If you’ve ever lost a day to a headache, you know how they can bring life to a virtual standstill.
They’re their own kind of misery. From a dull ache that makes it impossible to concentrate to a searing pain that debilitates you, headaches can completely change your day and ruin your plans.
Although it’s tempting to lump all head pounders together, there are actually different types of headaches. And that means the best way to get rid of each of them is different too.
Which of these types of headaches is yours?
The truth is there are over 150 different types of headaches. But the vast majority of them actually fall into just five common categories.
1. Tension headaches:
When it comes to types of headaches, tension headaches lead the pack. Most of the time when someone says he or she has a headache it’s this type.
Stress, poor posture and muscle spasms are the most common triggers for a tension headache. They typically show up as an ache at the back of your head or in your temples. And although the pain can be severe, tension headaches don’t include other symptoms, like nausea or dizziness.
Herbs such as willow bark and birch leaf—both natural sources of salicylic acid the active ingredient in aspirin—can send a tension headache packing. And progressive relaxation or deep breathing can often ease a tension headache within minutes.
2. Migraine headaches:
Migraine headache pain can be so severe that it often affects your entire body. Sensitivity to light, smells and sound, as well as nausea and vomiting are common symptoms. And many migraine sufferers experience a visual clue, called an aura, before a migraine is about to hit.
Treating a migraine can be tough because strong smells can make the pain worse, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to keep a supplement down. Find a dark room where you can lie down. While some people need silence, others find soft music a helpful distraction from the pain.
Try a warm compress over your eyes. And consider meditation, as a way to manage the pain.
- Find a quiet comfortable spot to lie down
- Rest your arms at your side and close your eyes
- Focus on the rhythm of your breathing
- After a minute or so slow your breathing, taking deeper more regular breaths
- If your attention wanders from to the pain, redirect it to your breathing
You may find yourself wanting to drift off to sleep after a few minutes. Go right ahead. When you wake up the pain may be gone.
3. Cluster headaches:
Named because they hit in a series, these headaches are most common in spring and fall, but can strike at any time. Cluster headache pain usually shows up as a shooting pain behind and through one eye. Other symptoms to be on the lookout for include eye watering, redness in the eye, eyelid drooping, a change in pupil size and a stuffy nose.
Experts say cluster headaches are the most severe among the most common types of headaches. They are rare, and men are more likely to get them than women.
Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly what causes cluster headaches. They often strike when a person is sleeping. And alcohol, histamines (chemicals in your immune system), stress and nitroglycerin can trigger them in some folks.
If you have experienced a cluster headache, contact your doctor to discuss your options for managing the pain and reducing the likelihood of future attacks. Oxygen, injectable medications, nasal sprays and short term steroids may all be a part of your treatment.
4. Sinus headaches:
A sinus headaches, or allergy headache, is the pressure or pain that can show up on the heels of congestion, inflammation or an infection in your sinuses.
The good news is that although they’re annoying, and can be painful, sinus headaches are also highly treatable. When you treat the underlying sinus problem, the headache should disappear too.
Steam, saline nasal spray and a (always use distilled water) are all good ways to take care of your sinuses, as well as your headache.
5. Rebound headaches:
It turns out swallowing a pill every time a headache pops up can end up backfiring on you. Rebound headaches can occur when you’ve taken too much medication and your body has to adjust to missing its next dose.
And a rebound headache can be as bad, or worse, than the original headaches you were treating with drugs. Unfortunately, to get rid of them, and keep them from coming back, you typically need to stop taking the meds.
Aromatherapy can often help ease a rebound headache. Eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, rosemary and spearmint essential oils have all be found to help with headaches.
Some folks report getting relief from rebound headaches by drinking a cup or two of coffee or tea, as well. Just make sure it’s high-test, because the caffeine is what does the trick.
Know when to see a doctor about your headache
Headaches can also be a sign that something more serious is going on with your health.
Check in with your doctor immediately if:
- It’s the worst headache you’ve ever had
- The headache comes on instantly, often with a loud bang or popping sound
- You develop a fever
- Any other symptoms, like vision problems, weakness, or trouble speaking accompany the headache
See our special report 3 types of headaches you should go to the E.R. for, for more information.
Having a headache is bad enough. Not have an idea of how to treat it just makes it worse. Knowing what types of headaches you’re dealing with can help you get rid of the pain quickly so you can get back to your life a little sooner.