Primary headaches occur when the pain in your head is the condition. In other words, your headache isn’t being triggered by something that your body is dealing with, like illness or allergies.
These headaches can be episodic or chronic:
Episodic headaches may occur every so often or even just once in a while. They can last anywhere from half an hour to several hours.
Chronic headaches are more consistent. They occur most days out of the month and can last for days at a time. In these cases, a pain management plan is necessary.
1. Tension headaches
If you have a tension headache, you may feel a dull, aching sensation all over your head. It isn’t throbbing. Tenderness or sensitivity around your neck, forehead, scalp, or shoulder muscles also might occur.
Anyone can get a tension headache, and they’re often triggered by stress.
An over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever may be all it takes to relieve your occasional symptoms. This includes:
acetaminophen and caffeine, like Excedrin Tension Headache
If OTC medications aren’t providing relief, your doctor may recommend prescription medication. This can include indomethacin, meloxicam (Mobic), and ketorolac.
When a tension headache becomes chronic, a different course of action may be suggested to address the underlying headache trigger.
Cluster headaches are characterized by severe burning and piercing pain. They occur around or behind one eye or on one side of the face at a time. Sometimes swelling, redness, flushing, and sweating can occur on the side that’s affected by the headache. Nasal congestion and eye tearing also often occur on the same side as the headache.
These headaches occur in a series. Each individual headache can last from 15 minutes to three hours. Most people experience one to four headaches a day, usually around the same time each day, during a cluster. After one headache resolves, another will soon follow.
A series of cluster headaches can be daily for months at a time. In the months between clusters, individuals are symptom-free. Cluster headaches are more common in the spring and fall. They are also three times more common in men.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes cluster headaches, but they do know some effective ways to treat the symptoms. Your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy, sumatriptan (Imitrex) or local anesthetic (lidocaine) to provide pain relief.
After a diagnosis is made, your doctor will work with you to develop a prevention plan. Corticosteroids, melatonin, topiramate (Topamax), and calcium channel blockers may put your cluster headaches into a period of remission.
Migraine pain is an intense pulsing from deep within your head. This pain can last for days. The headache significantly limits your ability to carry out your daily routine. Migraine is throbbing and usually one-sided. People with migraine headaches are often sensitive to light and sound. Nausea and vomiting also usually occur.
Some migraine is preceded by visual disturbances. About one out of five people will experience these symptoms before the headache starts. Known as an aura, it may cause you to see:
Auras can also include tingling on one side of your face or in one arm and trouble speaking. However, the symptoms of a stroke can also mimic a migraine, so if any of these symptoms are new to you, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Migraine attacks might run in your family, or they can be associated with other nervous system conditions. Women are three times more likely to develop migraine than men. People with post-traumatic stress disorder also have an increased risk for migraine.
Secondary headaches are a symptom of something else that is going on in your body. If the trigger of your secondary headache is ongoing, it can become chronic. Treating the primary cause generally brings headache relief.
4. Allergy or sinus headaches
Headaches sometimes happen as a result of an allergic reaction. The pain from these headaches is often focused in your sinus area and in the front of your head.
Migraine headaches are commonly misdiagnosed as sinus headaches. In fact, up to 90 percent of “sinus headaches” are actually migraine. People who have chronic seasonal allergies or sinusitis are susceptible to these kinds of headaches.
Sinus headaches are treated by thinning out the mucus that builds up and causes sinus pressure. Nasal steroid sprays, OTC decongestants such as phenylephrine (Sudafed PE), or antihistamines such as cetirizine (Zyrtec D Allergy + Congestion) may help with this.
A sinus headache can also be a symptom of a sinus infection. In these cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection and relieve your headache and other symptoms.