Headaches. Almost everyone has experienced one, and the pain they bring can affect your quality of life. There are over a hundred different types of headaches. Tension headache, migraine, cluster headache, and sinus headache are the most common, and each has unique signs and symptoms.
Check out our different types of headaches chart for quick reference, or keep scrolling to learn more about the four most common types of headaches, including their causes, symptoms, and treatment.
Understanding the Different Types of Headaches
1. Tension Headaches
A tension headache is characterized by dull, aching pain or pressure on both sides of your head. Tension headaches are sometimes referred to as “hatband” headaches because they can feel like a band of pressure wrapped around your forehead, temples, and the back of your head – just like a tight-fitting hat.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. This type of headache starts slowly and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few days. Chronic tension headaches may require prescription medication, such as a tricyclic antidepressant or muscle relaxer.
However, occasional tension headache pain responds to over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. One study found that a combination treatment of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine is most effective in relieving episodic tension-type headache.
Common natural headache remedies include various plant-based and mineral supplements, such as:
- Peppermint oil
- Coenzyme Q10, an antioxidant the body produces naturally
- Vitamin B12
- Butterbur, an herb from the daisy family
- Feverfew, a flowering plant from the daisy family
Remember to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements, as they may interact with other medications you may be taking to treat headaches.
Tension headaches are believed to be caused in part by stress and muscle tension, which you may be able to relieve by making some changes to your lifestyle. Things like maintaining good sleeping habits, getting regular exercise, and participating in stress-relieving activities like yoga, acupuncture, or acupressure may help.
2. Migraine Headaches
Migraines are a recurring type of headache marked by moderate to severe pulsating pain, usually on one side of your head. It occurs with other migraine symptoms, including nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, or loss of appetite. A migraine can last anywhere from four to 72 hours.
Researchers believe migraine has a genetic link. There are also many factors that can trigger a migraine, and they vary from person to person. Migraine triggers include:
- Sensory stimuli, including bright lights, loud noises, and strong odors
- Too much or not enough sleep
- Skipped meals
- Tobacco use
- Caffeine or caffeine withdrawal
- Certain foods, including alcohol, chocolate, aged cheeses, and processed meats
Treatment for migraines depends on frequency and severity. Mild, occasional migraines can be treated with over-the-counter medication, and research suggests that taking a magnesium supplement could prevent future migraine. If you experience multiple migraines a month, your doctor may prescribe preventative medication to avoid future attacks, as well as a rescue medication designed for immediate symptom relief.
In addition to taking an over-the-counter or prescribed rescue medication, there are other things you can do to get relief during a migraine:
- Resting in a quiet, dark room
- Applying a cool cloth or ice pack to your head or neck
- Drinking fluids
- Intravenous magnesium sulfate
Evidence suggests intravenous magnesium sulfate may be used to treat acute non-traumatic headaches, such as migraine. When administered intravenously by a health care professional, magnesium sulfate has been known to relieve pain, minimize aura, and reduce the need for a rescue medication.
If you suffer migraines, it’s essential to identify your migraine triggers. You’ll see what you need to avoid, like certain foods and medication, and the lifestyle changes you would benefit from making. For example, getting quality, consistent sleep, eating regular meals, and maintaining an active lifestyle can help reduce the number and severity of your migraines.
3. Sinus Headaches
A sinus headache usually occurs after a cold or viral upper respiratory infection. Symptoms of a sinus headache include:
- Throbbing pain or pressure around your eyes, cheeks, or forehead, usually on one side of your face
- Pain that worsens if you bend forward or lay down
- Aching feeling in your upper teeth
- Nasal congestion
It’s important to note that migraines can cause nasal symptoms that may feel cold-related, including facial pressure, congestion, and runny nose. Many people who assume they’re suffering from chronic sinusitis are actually dealing with migraines or tension headaches. The only way to determine what type of headache you’re dealing with is by meeting with your doctor.
Sinus headaches last days or longer, and treatment usually involves treating the underlying cause of the sinus headache. Over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants, or nasal sprays can help relieve symptoms.
4. Cluster Headaches
A cluster headache is characterized by the rapid onset of severe, excruciating pain usually felt behind or around one eye, although you may first experience migraine-like symptoms, including nausea and aura. Cluster headaches are not as common as tension headaches or migraines, but they are more severe.
They tend to occur in groups, hence the term “cluster.” Pain recurs in the same way each time and can occur several times a day for multiple days and even weeks at a time, only to seemingly disappear until another cluster headache develops later.
A cluster period is a period of frequent attacks that can last weeks to months. Most people experience episodic cluster headaches, which last for one week to one year at a time and are followed by a remission period that can last up to 12 months before another cluster occurs.
Cluster headache pain primarily affects the eye area on one side of the face, but it can radiate to other parts of your face, head, and neck. During a cluster headache, the following signs and symptoms can be felt on one side of your face:
- Runny nose or nasal congestion on the affected side
- Watery eyes
- Swelling around the eye, enlarged pupil, or droopy eyelid on the affected side
People with cluster headaches are often restless and likely to pace, rock back and forth, and otherwise sit still, unlike migraine sufferers. Migraine-like symptoms, including sensitivity to light and sound, may occur with a cluster headache and affect one side of the head. It’s unknown what causes cluster headaches, although their patterns indicate abnormalities in the body’s biological clock contribute.
Cluster headaches are some of the most painful headaches you can experience, and having a treatment protocol in place before a cluster begins is critical. Treatments include:
- Injectable medications
- Nasal sprays
- Preventative medications, such as corticosteroids
- Oxygen therapy
When to Talk to Your Doctor
Most headaches aren’t a sign of something more serious and can be treated at home. Just remember to consult your doctor before beginning any medication or supplements. If you suffer any headache consistently or experience any problems or new symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately.
Vera Health can help you get the treatment you need. We offer short-term health insurance plans that include benefits for telehealth services and doctor visits with a copay. Call 888-499-1187 to chat with a Vera Health pro or adjust the slider on our homepage to learn more about our affordable plans.
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