Nothing is worse than a throbbing, pounding pain in your head.
Headaches are one of the most common afflictions humans suffer worldwide. It’s estimated that nearly everyone gets headaches occasionally, and as many as one in 20 American adults suffer from them nearly every day.
While the broad description of headaches makes the overarching condition an incredibly common occurrence, though, there are dozens of different kinds of headaches. They vary in frequency, severity, and causes, meaning that not all headaches are created equal—and therefore can’t be avoided or treated in the same way, either.
It can be difficult to figure out what type of headache, exactly, you’re suffering from. Here’s a look at the 10 most common headaches that you might be dealing with, though, and how, hopefully, you can relieve them.
1. Allergy Headaches
When the pollen and dust in the air start to build up, commercials often show us sneezing and wiping watery eyes. But these allergens can also cause some serious head pain—and it’s important to treat them so they don’t interfere with your daily activities.
Sinus blockage and itchy eyes can put pressure on your head, which creates an all-over dull headache that accompanies the sneezing and vision blurriness that allergies cause. Luckily, this is the easiest type of headache to clear up; the sooner you take an allergy medication, the faster it’s going to go away.
2. Sinus Headaches
When your body experiences sinus blockage, you run the risk of developing an infection. But not only does that infection leave you feeling fatigued and cause some nasal discomfort, but the pressure can create a tension headache in the front of your head that leaves an ache around your temple, sinus, and behind your eyes.
Your sinuses are typically filled with air, so when they become inflamed and blocked, that puts pressure on everything else around your eyes, forehead, and cheeks. It’s different from a typical tension headache or a common allergy headache because it can’t be relieved with just better sleep habits or a dose of Claritin; in order to truly overcome a sinus headache, you’ll probably have to wait for the infection to clear up.
In the meantime, though, it’s important to keep the symptoms at bay to help you get through the day. Taking an anti-inflammatory pain reliever can help, as can drinking plenty of water and trying to get enough sleep.
3. Anxiety Headaches
We’ve all heard about stomachs in knots when someone is gearing up for a big test or day at work, but there’s a surprising additional side effect to stress and anxiety—it can make your head pound, too.
An anxiety headache will often feel a bit like a tension headache, stretching like a “band” that compresses your skull and causes a dull, throbbing pain. Unlike a tension headache caused by things like poor posture, though, this pain isn’t usually felt along your neck and the back of your head; if the headache is being caused by nerves or stress, you’re more likely to feel it along the front of your forehead.
Like any other side effect of stress and anxiety, the easiest way to alleviate the symptoms is to lower stress levels. Going for a run, taking a moment to relax in the tub, or meditating can all help with these symptoms and create a less painful environment. If the stress or anxiety is inexplicable, though, it may be time to talk to your doctor and see if there’s an untreated anxiety disorder causing the physical symptoms, as well.
4. Cluster Headaches
Nothing is worse than feeling a pounding trigger point in your head—except, of course, for those pounding trigger points every day for up to weeks at a time.
Cluster headaches earned their name because they come in “clusters,” sometimes causing sufferers to deal for as many as a few weeks without end. They may not last an entire day—in fact, sometimes they only last half an hour—but they come on within a few minutes and have been described as even more severe than a migraine when they do hit.
Men are more likely to suffer from cluster headaches than women, although it’s not entirely clear why. What is clear, though, is how they feel—and it’s highly unpleasant. This acute, relentless pain behind your eye or on your cheek can be so painful that it’s hard to sit still, and can often be so bad that it interrupts work or other daily activities. You have to talk to a doctor to get a prescription for a handful of the medications necessary to abate the symptoms, but the good news is that these headaches tend to follow a pattern—so once you’ve identified the pattern, treating them (and avoiding strong smells and alcohol when you know they’re set to occur) is much easier.
5. Caffeine Headaches
Caffeine as a stimulant is generally considered healthy in small doses by doctors. And the fact of the matter is that most adults use caffeine in some way to get themselves going on early mornings or particularly strenuous work days.
Unfortunately, the stimulant nature of caffeine can also make it your worst enemy if you stop consuming it suddenly. Caffeine restricts a limited amount of blood flow to the brain—and while it can’t hurt you in proper doses, quitting cold turkey re-opens that blood flow and can cause pressure and a pounding headache for as much as a day or two while your body adjusts.
If you’re trying to eliminate caffeine from your diet entirely, getting some extra sleep until your body is used to the new blood-flow levels is the best way to ride out these headaches. But if that’s not what you had intended, as mentioned below, drinking a caffeinated beverage can in fact treat other types of headaches.
6. Migraine Headache
We often call any severe headache we experience a “migraine,” but the term used precisely describes a specific—and incredibly unpleasant—condition.
Although doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes some individuals to experience migraine headaches, they have been able to differentiate them from just a regular headache. The pain is so severe that it can cause nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, or even vision difficulties, and it can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. It drains the individual for as much as a day after it recedes and can interfere with life so badly that it leaves the afflicted bedridden until it goes away.
Once a migraine has set in, rest and pain medication are often the only ways to find some relief—but it’s believed that there are certain environmental factors that can trigger attacks. Drastically changing caffeine intake, lack of sleep, hormonal changes in women, and some strong stimuli, such as severe smells or food additives, can all increase the likelihood of an attack. Avoiding situations where controllable factors are present and keeping an eye for early symptoms—like flashing light behind the eyes or neck stiffness—can help you stave off migraine headaches before they hit full force.
7. Tension Headaches
There are over 3 million people in the United States who will get tension headaches each year, making it the most common type of headache suffered by individuals.
Characterized by pain along the neck, back of the head, and behind the eyes, a tension headache feels a lot like the name describes; it can feel like something is placing pressure on your head and neck that you just can’t seem to relieve. That’s due to the stress on the muscles in that part of your body, which causes aches and pains just like it would anywhere else.
The fastest way to get rid of a tension headache is to take a pain reliever and muscle anti-inflammatory, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, but this can only help relieve the symptoms—it doesn’t fix the problem itself. Chances are a tension headache isn’t going to be a one-off problem, so doing things to avoid them can be hugely important. Limiting caffeine intake, avoiding stressful situations, taking breaks when staring at the computer screen, and sitting properly can all help you avoid getting tension headaches frequently.
8. TMJ Headaches
The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to your cheek bone—and if that joint becomes too swollen or irritated, it can cause a debilitating pain that makes it hard to chew, speak, or even sometimes sleep.
This condition, known as temporomandibular joint dysfunction, is most known for causing that jaw pain—but it can also cause headaches as well, spanning from the jaw up to the temple. This pain can be particularly frustrating because the very action that aggravates it is something that all people need to do in order to eat and speak.
TMJ can be treated by using mouth guards or physical therapy, but if there’s a brief headache being caused by the tension and inflammation, you can also simply take a pain reliever. Make sure to keep an eye on your symptoms, though, and speak to a doctor if they persist; this type of headache can also be confused with giant-cell arteritis, which is far more severe.
9. Nutritional Headaches
Not eating enough can make your stomach growl, eating too much can make your stomach hurt, and not eating the right things can cause your skin to break out—but all of these dietary mistakes can also wreak havoc on your head, too.
Your body requires proper nutrition and hydration in order to promote good blood flow and body function, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that consuming the wrong things—or simply not eating enough—can make your head hurt, too. Sugar consumption can cause problems, as can not eating enough. The good news, though, is that there’s an immediate solution to headaches caused by dietary problems; the sooner you eat what you’re supposed to, the less likely you’ll have to deal with them.
10. Giant-Cell Arteritis
While most headaches seem to be affected by certain stimuli such as food, exercise, or stress, there’s a unique type of headache that occurs at your temple that can only be caused by an arterial condition.
This condition, giant-cell arteritis, causes swelling in the arteries along your neck, jaw, and temple. If left untreated, it can cause blindness—but even before it reaches that point, it can be incredibly uncomfortable and downright debilitating.
The easiest way to recognize GCA is by a throbbing headache right at your temples and along your jaw, which can then start to feel stiff. You can suffer from unexplained weight loss and temporary loss of vision as well, which can help make it easier to identify this condition as something separate from a tension headache or TMJ.
Doctors will often prescribe a corticosteroid cream to treat the condition, but it’s important to let them know as soon as you start to experience symptoms to avoid suffering permanent damage.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.