How to Handle the 4 Most Common Types of Headache

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The first step to squashing the pain in your head is knowing what type of headache has hit. Discover how to ID (and deal with) the four most common kinds.

Headaches can range from mildly annoying to “OMG!” And oftentimes, taking over-the-counter pain medication just doesn’t do the trick — it can even put you at risk for a chronic condition called medication overuse headache. Just 10 doses per month is too much. Find out how to tell which kind of headache you have and the best way to shut it down.


Migraine is more than a “regular” headache. It is a complex neurological condition in which a bad headache is one of the symptoms. They tend to run in families and are more common in women than men.

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How you know you have one: While the primary symptom is a painful headache, migraines can also cause nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances and other neurological symptoms, including sensitivity to light, sound and smells. Untreated, symptoms can last between 4 and 72 hours.

How to get rid of it: Migraines require diagnosis by a healthcare provider, so see your doctor if you experience the above signs. Your doctor may recommend preventive medication, rescue medication or a combination of the two. Other treatments, such as Botox, nerve blocks and neurostimulation, are also available.

Sinus Headache

Most people think sinus headaches are a symptom of sinusitis. In fact, they are often migraines that cause sinus symptoms, in addition to common migraine nuisances like throbbing pain, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.

How you know you have one: Sinus headaches are accompanied by pressure around the eyes, cheeks and forehead, as well as stuffy nose, aching in the upper teeth and fatigue. But taking a nap for a sinus headache often only makes things worse, as pain may intensify when bending over or lying down.

How to get rid of it: Decongestants and other sinus medications will do little to treat the sinus congestion associated with migraines. It’s important to get a diagnosis from a doctor so you can get the proper treatment, which may include preventive or rescue medication, Botox or nerve stimulation.

Tension Headache

You’d think the most common type of headache would be well-understood, but it’s not. Researchers still don’t know exactly what causes tension headaches, but they are often related to stress, fatigue, depression and anxiety.

How you know you have one: These dull, aching headaches may feel like someone has wrapped a rubber band around your head. Pain typically is felt across the forehead, on both sides of the head and in the back of the head. You may also experience tenderness in your neck and shoulders.

How to get rid of it: Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to treat the occasional tension headache. However, using aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen more than two times per week can result in rebound headaches, so don’t overdo it. Tension headaches can also be relieved with rest, hot or cold showers or placing a cool cloth on your forehead.

Cluster Headache

The “cluster” in cluster headaches refers to the frequency of episodes. They typically occur around the same time of day and the same time of year, and last several weeks.

How you know you have one: Cluster headaches are often described as “excruciating.” The pain is concentrated on one side of the head and behind or around one eye. Pain peaks 5 to 10 minutes after onset and can last between 45 minutes (on average) to three hours, often accompanied by eye swelling, small pupil size, eye redness and tearing, runny nose, flushed face and sweating. Cluster headaches often strike two to three hours into sleep but can also hit during daytime hours. Men are more often affected than women.

How to get rid of it: Cluster headaches require medical intervention. Treatment may include prescription medication, oxygen therapy, nerve stimulation or surgery.

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