The Different Types of Headaches Explained

In 2019, nearly 39 million Americans suffered from headaches.

There are over 150 types of headaches that either arise randomly or signify another medical condition. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the different types of headaches so you can get the right treatment.

Know a little about headaches? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Read on to learn about the main types.

What Causes Headaches?

You may wonder, “what causes headaches?”

Headaches happen when there’s a mix of signals between your brain, blood vessels, and nerves. As a result, the nerves in your blood vessels and head switch on which causes the pain. There is a wide range of causes such as illness, genetics, stress, and lifestyle choices (e.g. drinking excessive amounts of alcohol).

Different Types of Headaches

Now you know about headache causes, we’ll jump into the various types. Regardless of which one you experience, if it’s consistent then seek medical advice. These are the most popular ones, for example:

Tension Headache

Out of all the headache types, this is the most common among adults and teens. Although the exact cause is unknown, tension headaches are thought to happen when the muscles covering the skull contract. The stressed muscles then become inflamed which is painful.

Tension headaches happen at the base of the skull, neck, and temple and occur sporadically so most people can still function normally.


Migraines affect over 37 million adults and children in the U.S.

These kinds of headaches are distinctive because of the intense, throbbing pain. Migraines can last anywhere from four hours to three days depending on the severity. Other symptoms include sensitivity to light and smells, nausea, and auras like seeing flashing lights.

Children suffering from migraines may feel dizzy, have a fever, and an upset stomach. There are many causes like genetics, dehydration, skipped meals, and hormone fluctuations but every person is different.

If over-the-counter painkillers don’t work, doctors will prescribe triptans, a medication that decreases inflammation and changes the blood flow in your brain. Migraines left untreated can develop into a TMJ headache so it’s important to seek treatment.

Cluster Headache

These types of headaches create a burning, piercing pain either behind your eyes or on one side of your face. Patients may also notice swelling, redness, and sweating in the affected area.

Cluster headaches are slow and gradual, lasting from 15 minutes to three hours. Most people have up to four a day and these could happen daily while others may be symptom-free for months. Although the cause is unknown, doctors suggest oxygen therapy or local anesthetic for pain relief.

Sinus Headache

Considered a chronic daily headache, the main symptom of a sinus headache is a deep pain in your cheekbones, forehead, or on the bridge of your nose because the cavities (known as sinuses) in your head become inflamed. You may also get a runny nose, fever, and feel like your ears are clogged.

The best way to deal with these are taking over-the-counter painkillers, nasal steroid sprays, and flushing your sinuses with salt water is it unclogs the mucus in your nasal passage so there’s less pressure.

Post-Traumatic Headache

Post-traumatic headaches occur several days after a head injury where you may experience vertigo, lightheadedness, and find it difficult to concentrate. These often feel like a dull ache but they may last for months. If there’s no progress after two weeks then you should see a doctor.

Menstrual Headache

Menstrual headaches arise after a change in estrogen levels around a woman’s menstrual cycle. These headaches occur just before or during a period but they don’t have the aura like with typical migraines. Doctors will suggest hormonal therapy, alternating the woman’s contraception plan, or taking a triptan.

Hemicrania Continua

Hemicrania continua is a chronic headache that affects one side of your face. You may experience symptoms like teary eyes, runny nose, droopy eyelids, and fluctuating pain. Stress, a change in your sleep pattern, and bright lights can worsen symptoms of hemicrania continua and you’ll notice pressure on your neck.

Doctors will suggest taking anti-inflammatory medications for fast relief.

Hangover Headache

If you drink too much alcohol, you may get a throbbing headache in the morning. These are similar to migraines and you feel them on both sides of your head especially when you move. The best way to relieve symptoms is to load up on sugary food and drink water throughout the day.

Ice Pick Headache

Although these are rare, ice pick headaches are excruciating. Patients experience intense, stabbing headaches that only last several seconds. They could happen a few times a day either as a single condition or a symptom of something else.

When to See a Doctor

Most headaches don’t usually signal a more serious problem and they’re often managed by taking over-the-counter painkillers. But if you do experience severe, consistent pain then schedule an appointment with your doctor so they can figure out what the cause is.

Seek immediate medical assistance if you suffer a sudden painful headache and you have problems with your balance, vision, or speech.

These Are the Different Types of Headaches

Now you know the different types of headaches, hopefully, it’ll be easier to know which one you’re suffering from.

Tension headaches, migraines, and sinus headaches are common whereas it’s possible to experience rare ailments like ice peak headaches. Most of these can be treated at home but if the pain is affecting your daily life then contact your doctor so they can help you. Good luck!

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