Decoding the pain: Unraveling the mystery of headache types and  how to treat them

It’s safe to say that we’ve all had headaches. They can be caused by fatigue, stress, muscle tension, and dehydration. Knowing which type of headache you’re experiencing, and the best treatment options can help you minimize pain and disruption to your daily life.  

Migraine headaches
A migraine is a type of headache that can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on one side of the head. It's often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can last for hours to days, and the pain can be so bad that it interferes with your daily activities. Medications can help prevent some migraines and make them less painful. The right medicines, combined with self-help remedies and lifestyle changes, might help.

Typical migraine symptoms

  • An aura, or light haze, in the minutes before migraine pain appears
  • Blurry vision
  • Pain on one side of your head
  • Light, touch, smell, or sound sensitivity
  • Nausea

Some migraine triggers

  • Hormone fluctuations
  • Stress
  • Certain foods
  • Lack of food or hydration
  • Changes in the weather

When to see your primary care provider
If you have ongoing migraines, your doctor will evaluate you for the cause of your migraine. You may be prescribed medicines to help prevent migraines from coming on.

Tension headache
Tension headaches are caused by different types of stress. People who have tension headaches often complain of a band of pain across their forehead, or pressure on either side of the head, and the pain isn’t as bad as a migraine. Tension headaches can go away if the source of the stress goes away. Also, people often will take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or some other over the counter pain medication to take the edge off.

When to see your primary care provider
If your tension headaches happen often, it might be a good idea to check in with your provider. There are types of medications that can keep these kinds of headaches from occurring, or you may discuss alternatives like massage therapy and/or meditation to help manage your well-being.

Sinus headache
Pain with a runny or stuffy nose is the typical symptom of a sinus headache. Sinus headaches can be a sign of a sinus infection that causes your mucus to thicken and sometimes turn a yellowish color.

When to see your primary care provider
If you think you have a sinus headache and it’s not getting better, connect with your provider. Sinus headaches are often treated with decongestants, antihistamines, and sometimes antibiotics, if your headache is caused by a bacterial infection.

Cluster headache
Cluster headaches affect one side of the head and are incredibly painful like a migraine.

These types of headaches occur suddenly with a sharp pain that feels like someone stabbed you in the eye or temple with a sharp object. Cluster headaches can also result in a stuffy nose and teary eyes.

When to see your primary care provider
If you think you’re experiencing cluster headaches, talk with your provider about your treatment options.

Most of the time headaches and even migraines are not a sign of anything more serious. But headaches can become a problem if:

  • You experience them frequently
  • They become severe
  • They are disrupting your everyday life

Seek immediate care for your headache if you experience:

  • A sudden, intense headache
  • Loss of consciousness or vision
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Pain for more than 72 hours with little to no relief