Types of Headaches

Headaches can be defined as pain “in any region of the head.” However, the cause, duration, and intensity of the pain can vary depending on the type of headache. 

Many of us have suffered from some form of uncomfortable, throbbing headache pain. There are a variety of different types of headaches that can cause this type of pain. 

Primary Headaches

Primary headaches happen when the pain in your head is the condition and not being caused by something that your body is dealing with, such as allergies. Primary headaches can be either episodic or chronic.

Episodic headaches occur every once in a while, and can last from half an hour to several hours.

Chronic headaches happen more often and are regular. They occur most days out of the month and can last for days at a time. 

The following are different types of primary headaches. 

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches can cause an individual to feel a dull, aching sensation all over their head. This type of headache does not cause throbbing; however, you may feel tenderness or sensitivity around your neck, forehead, scalp or shoulder muscles. 

Tension headaches are usually caused by stress and can often be relieved by taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen and caffeine. If OTC medications do not provide relief, a prescription medication may be needed. If the headache becomes chronic, a different route may be needed in order to address the underlying cause. 

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are known to have a severe burning and piercing pain. They will happen around or behind one eye or on one side of your face at a time. You may experience swelling, redness flushing, or sweating on the side of the face that is being affected along with nasal congestion and eye tearing. 

Cluster headaches happen in a series and can last from 15 minutes to three hours. An individual will experience one to four headaches a day around the same time each day. Once one headache is gone another one will begin soon after. These series of headaches can happen daily for months at a time. During the months in between cluster, individuals are symptom-free. Cluster headaches happen more often in the spring and fall and are three times more common in men. 

The cause of cluster headaches is unclear; however, some doctors recommend oxygen therapy, sumatriptan, or local anesthetic to help relieve the pain. 


Migraines involve an intense pulsing from deep within your head and can last for days. They are a throbbing sensation and are usually one-sided. Migraines significantly limit an individual’s ability to perform daily tasks. People who suffer from migraines are usually sensitive to light and sound and experience nausea and vomiting. 

About one out of five people will experience visual disturbances before a migraine begins. These visual disturbances, also known as an aura, may cause an individual to see flashing or shimmering lights, zigzag lines, stars, and blind spots. Auras can include tingling on one side of your face or in one arm and difficulty speaking. Since these are symptoms that mimic a stroke, you should get help immediately if they are new to you. 

Migraines can run in your family or they could be connected to other nervous system conditions. Women are three times more likely to have migraines than men, and those with PTSD are also at an increased risk of experiencing them. Some common environmental factors that can trigger a migraine include sleep disruption, dehydration, some foods, skipped meals, hormone fluctuations, and exposure the chemicals. 

If you have tried OTC pain relievers and have found that they do not reduce your migraine pain, your doctor might prescribe triptans. Triptans are drugs that bring down swelling and change the flow of blood in your brain. They come in the form of nasal sprays, pills, and injections. 

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are a symptom that there is something else going on in your body. If the cause of your headache becomes ongoing, then it can become chronic. 

The following are different types of secondary headaches.

Allergy or Sinus Headaches

Allergy or sinus headaches are usually a result of an allergic reaction. The pain is usually located in your sinus area and in the front of your head. Sinus headaches are treated by thinning out the mucus that builds up and causes pressure. Nasal sprays, OTC decongestants, or antihistamines can help with this. A sinus headache may also be the result of a sinus infection. If this is the case, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics. 

Hormone Headaches

It is common for women to experience headaches related to hormonal fluctuations. Menstruation, birth control pills, and pregnancy affect estrogen levels which can cause headaches. Headaches specifically associated with menstruation are known as menstrual migraines and occur right before, during or right after menses, as well as during ovulation. OTC pain relievers such as Aleve or prescription medications can help with hormone headaches. 

Caffeine Headaches

Caffeine affects the blood flow to your brain and too much of it can cause a headache. When your brain is used to a certain amount of caffeine every day, you might get a headache if you don’t get your fix. This could be because caffeine changes the brain’s chemistry, and withdrawal from caffeine could trigger a headache. 

Exertion Headaches

Exertion headaches happen soon after intense physical activity such as weight lifting and running. It is believed that these types of activities increase the blood flow to your skull which can result in a throbbing headache on both sides of your head. These types of headaches usually last for a few minutes or several hours. Analgesics, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, should ease the pain.

Hypertension Headaches

High blood pressure can cause an individual to have a headache. This type of headache signals an emergency because it can occur when your blood pressure become dangerously high. Hypertension headaches normally happen on both sides of the head, have a pulsating quality, and usually become worse with any activity. Changes in vision, numbness or tingling, nosebleeds, chest pain, or shortness of breath can occur due to these headaches. 

No matter what type of headache you may have, they are never a pleasant experience. Headaches can cause frustration and a disruption to your normal daily routine. If you are experiencing headaches and do not want to resort to OTC or prescription medication, give North County Pain Relief a call at (314) 731-4201 so we can discuss your options. We take pride in what we do and want to help our clients find the relief they are searching for.