If you have a headache and you’re looking for relief, it’s good to know what kind of headache you have. Telling your doctor you have a headache—a generalized term for a pain in the head—doesn’t give them much to work with. To help you find the proper treatment, here are the four different headache types and their causes. Keep in mind that while you can treat many headaches with over-the-counter medicine (though these can also be sources of headaches themselves), you should see your doctor about severe and recurring headaches.
You’ve probably heard about migraines, which are severe and debilitating headaches. But the symptoms can extend beyond those, including impaired vision, nausea, extreme sensitivity to light and sound, and concentrated pain on one side of the head and neck. Migraines can be mild, moderate, or severe, and they can last anywhere from a few hours to several days.
You can treat some migraines with over-the-counter pain reliever, but if they’re diminishing your quality of life, see your doctor. Stress, lack of sleep, hormones, and outside stimuli ordinarily provoke migraines, but your doctor should immediately look at a migraine accompanied by double vision, high fever, seizures, weakness, and rashes. These can also be symptoms of meningitis or stroke.
Cluster headaches are easily recognized as extreme pain occurring above the eye or at the temple. The pain can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours and be accompanied by red and watering eyes, swollen eyelids, and constricted pupils. Nighttime is usually when cluster headaches occur most frequently; they almost keep to a schedule. The cause of cluster headaches isn’t known, but some researchers think scents, changes in the body as it ages, and other triggers can spark them.
Probably what most people think of when they think of headaches, tension headaches are felt across the head and neck when the muscles contract. Food and drink, allergies, sickness, stress, and other outside phenomena can induce them. They can last for only a few minutes or hours, but you can often handle them with OTC medications, rest, and cold compresses.
If they persist and recur more often than is comfortable, see your health care provider. You might also consider making changes to your lifestyle, including exercising, watching what you eat and drink, and finding ways to deal with stress, such as meditation.
Sinus headaches are the last of the four different headache types and their causes. Pain is felt around the sinuses, in the area surrounding the nose and eyes and behind the forehead and cheeks. Sinus headaches occur when the sinuses are infected, causing increased mucus production and bacterial growth. Decongestants, nasal sprays, warm showers, and nasal douches can all clear up the sinuses. But again, if symptoms persist over several days, contact your doctor.