4 different types of headache – how to tell which one you have

Migraines should be 'understood' more says Dr Goadsby

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Headaches are a common health problem, all of us would have undoubtedly had one at some point. They can last between half an hour to several hours and can be really painful. Most headaches will go away by themselves and are not a sign of a more serious condition. Here’s a guide to the most common ones.

The different types of headache


The common symptoms of sinus headaches include pain in the face, ears, eyes or forehead.

These headaches are centred on the sinuses and can be accompanied by a runny nose, fever, congestion or even swelling in the face.

These typically last a few days maximum as they are related to flu often.

But, they can last for weeks if your illness is not treated.


Headaches of this type tend to be limited to pain across the forehead.

Symptoms include dull pain on either side of the head and pressure across the forehead. 

They normally last between half an hour to several hours and can usually be treated with over the counter pain relief medication.


These headaches will likely cause pain in the face or neck, migraines are among the worst types of headaches and can be very debilitating.

Throbbing in one area tends to happen and the sufferer can experience sensitivity to light and sound as well as experiencing nausea.

They tend to last for a long time, anywhere from four to 72 hours.


Cluster headaches can be very concerning, if you have this kind of headache you should seek medical advice quickly.

Those with this kind of headache will typically experience severe pain on one side of the head, often around the eye.

This may be accompanied by a drooping eyelid, small pupil, tearing, runny nose or redness on the side of the head where the pain is felt.
Cluster periods as they are known can last for weeks or several months.

What can lead to a headache?

Headaches can be classified into two distinct categories, primary or secondary.

Primary headaches are brought on by a variety of factors including stress, sleep deprivation, alcohol, skipped meals and fatigue.

These usually fade within a day and can even be avoided completely if a healthy lifestyle is adopted.

Secondary headaches are brought on by a condition as opposed to lifestyle choices.

Secondary headaches can occur due to factors such as an injury, infection, or sickness.

These headaches can range from mild to very dangerous, if they do not vanish within a few days medical assistance should be sought.

Likewise, if headaches regularly reoccur you should see a doctor as it could indicate a serious medical issue.

How can you treat headaches?

The severity of most headaches can be relieved with rest and over the counter pain relief drugs such as paracetamol.

Make sure you drink plenty of water, headaches are often brought on by dehydration.

Get plenty of rest, this is especially important if your headache has been brought on by sickness as this will help you to recover.

Try to relax – this may seem obvious but stress can cause headaches or make them more severe.

Avoid alcohol, looking at computer screens for a long time and try not to skip meals, although you may not feel up to it avoiding food will not help your body to recover.

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