Headaches are one of the most common medical complaints — nearly everyone gets a headache at some point in their lives. There are a few different types of headaches, each with its own symptoms and treatments. Here’s an overview.
Tension headaches are your common, everyday headaches. They feel like there’s a band being squeezed around your head, causing a dull ache on both sides. They’re also sometimes associated with neck and shoulder stiffness. Tension-type headaches are either episodic in frequency, meaning they strike sporadically, or chronic, meaning they occur daily or almost daily.1
Migraines are usually characterized by pounding or throbbing in your head — sometimes, on only one side — or a dull, steady ache. They’re often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, and/or dizziness, among other symptoms. They can last anywhere from a few hours to several days, and can severely interfere with a person’s life. Research shows migraines may be hereditary, with up to 75 percent sufferers having a family history of the ailment. 5
Cluster headaches are commonly recognized as one of the most painful types of head pain. Cluster headaches cause intense, excruciating pain on one side of the head, often around the eye, though sometimes affecting the nose and other areas of the face, too. Tears or a runny nose can be common.2 Pain comes on suddenly and can last anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours.3 Attacks occur daily in clusters — hence the name — of weeks or months, and then go into remission for months to years. Cluster headaches are less common than other kinds headaches, affecting roughly 1 in 1000 adults. They affect men six times more often than women, and most people first start developing cluster headaches in their 20s or older.2
Sinus headaches are a slightly different category than the other three types mentioned in this article. They’re often caused by the common cold or sinusitis, which is an inflammation of the sinuses — air-filled spaces behind your forehead, nasal bones, cheeks and eyes — or possibly other viruses or bacteria. They’re characterized by deep and constant pressure-like pain in the cheekbones, forehead or bridge of the nose. This pain usually intensifies with sudden head movement or straining and is usually accompanied by symptoms such as fever, runny nose and clogged ears. 4
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