4 Main Types of Headaches: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Medical review: Dr. Gonzalo Ramirez
General Practitioner and Psychologist
September 2022

There are different types of headaches that can happen for diverse reasons and in different areas of the head. Some types of headaches can be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the cause behind it.

Treatment depends on the type of headache you are experiencing and generally involves the use of analgesics, anti-inflammatories or medications aimed at treating the origin, like sinus infection medication for sinusitis for example.

The 4 different types of headaches are as follows:

1. Tension headache

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This type of headache is caused by rigidity in the neck or back muscles or even the scalp. It can be caused by bad posture, stress, anxiety or improper sleep positions.

The most common symptoms of tension headaches are light to moderate pain that feels like pressure, like you have a tight helmet on your head. It can affect both sides of the neck and the forehead, and can feel like heaviness on the shoulders. A tensional headache usually does not cause nausea nor does it worsen with physical activity.

How to treat: To relieve a tension headache, you should relax and perform a light scalp massage. You can take a warm shower or participate in a distracting activity. If this does not work, you may need to take analgesics like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin.

2. Migraine

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A migraine is characterized by an intense headache that pulsates. It can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness and light sensitivity.

This type of pain can be moderate to severe in intensity, and can last for minutes to hours, or even for up to 72 hours. Generally, it affects one side of the head, and symptoms can be disabling. It can affect vision, cause sensitivity to smells and result in difficulty concentrating. Learn more about 9 classic migraine symptoms and who is most at-risk for getting them.

How to treat: The most commonly used medications for treatment of migraines are analgesics and anti-inflammatories, like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, which may be effective for some people. You may also be prescribed medication that contracts blood vessels and block pain, like triptans.

For people who feel nausea or vomit, they can take anti-emetics like metoclopramide.

3. Sinus infection-related headache

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A sinus infection is characterized by inflammation of the nasal cavities, which can result in headaches or facial pain It lowers when you lower your head or lie down.

In addition to the headache, you can also have other symptoms like runny nose, congestion, coughing, fever and bad breath. Learn more about the 9 common symptoms of a sinus infection.

How to treat: To treat the sinusitis and relieve the headache, you can use anti-histamine medication like loratidine or cetirizine, or decongestants like phenylephrine, or analgesics like acetaminophen. If the sinus infection is caused by an infection, an antibiotic may be recommended. Learn more about how you can treat a sinus infection at home.

4. Cluster headaches

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Cluster headaches are a rare condition that are characterized by a strong, pounding headache that is stronger than a migraine. It targets one side of the face and eye, and often appears when sleeping, interrupting sleep. Pain can be very intense and occur frequently throughout the day.

Other symptoms that can emerge during a flare-up are runny nose, eyelid swelling, and redness or tearing of the affected.

How to treat: Generally, this condition does not have a cure and treatments are not very effective. Treatment does not resolve the flare-up, they only diminish its intensity and reduce the duration. The most used medications are anti-inflammatories and strong analgesics, like opioids, and even a face mask with 100% oxygen during flare-ups.

In addition to the above types, headaches can also occur due to hormonal changes, hypertension or head injuries. Learn more about what can cause forehead headaches and what to do.

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in September 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Gonzalo Ramirez - General Practitioner and Psychologist in September 2022.
Medical review:
Dr. Gonzalo Ramirez
General Practitioner and Psychologist
Dr. Ramirez possesses a medical degree from the Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP). He also specializes in clinical psychology.