any visual disturbances, though these have been reported to occur. If you do experience symptoms like this along with your headaches, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Ice Pick Headaches: Associated Ills

While only 2% of the population suffers from ice pick headaches, most of the sufferers – about 60% – also experience migraines. They can occur independently of a migraine, or during a migraine if the person is exposed to bright lights, or attempts to move in a way that is stressful for them.

  • Migraines

Migraine is a chronic disorder marked by severe headaches, which can begin with anxiety and blurred vision, and feels like a throbbing pain on the sides of the head (one or both), accompanied by extreme sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and wavering pain and discomfort once the headache has passed.

If you suffer from migraines, but have only recently begun experience ice pick headaches, you may want to contact your doctor, or at least bring them up during your next exam.

  • Cluster Headaches

Ice pick headaches are also associated with cluster headaches, painful headaches which begin as a burning sensation behind the eye, peaking as an electric, shock-like pain that is abrupt, often causes the eyes to water and the nose to run, and which can last between 15 minutes to three hours.

Ice Pick Headaches: Possible Causes

As mentioned previously, ice pick headaches generally occur without other symptoms, and studies have not directly confirmed a link between them and any sort of neurological disorder. This makes identifying a cause tough, since ice pick headaches are usually considered a diagnosis in themselves, and not a symptom of something larger.

Some studies have suggested a link to cranial trauma, cranial lesions, blood vessel disease, or even herpes, but nothing is for certain. If you are concerned your ice pick headaches are the result of a more dangerous disorder, you should never hesitate to contact your doctor, if possible. Similarly, if your ice pick headaches seem to be the cause of additional ills, such as nausea, vomiting, or vision impairments, definitely seek out a health professional for their advice.

Ice Pick Headaches: Treatment

Treating ice pick headaches can be tough. For most headaches, save serious cases like migraines, an over-the-counter painkiller like ibuprofen does the trick. However, because of how abrupt, brief, and unexpected ice pick headaches are, taking a dose of Advil isn’t going to help individual cases. You’ll need a preventative treatment instead.

  • Indocin

One of the primary methods of treatment for ice pick headaches is a prescription of Indocin (indomethacin), a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Patients are usually prescribed 12.5 mg of the medication to take 2 or 3 times each day, though this has only proven effective in about 65% of patients. Usually, the dosage needs to be increased to between 25 and 50 mg a day for there to be any significant drop in ice pick headache symptoms.

In addition to its low effect rate, Indocin usage is also not ideal – especially over long periods of time – for its nasty side effects, such as stroke, heart attack, bleeding of the stomach and intestines, and impaired vision.

  • Melatonin

Melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and often used as an insomnia medication, is another treatment option. You can get melatonin without a prescription, though you should be wary of the side effects, which include dizziness and fatigue.

  • Taking It Easy

There’s been no proof that home remedies work, but headache sufferers do recommend a regular sleep schedule, light to moderate exercise, stress relieving activities such as meditation, and healthy eating habits (learn the keys to healthy eating here) to reduce headaches.

Looking to meditation for a cure? Check out the stress relieving meditation techniques outlined in this course. Yoga is another discipline known to be good for the body, and to relieve stress. Check out this stress relieving yoga class for an introduction.

Stress and an unhealthy lifestyle can cause headaches, so it’s worth it to try making some changes to your daily routine and see if that helps. If it doesn’t, consider keeping a headache diary so you can track exactly when your ice pick headaches occur, how long they last, and any unusual symptoms that may accompany them.

This is a helpful thing to have if you decide to consult your doctor about your ice pick headaches.

If you want to try treating your ice pick headaches the natural way, learn to detox your life with this guide, and start living healthy and stress-free. You can also check out this stress management course for additional stress relief methods.

If you think you might be suffering from headaches of a different kind, you can read this post on TMJ headaches or take this course on headaches and migraines for treatment and prevention information.