Types Of Headaches & How To Treat Them

Headaches are a nuisance most of us face from time to time. But did you know there are over a hundred different types? These various kinds can have a wide range of symptoms, causes and treatments. If you’re feeling a new pain or unsure of what could be triggering a recurrent one, this breakdown of headaches and how to treat them may come in handy.

Headache Classifications

Although headaches have been around for ages, our understanding of them and their causes has been rapidly increasing in recent times. For instance, it’s been readily accepted that the different types of headaches fall into two categories — primary or secondary — based on the cause.

However, as research has evolved, experts have altered their stances on this and accepted a third category of “mixed” headaches. Such amendments stem from the realization that some simply do not neatly fit into either category. These mixed headaches are typically harder to classify as they have characteristics of both and, therefore, treatment can be challenging.

Despite this newer classification, it is most likely a headache will be classified as a primary headache, which occurs when the pain inside the head is the condition. These can be episodic or chronic. Secondary headaches are a symptom derived from another source within the body, like illness or allergies. Finding relief for these is typically attained by treating the primary cause.

Common Primary Headaches


Related to blood vessel contractions and other brain changes, migraines can cause severe, debilitating pain accompanied by nausea, dizziness and sensitivity to light or smells. They may be triggered by stress, sleep deprivation or by weather or environmental changes. Individuals may experience a migraine for half an hour or up to several days.

Treatment is typically with over the counter (OTC) pain relievers, but a medication may be prescribed to change biochemical pathways and decrease inflammation for those suffering chronic migraines.

Tension Headache

Often triggered by stress, lack of sleep or poor posture, tension headaches are commonly described as a dull, aching sensation all over the body. Individuals also report varying levels of pain and soreness around the shoulder and neck muscles. Relief may be found through OTC pain relievers, manual massage therapy, stretching exercises and efforts to improve sitting and standing posture.

Cluster Headache

More common in men than women, this type consists of a severe burning or piercing sensation around or behind one eye. It may also be felt on one side of the face with facial swelling, drooping eyelids and eye tearing on that side. A cluster headache might be addressed with acute pain relief methods and preventative treatments such as melatonin, oxygen therapy, steroid injections or oral steroids.

Common Secondary Headaches

Caffeine Headache

Frequent consumption of caffeine affects blood flow and has the potential to catalyze changes in brain chemistry. When someone experiences withdrawal from the stimulant, it can trigger this kind of headache. What’s more, individuals who suffer from migraines are at risk of this type when they consume caffeine. Treatment generally involves reducing or managing caffeine intake and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs.

Sinus Headaches

Allergies, illness or dry weather can cause the sinus cavity to become inflamed and lead to this type of headache. The pain associated with it is a deep, persistent ache in the forehead, cheekbones or bridge of the nose. It may occur along with other sinus symptoms, such as fever, runny nose and sneezing.

OTC decongestants and antihistamines as well as prescription nasal steroid sprays may help relieve the symptoms by thinning out the mucus buildup that’s causing pressure within the sinuses. The headache could also be a symptom of a sinus infection. This may require a prescription of antibiotics to treat the infection and alleviate its symptoms.

Hormone Headaches

At times referred to as menstrual migraines, these headaches are linked to fluctuating hormones due to menstruation, pregnancy, menopause or hormone-based contraceptives. Ways to help prevent or decrease hormone headaches include OTC pain relievers, relaxation techniques, yoga and diet modification.

This infographic was created by One Wellness Utah, a provider of inflammation treatment

When to Contact a Medical Professional

The majority of headaches are episodic and go away within a day. However, if you’re experiencing a headache lasting more than two days, one which is increasing in intensity or if it is reoccurring regularly, it’s important to seek help promptly.

Also, keep in mind that not everyone responds to treatments the same. Dietary changes, improved sleep or NSAIDs may work for one person and not another even if it’s for the same kind of headache. If you cannot find relieve on your own, speak to a doctor about creating an effective treatment plan to address the pain.

For further information on these and other common types of headaches, please see the accompanying resource by One Wellness Utah

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