We explain the different types of headaches, plus how to treat & manage them

Headaches affect most people. In fact, it's estimated that half of the adult population get at least one headache each and every year.

What type of headache do I have?

Here are the most common types of headaches:


• Tension headaches

• Cluster headaches

• Chronic tension headaches

• Sinus headaches

Migraine headaches

These feel very intense and can involve a throbbing or pulsating sensation on one side of the head. They can often make you feel sick and you may find that loud noises and bright lights make your headache worse. Migraines usually last no more than 72 hours. 

Some people find they have additional symptoms, known as aura symptoms, before getting a migraine. Migraine aura symptoms can include seeing a shimmering light at the edge of your vision and a tingling feeling in your hands and feet. 

Tension headaches

These are characterised by a feeling of pressure, tightness or squeezing around the forehead. These are the most common type of headaches and may last anywhere between 30 minutes and seven days. Although they're uncomfortable, you may find that you're still able to continue with your daily activities.

Cluster headaches

If you get a very severe, disabling pain on one side of your head usually around one eye (this may be accompanied by watery eyes, congestion and a droopy eyelid) you may be having a cluster type headache. Episodes tend to occur close together with a symptom-free period which can last for months or even years. Cluster headaches tend to last between 15 minutes and three hours and are more commonly experienced by men. 

Cluster headaches are relatively rare. You should see your GP as soon as possible the first time you experience what you think could be a cluster headache.

Sinus headaches 

These are usually focused over the sinuses in the forehead, cheeks and bridge of the nose. Sometimes, a sinus headache can also cause a toothache. 

How can headaches be treated?

Now we’ve been through the different types of headaches and their causes, let’s run through treatment options. There are several ways to ease your headaches naturally:

• Drink plenty of water. Drink six to eight glasses of fluids a day and aim to drink even more on hot days

• Rest as much as you can. Some headaches, like migraines and tension headaches, may be relieved by a nap in a dark quiet room

• Stay out of direct sunlight

• Exercise regularly in between headaches to help decrease the frequency of episodes. You may find it is best to avoid heavy exercise during a headache

• Reduce your everyday stress as much as possible. Easy ways to do this include finding time to wind down after a day's activities, enjoying a hobby, talking to a friend, practising mindfulness or meditation

You can also consider taking a painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Speak more to your doctor or pharmacist to find suitable medication for you – there are certain groups of people who ibuprofen is unsuitable for, and it is best taken with or after food.

When should I see my GP or talk to my pharmacist?

• If headaches persist in spite of following the above advice and taking a painkiller

• If your headache is severe

• If you have a severe throbbing pain at the front or side of your head – this could be a migraine or possibly a cluster headache

• If you're experiencing pain on looking at light

• If you have a feeling of weakness in your arms or legs

When should I call an ambulance?

• An extremely painful headache, with sudden speech or memory problems, loss of vision or confusion

• A sudden headache which is extremely painful 

• Other symptoms like a fever, a rash or vomiting

Next steps

• Check if there's anything you can do to ease your headaches; often simple measures like keeping hydrated or resting are enough to ease the symptoms

• Talk to your pharmacist or make an appointment with your GP if your headaches persist, if they're severe or if you're worried about them

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