What kind of headache is this?

When you have a headache, you just want it to go away. The key to effectively treating a headache? Knowing what kind of headache you’re having.

There are approximately 150 different types of headache. But there are four types that are more common than the others.

Tension headache

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. They cause pain around the top of the head, often feeling as if something is squeezing the area.

These headaches occur when the muscles in your neck and scalp tense up. Think about when this typically happens — are you stressed, worried, upset or anxious? Because of this, tension headaches are sometimes also called stress headaches.

If you’re having a tension headache, you will likely experience pain that is:

  • Pressure-like, rather than throbbing
  • All over the head, rather than in one place or on one side of the head
  • Worse in the forehead area (particularly the temples) or the back of the head

You may also find that tension headaches start later in the day (once you’ve had a chance to get stressed!), and you may experience fatigue but difficulty sleeping, along with muscle aches.

Tension headaches are typically treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications, along with habits to ease the pain, such as hot baths or ice packs.

Migraine headache

If you suffer from migraines, you aren’t alone. Approximately 12 percent of the United States population has migraines.

Migraine headaches cause pounding, throbbing pain that lasts for hours or even days. Migraines can be triggered by numerous things, including stress, anxiety, hormonal changes, bright light, lack of food or sleep, or certain foods or substances.

If you’re having a migraine, you will likely experience:

  • Pain on one side or both sides of the head
  • Sensitivity to light and sounds
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Many migraine sufferers also experience aura before or during migraines. Auras are typically visual disturbances, such as flashes of light or shapes, and can also cause loss of vision.

If you believe you’re experiencing migraines, talk with your doctor. He or she can use a specific set of criteria to determine if that’s the cause of your pain and work to find a prevention and treatment plan that works for you.

Cluster headache

While migraines are typically identified as the most painful type of headache, cluster headaches are actually the most severe. They often occur suddenly during sleep, and once you have one, you will typically experience a cluster of them over days, weeks or months.

Cluster headaches are triggered by many of the same things as migraines, including high altitude, bright light, exertion, certain foods or medications, and heat.

If you’re having a cluster headache, you will likely experience pain that is:

  • Burning, sharp or stabbing
  • Felt on one side of the head
  • Often involving the eye (such as drooping or tearing)
  • Worst when first occurring

Those suffering from cluster headaches may also experience a red, flushed face, sweating, and a runny or stuffy nose.

Treatment for cluster headaches may include medications taken to stop an acute attack, medications taken to prevent attacks and, when other treatments fail, a surgical procedure that blocks the trigeminal nerve.

Sinus headache

We’ve probably all had a sinus headache at one time or another. When you have a sinus headache, you feel pain and pressure across your face.

Sinus headaches occur when the sinus passages in your face inflame, which can also cause runny nose, ear tenderness, fever and face swelling.

If you’re having a sinus headache, you will likely experience:

  • Pain that is worst in the morning
  • Pain that worsens when you bend over
  • Deep and constant pain in your cheekbones, forehead and nose

If you believe you’re experiencing a sinus headache, see your doctor. Other types of headache are often mistaken for sinus headaches, so it’s important to be correctly diagnosed. If an infection is present, treatment may include antibiotics, antihistamines or decongestants, and over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers.

No matter what type of headache you’re experiencing, your doctor can help diagnose and treat it. Don’t have a doctor? Find one here.