Types of headaches

Types of headaches

Types of headaches

There are many different types of headaches, but they can be grouped into primary and secondary. Primary headaches are caused by underlying conditions and are often triggered by lifestyle factors like stress, sleep, or diet. Secondary headaches are caused by other health issues that affect the head and neck, such as sinus infections, high blood pressure, or brain tumours. The following describes the most common types of headaches, their symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

7 Different Types of Headaches and How to Treat Them


1. Migraine

Migraines are a very common type of headache and can be debilitating. The pain is often felt on one side of the head and can be intense. There may also be symptoms accompanying a migraine, such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, and dizziness. However, some people experience very few or no symptoms when they have a migraine. In addition, it is difficult to predict when a migraine will strike since they usually happen without warning. However, women who experience menstrual migraines may have warning signs up to 24 hours before their period arrives.


Treatment options include trusted Sources:


2. Tension-type headache

A tension-type headache is muscle pain caused by stress or tightness in the neck, back, and head muscles. This type usually comes on gradually over a long period. Tension-type headaches can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Ibuprofen or naproxen (Aleve) may work better for people who are sensitive to NSAIDs like aspirin. Other treatments for tension-type headaches are relaxation therapy and biofeedback therapy.



These can include:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Regular exercise and stretching
  • Improving sitting and standing posture
  • Having an eye test
  • Management of stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Acupuncture

3. Cluster headache

Cluster headache is a primary disorder characterized by pain on one side of the head, often around the eye or temple. With cluster headaches, the personal attacks last for minutes to hours and then stop spontaneously, typically for a period of months to years, before returning. Cluster headaches may also be associated with nausea and photophobia (light sensitivity). 

The cause is unknown, but it’s been linked to abnormalities in parts of the brain called the hypothalamus and amygdala. Several drugs can help with symptoms, such as nerve blocks, nasal sprays, and oxygen therapy. 

The most effective treatment is indomethacin (an NSAID). Prescription medication taken daily is usually needed to prevent future headaches once they have started.


Treatment aims to decrease the harshness and frequency of the attacks. Options include:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • Sumatriptan
  • Verapamil
  • Steroids
  • Melatonin
  • Lithium


4. Exertional headache

Exertional headaches, also known as Benign Occipital Neuralgia, are not common but can occur with strenuous exercise. They are usually described as a stabbing pain in the back of the head that stops immediately when the person ceases physical activity. Other symptoms include blurred vision and sensitivity to light.

Treatment for exertional headaches includes trusted sources using:

  • OTC pain relief
  • beta-blockers, such as propranolol
  • indomethacin


5. Hypnic headaches

Hypnic headaches are more common than many people think. Known as sleep-onset or narcoleptic headaches, these typically very mild and brief episodes may occur at night when one wakes up or goes to sleep. They are thought to be brought on by a temporary rise in blood pressure and pulse when the sleeper transitions from an active state (awake) to a relaxed state (sleeping). Hypnic headaches come from the Greek word Hypnos, meaning sleep. So, for example, the narcoleptic hypnic headache might happen when someone is suffering from narcolepsy transitions between wakefulness and sleep. In such cases, this headache often arises just before or during the onset of REM sleep.


Treatment options for hypnic headaches include trusted Sources:

  • Caffeine
  • Indomethacin
  • Lithium

6. Medication-overuse headache

Medication-overuse headache or rebound headache is caused by repeated use of painkillers. The most common causes of medication-overuse headache are medications containing acetaminophen, but other drugs can cause it, such as some antidepressants and diuretics. This type of headache is similar to a tension-type headache in that it worsens from daily activity and improves when the patient takes time off from activity. However, it can have a drug hangover-like feeling with increased sensitivity to sound and light, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness following use.


After discontinuing the drug, a person is likely to experience:

  • Worsened headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • increased heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Restlessness, anxiety, and nervousness


7. Sinus headaches

Sinusitis is an inflammation or infection in the tissue lining your sinuses. Sinus headache symptoms include aching pain on one side of your head, pressure on that side of your face, tenderness in and around the area, pain when you bend over or touch the area, and cold-like symptoms such as congestion, runny nose, and postnasal drip.

Sinus headaches happen when mucus from our nasal passages drips down into our sinuses. This can happen because our nasal passages become congested for various reasons, including allergies, high levels of air pollution, or cold weather.  The fluid drips into our sinuses through tiny openings called Ostia at the bottom of each sinus cavity.



Sinusitis usually goes away within 2–3 weeks.

Treatment options include:

  • RestDrinking fluids
  • OTC pain relief
  • Nasal decongestants
  • Saltwater nasal sprays or solutions from the pharmacy
  • Antihistamines
  • Steroid nasal sprays, available on prescription
  • Antibiotics(if bacterial infection found)


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