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Different Types of Headaches

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Different Types of Headaches

writtenByWritten by: Jennifer Nelson
Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer is a contributing health writer who has been researching and writing health content with PlushCare for 3 years. She is passionate about bringing accessible healthcare and mental health services to people everywhere.

Read more posts by this author.

August 9, 2018 Read Time - 4 minutes

Having a headache can be anywhere from mildly annoying to completely day-ruining.

What are the different types of headaches? How do you know when it’s time for a trip to the doctor? What can you do to help relieve your headache? Here’s what you should know about headaches.

Different types of headaches and how to treat them

Did you know there are 150 types of headaches? We don’t have room here to discuss all of them, but here are some of the most common:

Tension Headaches

Often caused by stress, tension headaches are a mild to moderate dull, aching (but not throbbing) sensation around your entire head. Your neck, forehead, scalp, or shoulder muscles may be tender or sore, as well. These are the most common type of headache and don’t typically have other symptoms.

Tension headaches can usually be cured with over the counter (OTC) pain relievers such as:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen (Motrin)
  • Naproxen (Aleve)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol), preferably with caffeine (Excedrin Tension Headache)

If OTC medications aren’t enough, you can talk to your doctor about a prescription medication such as:

  • Indomethacin
  • Meloxicam (Mobic)
  • Ketorolac

Migraine Headaches

A migraine is a severe headache. Migraines typically only affect one side of your head and feels like a pulsing on the inside of your head. They may last for several days and be accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Sensitivity to light, smell, or sound
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Visual disturbances
  • Abdominal pain

If over the counter pain medications don’t relieve your migraine symptoms, your doctor may prescribe a medication like:

  • Sumatriptan (Imitrex)
  • Rizatriptan (Maxalt or Axert)
  • Propranolol (Inderal)
  • Metoprolol (Toprol)
  • Topiramate (Topamax)
  • Amitriptyline

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches happen on one side of the face, usually around or behind one eye, and consist of a burning sensation and piercing pain. On the side of the head affected by the pain, the eyelid may droop, the eye may redden or tear up, and the pupil may get smaller. Each headache may last from 15 minutes to three hours, and a person may suffer anywhere from one to four headaches per day, sometimes every day for months at a time.

Treatment options for cluster headaches include:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • Sumatriptan (Imitrex)
  • Local anesthetic (lidocaine)
  • Corticosteroids
  • Melatonin
  • Topiramate (Topamax)
  • Calcium channel blockers

Sinus or Allergy Headaches

You can suffer from a headache as the result of allergies or a sinus infection. These headaches typically affect your cheekbones, forehead, or the bridge of your nose. They are also usually accompanied by other sinus symptoms such as a runny nose, feeling of fullness in the ears, fever, and facial swelling.

Many people who think they’re suffering from sinus headaches are actually experiencing migraines, so you should talk to a doctor about your suspected sinus headache because the treatments are different. Treatments for sinus headaches include:

  • Nasal steroid sprays
  • OTC decongestants
  • Phenylephrine (Sudafed PE)
  • Antihistamines

What causes headaches?

Your nervous system is what sends pain signals to your brain. With headaches, it’s nerves of your blood vessels and head muscles being switched on and sending those pain signals. Scientists aren’t sure why these pain signals turn on. Some common causes of headaches include:

  • Illness
  • Hormone changes
  • Stress
  • Environment

When to see a doctor for a headache

If your headache feels unusually severe or lasts for a longer period of time than normal, you should speak with a doctor.

If your headache is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, you should seek immediate medical treatment since they can be signs of potentially life-threatening illnesses:

  • Stiff neck
  • Rash
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Paralysis or vision loss
  • The worst headache you have ever experienced
  • A fever higher than 100.4° F

Think you may need to speak with a doctor about your headache symptoms? Book an appointment with a PlushCare physician and get a prescription today.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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