“I was starting to hit a mental and physical wall,” recalled Herndon, a consumer outreach specialist at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. “I’d been chasing this for more than six months. No one could tell me what it was. I just remember thinking, ‘How am I going to be able to function if it never goes away?’ ”
He had taken multiple courses of antibiotics and corticosteroids as well as over-the-counter pain relievers, and he had even undergone sinus surgery, all to no avail. Doctors had ruled out a brain tumor and other ailments but had no idea why his head, and increasingly his nose, still hurt.
A month later, Herndon learned the name of his disorder. It would be another year before he found effective help to cope with his chronic, and still largely inexplicable, head pain.
Now a neurologist at a major medical center in Baltimore told him his sinuses looked clear and suggested that the headache might never disappear. But he did not give Herndon a name for his condition or a remedy, suggesting only that he find a headache specialist in the Washington area.
Aftermath of a stress test
In October 2008, after experiencing chest pain, Herndon saw a cardiologist who ordered a variety of tests. During a stress test, which measures the heart’s ability to respond to exercise, “my head felt like I’d had one and a half drinks,” Herndon recalled. Testing revealed nothing amiss with his heart, and the lightheadedness gradually disappeared over the next few days, replaced almost immediately by something else: a dull ache in his upper forehead and between his eyes.
At first Herndon, who rarely got headaches, didn’t think much about it. But after several days, when the pain failed to recede or respond to nonprescription painkillers, he saw his primary-care doctor, who referred him to a neurologist, who ordered various scans.
Herndon’s brain looked normal, but a CT scan revealed a significant sinus infection — his first. Doctors prescribed antibiotics in an effort to knock it out, which would presumably eradicate the headache.
That course of antibiotics was the first of many rounds that failed to vanquish his headache; corticosteroids did nothing, either. After a few months his ENT recommended endoscopic sinus surgery to clean out and open his still-blocked sinuses, a procedure endorsed by a second specialist.
After the operation, which was performed in March 2009, Herndon was optimistic that his headache would finally disappear. But a few weeks later, he said, he had the sinking realization that “nothing felt any different.”