There are about 150 different types of headaches according to WebMD.
Shocking, right? Just thinking about them already gives me one.
Of course, a person will not experience all of the 150 headaches in this lifetime. But, it doesn’t make headaches less painful.
Just think about the pain and irritability it causes. It’s enough to make you weak at the knees.
What’s worse is that headaches can be more complicated than most people realize. A treatment that works for migraine headaches may not work for a tension headache.
For this reason, it is important to be able to identify the type of headache you have. This way, you and your doctor can find the treatment that will cure and prevent them again from happening.
Here are the most common types of headaches:
Migraine headaches are characterized with a throbbing pain on one side of the head. If you feel like your head is being pounded in pain, then that’s a migraine right there.
But in some cases, the pain can occur on both sides of the head and may affect the face or neck. It can last from 4 hours to 3 days and usually happens one to four times a month.
According to this website, one in three people with migraines have temporary warning symptoms. They are known as an “aura” which are visual and sensory disturbances.
They include but are not limited to:
- seeing zig-zagging lines
- flickering lights or spots
- partial loss of vision numbness
- pins and needles
- muscle weakness
- difficulty speaking
For a lot of people, migraine is a life-long condition. What’s interesting is that it often runs in families.
- stress and anxiety
- lack of sleep
- hormonal changes
- skipping meals
- some foods and medications
- bright lights and loud noise
- OTC drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin
- Sleeping or resting in a dark, quiet place
- placing an ice pack on the forehead
- drinking water
2. Cluster headaches
Cluster headaches are the most severe. It is accompanied with an intense burning or piercing pain behind or around one eye.
If you wake up in the middle of the night with intense pain in or around one eye on one side of your head, that’s a cluster headache.
The pain is described as either throbbing or constant. But it is so bad that a person can’t sit still and will often pace during an attack.
Fortunately, cluster headaches are rare and not life-threatening. Nevertheless, here are the symptoms for you to determine if you’re having one:
- Drooping eyelid on the affected side
- Restlessness due to pain
- Excessive tearing
- Redness in your eye on the affected side
- Stuffy or runny nose on the affected side
- Facial sweating
- Pale skin or flushing on your face
- Swelling around your eye on the affected side
- One-sided pain
- Excruciating pain in or around one eye, but the pain may radiate to other areas of your face, head, neck and shoulders
They are called “cluster headaches” because they tend to happen in clusters or groups. Each headache attack lasts 15 minutes to 3 hours.
The exact cause of cluster headaches are unknown. However, cluster headache patterns suggest that there’s a problem with the body’s biological clock.
Unlike migraine headaches, a cluster headache is not associated with triggers. Here are the treatments:
- Medications like Verapamil, Corticosteroids, Lithium carbonate, or Topiramate.
- Greater occipital nerve injection – This approach can be very helpful in shorter bouts. It also reduces burden in more prolonged bouts and in chronic cluster headaches.
- Oxygen – Inhaling oxygen 100% at ten to twelve L/min for 15 minutes is considered an effective and safe treatment of acute cluster headache.
- Lidocaine nasal drops are used to treat acute attacks. A nasal dropper is used and the dose (one mL of 4% lidocaine) is repeated once after 15 minutes.
3. Sinus headaches
Sinus headaches are caused by a swelling of the sinuses or sinusitis.
If you have a sinus headache, you will feel a deep and constant pain in your cheekbones, forehead, or on the bridge of your nose.
The cause is the inflammation of your sinuses. It usually comes along with other sinus symptoms, like a runny nose, fullness in the ears, fever, and a swollen face.
Sinus headaches can easily be treated with OTC painkillers and nasal decongestants. However, if there is no improvement within a week, it is best to see a doctor.
If there’s a bacterial infection, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics or antihistamines in the case of an allergy. Corticosteroid nasal spray may also be given to help reduce the swelling.
In some rare cases, surgical drainage may be required.
4. Tension headaches
Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches. They are characterized by a dull, constant pain felt on both sides of the head.
Here are other symptoms of a tension headache:
- tenderness of the face, head, neck, and shoulders
- a feeling of pressure behind the eyes
- sensitivity to light and sound
Tension headaches are also divided into two main categories:
Episodic tension headaches
Episodic tension headaches last from 30 minutes to a week. It occurs less than 15 days a month for at least three months. If your episodic tension headaches are occurring frequently, it may become chronic.
Chronic tension headaches
This type of tension headache lasts hours but it is continuous. The main characteristic of a chronic tension headache is that it occurs 15 or more days a month for at least three months.
Sometimes, tension headaches are misdiagnosed as migraines. The difference between the two is that the former isn’t associated with visual disturbances, nausea or vomiting.
Additionally, physical activity doesn’t aggravate a tension headache unlike if it is a migraine.
Causes of tension headaches
- loud noise
- lack of exercise
- poor sleep
- bad posture
- skipped meals
- eye strain
- OTC painkillers like ibuprofen and aspirin
- enough sleep
- regular exercise
- posture improvement
- eye test
- management of stress, anxiety, or depression
5. Exertional headaches
From the name itself, exertional headaches are caused by strenuous physical exercise.
It can be brought about by running, jumping, weight lifting, sexual intercourse or bouts of coughing and sneezing.
Most of the time, they are not serious. This type of headache is very short-lived but can sometimes last up to 2 days.
- OTC painkillers
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug
- warm-up exercises
6. Hypnic headache
Hypnic headaches are also known as alarm-clock headaches. It is because they wake people from sleep. Interestingly, it only affects people when they’re sleeping.
If you have a hypnic headache, the pain throbs and spreads across both sides of your head. It is painful enough to wake you up from sleep.
The cause of hypnic headaches are unknown. But what is reassuring is that it is not caused by an underlying condition like a brain tumor.
Although some researchers claim that it is related to issues in the parts of the brain involved in pain management, rapid eye movement sleep, and melatonin production.
Depending on your symptoms and medical history, you may be asked to undergo some tests like:
Blood tests – Blood tests will be done to check for signs of infection, electrolyte imbalances, clotting -problems, or high blood sugar levels.
Blood pressure tests – This test will be done to make sure the cause is not high blood pressure, especially if you are over 50 years old.
Head CT scan – This will give your doctor a better view of the bones, blood vessels, and soft tissues in your head to check if you don’t have nerve blockage.
Nocturnal polysomnography – This is a sleep test done in a hospital or sleep lab to monitor your breathing patterns, blood oxygen levels, movements, and brain activity while you’re sleeping.
Home sleep tests – Unlike nocturnal polysomnography, this is a simpler sleep test that can help to detect sleep apnea symptoms. Sleep apnea is one potential cause of headaches at night.
Brain MRI scan – This uses radio waves and magnets to create images of your brain. to check for tumors.
Carotid ultrasound – This enables your doctor to create images of the inside of your carotid arteries, which supply blood to your face, neck, and brain.
Sadly, there are no treatments specifically designed to treat hypnic headaches. However, there are a few things you can try for relief. Here are some of them:
- drinking a strong cup of coffee
- taking a caffeine pill
- OTC migraine medication
- taking topiramate, an anti-seizure medication
- taking lithium, a medication used to treat bipolar disorder
No matter what type of headache you have, we know the pain you’re experiencing. While this article is a guide to the different types of headaches, it is better to go to a doctor for a proper diagnosis.