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Types of headaches and how to get rid of them

  • Tension headaches are the most common kind of headaches, and anyone can get them.
  • ‘Cluster’ headaches happen in a pattern or cluster for weeks or months, and they are among the most painful.

Almost everyone will experience a headache at some point in their lives. For many people, headaches happen rarely and are merely annoying. But for others, headaches can be a debilitating, lifelong health issue. In this article, we’ll explore different types of headaches and what you can do to make the pain go away.

Worried that your headache might be a serious health issue? Check out Seven signs of a dangerous headache and, if necessary, seek medical treatment right away.

Common types of headaches

There are many types of headaches. The more you know about the type that affects you, the better you can avoid causes and manage symptoms. Here are three of the most common types.

Tension headaches

These are the most common kind of headaches, and anyone can get them. Tension headaches are considered chronic if they last for hours and occur more than 15 times in a month, over several months.

  • Symptoms: A tension headache involves a dull pain that is not throbbing. It might feel like you have a very tight headband around your head; you feel the pain all over and not in any particular place.
  • Causes: While the cause isn’t completely clear, many factors may bring on a tension headache: stress, sustained loud noises, dehydration, poor sleep and skipping meals are just a few potential causes.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are among the most painful headaches. And as their name suggests, cluster they happen in a pattern or cluster for weeks or months. During a cluster period, you may get multiple headaches each day, lasting from 15 minutes to several hours. People who get cluster headaches may have periods of remission—when their headaches go away—that can last months or years.

  • Symptoms: Cluster headaches strike quickly and are usually felt behind or around one eye. Your eye might also appear red and teary. You might also experience a stuffy nose and sweating on that side of your head, and your face may appear red as well.
  • Causes: As with most types of headaches, the cause of cluster headaches is not known. But men are more likely to get them, and smoking and alcohol can make the headaches worse.

Migraine

Migraines are frequent, painful and long-lasting headaches. Some people might get migraines several times a month, while others only a few times a year. For some, a migraine might last a few hours. For others, it could be up to three days.

  • Symptoms: Up to 48 hours before a migraine, you may notice mood changes, neck stiffness, lights or spots in your field of vision, and even difficulty speaking. A migraine headache is a throbbing or pulsating pain, usually on one side of the head. During this phase, you may experience nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Causes: Migraines appear to be genetic—if someone in your family has migraines, you are three times more likely to have migraines, too. If you’re a woman, you are also three times more likely to have migraines.

Learn more about how to prevent migraines.

Other types of headaches

  • Sinus headaches. These are often mistaken for migraines and cause pain in the front of your head, including your cheekbones and the bridge of your nose. You might also have a runny nose, fever and swelling in your face. Sinus headaches are caused by allergies, a sinus infection or a virus that affects your upper respiratory system.
  • Exertional headaches. These are throbbing headaches that are usually short, but can last up to a day or two. They are caused by vigorous physical activity such as running, jumping or weight lifting.
  • Hormone headaches. Some women experience migraine-like headaches as their hormone levels change during menstrual periods, pregnancy, menopause or hormone-replacement therapy.
  • Medical overuse headaches. Also known as “rebound” headaches, these have symptoms similar to tension headaches, and they happen for some people who take painkillers more than 15 days in a month.
  • Caffeine headaches. These resemble migraines and are caused by either too much caffeine consumption—in coffee, soda or energy drinks—or by not having caffeine if you are used to having it regularly (sometimes called caffeine “withdrawal”).

Pictured is a man experiencing a headache. The image text says ease your headache. Get care now.

How to get rid of a headache

If you have chronic or especially painful headaches that interfere with your daily life, or if you think your headaches may be a sign of another health problem, you should consult your doctor. There are many prescription medications and specialized treatments that can reduce severe or chronic headache pain.

At-home remedies for a headache

For headaches that aren’t as severe, home remedies are a good option. Here are some ways you can find relief without a doctor’s help:

  • Take an over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or aspirin.
  • Consider taking a supplement such as vitamin B12, coenzyme Q10, feverfew, butterbur or magnesium (consult your doctor first).
  • Rest in a darkened, quiet room and try to relax or sleep.
  • Practice mindfulness or stress-reduction techniques including meditation, deep breathing or gentle yoga.
  • Apply a cold compress on the head or neck.
  • Check out even more ways to relieve your headache pain.

How to prevent a headache

  • Get regular sleep, 7 – 9 hours each night.
  • Eat a consistent, healthy diet.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Get regular exercise, but avoid sudden and intense exertion.
  • Avoid stress as much as you can, and use stress-management techniques when you need to.
  • Avoid excessive caffeine.
  • Follow any doctor-prescribed medication regimen

 

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