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What Kind of Headache Is This?

December 05, 2019

Dealing with a headache today? You aren’t alone! In fact, in any given calendar year, more than 90 percent of Americans experience at least one headache.

Headaches are incredibly common. For most of us, we become so accustomed to experiencing them that we rarely stop to think about what’s causing them—or what kind of headache we might be having.

But since effective treatment and prevention requires a solid understanding of what type of headache you’re having, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with a few of the most common types.

Read on as we examine four common types of headache and what to do to find relief from each.

Headache Type 1: Tension
This is probably the type of headache you’re most familiar with. When you experience a tension headache,  you’ll likely feel mild to moderate pain on both sides of the head. 

Unlike with other types of headaches, this pain is usually not considered “throbbing” and it doesn’t normally get worse when you’re tackling daily activities.

If you’re experiencing a tension headache, you can likely find relief by taking an over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, as directed on the package or by a physician. Do not exceed the amount recommended, and if you find yourself taking it for multiple days, talk with your doctor.

Headache Type 2: Cluster
While you might think migraines are the most severe headaches, cluster headaches are actually categorized as more severe.

These headaches are intense and often experienced as a “burning” or “stabbing” feeling that is either throbbing or constant. Unlike with tension headaches, where pain occurs on both sides of the face, the pain of cluster headaches often occurs behind one eye or in the eye region. 

The name “cluster headache” comes from the fact that these headaches typically come in a cluster, often occurring multiple times daily for weeks or even months. If you’re experiencing this type of headache, you may find yourself unable to stay still or lie down.

Cluster headaches typically cannot be treated effectively using OTC medications. If you believe you’re experiencing this type of headache, you’ll want to talk with your doctor about your symptoms to determine an appropriate option that will help treat current headaches and prevent future ones.

Headache Type 3: Migraine
Migraines are the second most common type of headache behind tension headaches. This type of headache causes moderate to severe pain that may be felt as “pounding” or “throbbing.” 

Pain is often restricted to one side of the head, and it’s usually accompanied by other symptoms, including nausea, weakness, sensitivity to light, and intense fatigue.

If you believe you’re experiencing migraines, talk with your doctor about what options might be best for you. Treatment for chronic migraines often includes the prescription of preventive medications, while treatment for an acute migraine may include OTC or prescription pain medications, increased fluid intake, and rest in a darkened room.

Headache Type 4: Sinus
While the first three types of headaches are considered “primary” headaches, sinus headaches are what’s known as a “secondary” headache. That’s because they result from another medical condition.

In most cases, sinus headaches are associated with an infection in the sinuses, leading to a deep and constant pain felt in the cheekbones, forehead, and even behind the nose. The pain from this type of headache usually worsens if you move your head suddenly.

If you’re experiencing a sinus headache, you’ll likely also have other symptoms, including a fever, facial swelling, and nasal discharge. Pain from a sinus headache typically alleviates once the underlying infection is treated using an antibiotic. 

Until the infection is cleared, you may find relief from the pain using OTC or prescription pain medications.

Other Headache Types
Beyond these four common types of headache, there are many other potential causes for headaches, ranging from very minor to severe.

Headaches can occur from eating or drinking something cold, be the result of exercise or sexual activity, occur due to high blood pressure, or be the result of taking too much pain medication. That last one may seem odd, but it’s fairly common. That type of headache is known as a “medication overuse” headache, and a doctor can help you determine how to taper or discontinue the medication that’s causing it.

It’s also important to note that headaches can sometimes occur due to an emergency situation. If you experience what you’d call “the worst headache of your life,” seek emergency medical attention, since the pain can be the result of a stroke or aneurysm.

If you’re experiencing recurring headaches and can’t seem to nail down a cause, talk with your doctor. He or she will help determine the underlying issue and outline an appropriate treatment plan. Find a doctor here.