Here is how to identify four different types of headache and how to deal with them

Suffering from a headache
Suffering from a headache

While most of the time, headaches are relatively minor and will go away on their own, for some people they can be a chronic problem and a serious blight.

While most of the time, headaches are relatively minor and will go away on their own, for some people they can be a chronic problem and a serious blight.

If this is the case, it’s important to properly identify what type of headache you’re experiencing. If you’re experiencing ongoing headaches, or if you also have other symptoms alongside the head pain, it’s always best to check in with your GP. If that doesn’t help and headaches are significantly impacting your quality of life, a referral to a headache specialist could help ensure you get the help and advice you need.

Here, we’ve outlined four different types of headache and how to manage them...

1. Tension-type headaches

Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache, characterised by a dull pain, tightness or pressure around your forehead.

Excessive emotional stress or pressure at work, for example, can often trigger these headaches. Factors like poor posture, dehydration and squinting may also bring on the symptoms.

Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to help relieve pain in the short-term. In the long-term, lifestyle measures - such as yoga, massage and exercise - can all help with managing symptoms and underlying stress.

2. Cluster headaches

These are mega-intense bouts of headaches that cause excruciating pain around or behind one eye.

As well as a sudden piercing pain that radiates from the eye to one side of the head, cluster headaches can also cause the eye to water or swell up, your face to sweat and your nose to run. They’re notoriously immensely painful and debilitating.

If you think you’re experiencing cluster headaches, make an appointment to see a GP. Tests may be required to rule out any other conditions that can have similar symptoms, and help accurately diagnose the condition.

Over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol aren’t effective for cluster headaches.

3. Sinus headaches

Headaches can often be brought on by other medical conditions, such as sinusitis. When sinuses become inflamed, often as a result of an infection, they swell and produce more mucus, which can block the channels that drain them. This build-up pressure can lead to sinus pain, which may be mistaken for a regular tension-type headache.

Sinusitis usually clears up on its own in a few weeks, but getting plenty of rest, water and taking painkillers can help relieve symptoms. Your pharmacist might also recommend decongestant nasal sprays or drops to help unblock your nose and relieve some of the pressure.

4. Migraine headache

A migraine isn’t actually a headache - the name refers to an extremely painful collection of neurological symptoms, one of which is throbbing head pain. Additional symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and increased sensitivity to light or sound.

Migraines can also come with an ‘aura’ - which usually involves visual disturbances, and sometimes suddenly feeling dizzy and disorientated - signalling the start of an attack. Migraines also tend to come and go on a long-term basis, with ‘attacks’ brought on by certain triggers.

The NHS advises that you should see a GP if you have frequent or severe migraine symptoms, particularly if they occur on more than five days per month. While there is no cure, a number of treatments are available to help soothe symptoms and minimise or prevent attacks.

Over-the-counter painkillers may not be effective, and could also cause additional headaches if taken for too long - so it’s important that migraine is properly diagnosed and managed.

During a migraine attack, many people find resting or lying in a darkened room and avoiding bright lights and screens helps too. Keeping a symptom diary can help with identifying any individual triggers too (these may be certain foods, activities and stress).