Pressure in the Head: 8 Common Causes & What to Do

Updated in March 2024

Pressure within the head is a common type of pain that can be caused by stressful situations, bad posture, or dental problems. It may also be a sign of another condition, like migraines, sinusitis, labyrinthitis or even meningitis. 

Generally, you should enter into the habit of performing relaxing activities like meditation, yoga or acupuncture. Analgesic medications can also help relieve pressure in the head.

Nonetheless, if the pain is constant and lasts for over 48 hours straight, you should see your doctor or a neurologist to investigate for causes of this pain and to advise treatment. 

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Why do I feel pressure in my head?

The main causes for pressure in the head are: 

1. Migraines

A migraine is a type of headache that most commonly affects women, It is caused by changes to blood flow within tge brain and by changes to nerve cell activity. Migraine can be hereditary, meaning they are experienced by close family relatives due to genetics. 

Migraine symptoms are triggered by stressful situations, climate changes, and caffeine intake, and can vary from person to person. Generally, most people experience pressure in the head that lasts for 3 to 72 hours, nausea, vomiting, light or sound sensitivity, and difficulty concentrating. Find out more about migraine symptoms and who is most at risk for developing migraines. 

What to do: If pressure in the head persists or worsens after 3 days, you should see a neurologist for appropriate treatment. Treatment usually involves the use of medication like analgesics, muscular relaxants and triptans to relieve pain. 

2. Stress and anxiety 

Emotional stress and anxiety can cause physical symptoms, like the sensation of pressure within the head. This occurs because these feelings can tense up the muscles and increase cortisol production.

In addition to pressure in the head, strong emotions can cause general malaise, cold sweats, shortness of breath and increased heart rate. Therefore it is important to monitor your stress level and engage in activities that can help you relax, like medication, yoga or aromatherapy. 

What to do: If your stress or anxiety do not improve with lifestyle habits and relaxation activities, you should see your doctor. Many times, these emotions can interfere with your personal and work life, and can make relationships with other people more difficult. Some people may benefit from the use of specific medication, like anxiolytics. Learn about the natural herbs you can take to soothe stress and anxiety. 

3. Sinusitis

Sinusitis occurs due to a bacterial, viral or fungal infection in the facial sinuses. These are bony cavities that are found around the nose, cheekbones and eyes. This inflammation leads to the accumulation of secretions, which can increase pressure within these areas and cause pressure within the head.

Other symptoms associated with sinusitis include a blocked nose, greenish or yellowish phlegm, coughing, excessive fatigue, burning eyes and fever. Check-out the most common symptoms of a sinus infection.

What to do: If you experience these symptoms, you should see a doctor or ENT specialist to prescribe appropriate treatment for sinusitis. Treatment usually consists of anti-inflammatories, and antibiotics (when the infection is bacterial in nature). To improve symptoms, you should also  increase your water intake and perform nasal irrigations to get rid of accumulated secretions. There are also several home remedies you can try to relieve symptoms of sinusitis at home.

Also recommended: Nasal Irrigation: A Step-by-Step Guide

4. High blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is chronic illness characterized by an elevated blood pressure, defined as over 140  90 mmHg. If you check your blood pressure and note that it is high, it does not automatically mean you have hypertension. However, high blood pressures should be monitored over a period of time to determine whether this condition truly exists. 

Symptoms of high blood pressure can include pressure within the head, neck pain, nausea, blurry vision and general malaise. Oftentimes, these symptoms can be exacerbated with cigarette use, excessive alcohol intake, eating fatty or salty foods, lack of exercise or obesity. Learn more about the symptoms of high blood pressure.

What to do: Blood pressure does not have a cure, but there are medications that can control it. These medications are generally prescribed by a family doctor or cardiologist. In addition to medication, you should also engage in lifestyle changes, like maintaining a balanced diet that is low in salt. Read about the natural herbs you can take for high blood pressure to complement your medical treatment.

5. Labyrinthitis 

Labyrinthitis occurs when the labyrinth nerve, located within the ear, becomes swollen due to a viral or bacterial infection. Many people experience pressure in the head, as well as ringing in the ears, nausea, loss of balance and vertigo.  

This condition can also occur due to an injury within the ear and can be triggered by eating certain foods or traveling by boat or plane.

What to do: If you experience these symptoms, you should see your doctor or an ENT specialist to order testing to confirm labyrinthitis. Once confirmed, the doctor can prescribe medication like dimenhydrinate or meclizine to reduce labyrinth nerve swelling and relieve symptoms 

6. Dental problems 

Some dental problems, like chewing issues, teeth grinding and cavities, can cause pressure in the head, ringing in the ears or ear aches. In some cases, these changes can cause mouth swelling and jaw sounds or clicking when chewing. 

What to do: As soon as you notice symptoms, you should see a dentist for assessment of your teeth and chewing movements. Treatment for dental problems depends on the cause (e.g. a severe cavity will require a root canal).

7. Meningitis

Meningitis is a bacterial or viral infection located in the protective membranes that protect the brain and spinal medulla. Infectious meningitis can develop due to infections spread through sneezing, coughing, sharing cutlery or sharing a toothbrush. 

Meningitis can also be caused by other illnesses, like lupus or cancer, by direct trauma to the head, or by excessive drug use. The main symptoms of meningitis include headache or pressure within the head, neck stiffness, difficulty lowering your chin to your chest, fever, red rashes throughout the body and excessive drowsiness.

What to do: If you suspect meningitis, you should seek medical attention immediately. Diagnosis can be confirmed through MRI and spinal fluid testing. Once confirmed, treatment is typically carried out at the hospital with IV medication.  

8. Poor posture 

Poor posture for prolonged periods of time (e.g. when working or studying) can leave the body tense and overload the joints and muscles along the spie. This can lead to symptoms like pressure in the head and back pain. Lack of movements and staying in the same position for long periods of time can damage the body and cause symptoms. 

What to do: To relieve symptoms, you should exercise regularly (e.g. swimming, walking) and perform back stretches throughout the day. Check out stretches you can try at home to relieve neck and back pain

When to go to the doctor

You should seek urgent assessment if you experience pressure within the head in addition to: 

  • Drooping face on one side
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms 
  • Loss of sensitivity on one side of the body
  • Seizures 

These may be a sign of a stroke or increased intracranial pressure, which are serious conditions requiring immediate medical attention. You should proceed immediately to the hospital or call for an ambulance.