Types of Headaches

There are many different types of headaches, categorized according to the cause, symptoms and ideal methods of treatment. The main types include tension headache, cluster headache, sinus headache, migraine, medication overuse headache and hormone headache. Each of these types is covered in more detail below.

Tension Headache

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache that affects the vast majority of adults at some point during their life.

It presents as a bilateral ache in the head, often described as if a tight band was wrapped around the head. The pain is usually mild to moderate and does not prevent individuals from partaking in daily activities as usual. The duration of the headache can vary from less than an hour to several days.

The exact cause of tension headache is not known but there are several factors that are considered to trigger tension headaches including stress, poor posture, inadequate sleep, dehydration and skipping meals.

In most cases, adequate pain relief can be provided with simple analgesic medications, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin. Prevention of tension headaches involves simple lifestyle changes to avoid known triggers of the condition.


Migraine is a type of vascular headache that involves a more severe, throbbing pain that may affect one or both sides of the head, in addition to several other possible symptoms. Some people may experience nausea, vomiting, photophobia, phonophobia or disturbed vision with a migraine. The symptoms may last from a few hours to several days and can prevent affected individual from participating in daily activities as usual.

Many patients with migraine are able to treat the condition with simple analgesic medications, but some require other pain relief medication. Triptans are a class of drugs that can provide effective relief for many patients with more severe pain.

Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are rare and cause very severe pain that is always localized to one side of the head, along with other symptoms such as runny or blocked nose and redness or a drooping eyelid on one side of the face. It has a quick onset and the pain reaches a peak approximately 5-10 minutes after the initiation and may last for up to a few hours before subsiding spontaneously.

Simple analgesic medications do not provide effective relief for the sudden and severe pain associated with cluster headaches. Instead, administration of oxygen or sumatriptan injection or nasal spray may be used in an acute attack. There are also several medications used in the prevention of episodes, such as verapamil.

There are two types of cluster headaches: episodic cluster headache and chronic cluster headache. Episodic cluster headache is the most common, involving a bout of regular headaches for a few weeks, followed by a rest period. Chronic cluster head is characterized by regular headaches on an ongoing basis without a rest period.

Sinus Headache

Sinus headache is caused by the build-up of pressure in the sinuses in the nose, forehead and cheeks, leading to a deep pain that gets more severe with sudden movements or straining of the head.

The ideal treatment for sinus headache depends on the cause and severity of sinusitis and may include simple analgesics, antibiotics, antihistamines, decongestants or corticosteroids.

Medication Overuse Headache

Medication overuse headache is caused by excessive use of analgesic medications. This is usually a dull aching pain that is experienced by patients who have a history of relying on high doses of painkiller medications on a regular basis.

This is can be managed by having a medication-free period to allow the excess medication to be excreted and the body to readjust. This may initially worsen the headache, but symptoms tend to improve within a few days.

Hormonal Headache

Hormonal headaches affected predominantly women in relation to the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause or hormonal medications.

Lifestyle changes are useful to address the pain of hormonal headache, such as ensuring adequate sleep, regular meals and keeping stress levels low. Simple analgesic medications are usually able to provide effective relief.


  • http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Headache/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  • https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring09/articles/spring09pg18-19.html
  • http://www.achenet.org/resources/types_of_headaches/
  • http://www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/types-of-headache-migraine/

Further Reading

  • All Headache Content
  • What is a Headache?
  • Headache Causes and Triggers
  • Using a Headache Diary
  • What is Sinus Headache?

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2018

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.

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