Different Types of Headaches: Identifying the Signs

The shrill sound of your alarm clock cuts through your mind like a knife. The pain in your head is making it difficult to open your eyes, and you can’t muster the motivation to leave the sanctuary of your dark room to greet the day.

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Is this a normal occurrence for you?

If so, you’re not alone. Headache disorders are one of the most common conditions amongst adults. In fact, about half the people in the US have had a headache within the past year.

The first step in dealing with them is learning what the different types of headaches are. Keep reading to find out more.


Migraines occur in the form of an intense throbbing sensation on one side of your head. Until it goes away, you’ll have a heightened sensitivity to sounds, light, and even smells. It’s not uncommon to also experience vomiting and nausea.

Your migraine could last anywhere between a few hours or a couple of days. For some, migraines are a chronic condition that happens multiple times a month.

The common triggers for migraines include hormone changes, lack of sleep, dehydration, a lack of food, bright lights, and stress.

The best way to treat your migraine is to take a few ibuprofen and wait it out in a dark room. An ice pack and a glass of water do wonders as well.

If you have chronic migraines, there’s only so much that these tactics can do, however. The only way you’ll be able to get real relief is by talking to your doctor.

Tension Headaches

Unlike migraines, tension headaches wrap around the entire head. Your face, neck, and shoulders will feel a bit tender. Most people experience some pressure behind their eyes as well as sensitivity to light.

Anxiety and stress are the most common triggers for tension headaches. A lack of exercise, missed meals, bad posture, and lack of sleep can cause them as well.

Unless your headache lasts longer than 90 days, you don’t have to go to your doctor to treat it. Over-the-counter painkillers are the best medicine for tension headache.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are severe recurring headaches that pop up right behind one of your eyes. Whereas tension headaches and migraines cause throbbing pain, cluster headaches result in more of a piercing sensation.

Cluster headache symptoms mimic many of the ones you may experience if you have hay fever. You’ll have a runny nose, swollen eyelids, watery eyes, and sensitivity to light.

Smokers get these headaches more often than most, but other than that, there’s not a real known trigger for them. As far as treatment goes, try to avoid alcohol until the pain goes away.

If you tend to get a lot of cluster headaches, your doctor may suggest oxygen therapy, melatonin, or steroids.

Exertional Headaches

If your brain starts throbbing after a heavy gym session, you’re having an exertional headache. Most of the time, these headaches don’t last for too long and tend to go away on their own.

You may have to take ibuprofen to help things along, but an exertional headache is far from debilitating.

Hypnic Headaches

Out of all the different headache types on this list, hypnic ones are the rarest. They tend to strike in the middle of the night and wake you up like an alarm clock.

There are no known triggers for hypnic headaches, but they afflict older adults more often than not. At times, caffeine can help ease the pain. If that doesn’t work, it’s recommended to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Medicine-Overdose Headaches

Medicine-overdose headaches mimic the same symptoms as tension headaches and migraines.

Ironically, these headaches are most common for those who use pain medications daily to ease head pain. You can also get them by taking prescription opioids.

The best treatment option is to stop taking the problem medication. If it’s being caused by a prescription drug, make sure you talk to your doctor before you quit. They’ll come up with a plan that will guide you through the process in the safest way possible.

Caffeine Headaches

Caffeine is the most abused drug in the entire world. If you’re the type of person that can’t function without one or two cups of coffee, there’s a small chance that you might be addicted.

If there comes a time when you can’t get to a source of caffeine, it will cause painful headaches and other withdrawal symptoms. You might become irritable or nauseous.

If you don’t want to feed the craving by having a soda or cup of joe, you can use an icepack or take an over-the-counter pain killer to get some relief.

Sinus Headaches

When you have a cold or infection, it can cause your entire face to hurt. The pressure in your head and around your eyes will be intense. It can even make your jaw and teeth ache.

The good news is that it’s rare to have a sinus headache unless you’re sick. You can treat it the same way you would a cold. Get some rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Learning the Different Types of Headaches

As you can see, there are a lot of different types of headaches. You won’t always have debilitating head pain that keeps in you in bed all day. Sometimes headaches only last for a few hours before going away.

In most cases, you can speed up your recovery with ibuprofen. If your head pain persists for a month or more, make an appointment with your doctor.

For more tips that will help you manage your headaches, visit the Health section of our blog.

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