What's Your Headache Type?

A woman has a headache and is holding her head in her hands.They come at the most inopportune times, hang around for hours and may leave you fatigued, nauseous, sensitive to light and reaching for some sort of relief. 

According to the World Health Organization, almost half of all adults experience a headache in a given year. Any pain in the region of the head is considered a headache. 

The location of the pain and what it feels like helps determine what type of headache you have and ultimately, how to go about treating it. Here are a few common headache types.

Migraine: If the pain is located on one side of your head and it feels like your head is throbbing, you likely have a migraine. Migraine sufferers may experience sensitivity to light, sound and smell. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen can stop or reduce the pain and duration. Many physicians also advise to stop what you’re doing, if possible, rest in a dark, quiet place, use an ice pack or cold cloth on your forehead, and stay hydrated. If you’re a constant migraine sufferer, consult your physician to find out if a migraine-specific combination drug might be available.

Tension: If you experience a squeezing sensation that wraps around your head, you may have a tension headache. Other symptoms may include tenderness in your face, neck, head or shoulders, pressure behind the eyes, and a sensitivity to light and sound. The cause can vary depending on the person, but some triggers include stress, dehydration, loud noise, bad posture or eye strain. While over-the-counter medications can reduce the pain, those experiencing these headaches more than 15 days per month for longer than 90 days should see their physician. Some research suggests that lifestyle changes like regular sleep, exercise and stress management may reduce the likelihood of a tension headache.

Sinus: A sinus headache can be identified by increased pressure around or behind the eyes and cheeks. Sinus headaches are usually a symptom of something else; for instance, if you were recently diagnosed with a bacterial or viral infection. Other symptoms may include increased pain with movement and strain in the teeth and/or jaw. Sinus headaches can be treated with over-the-counter medication or a nasal decongestant. Speak with your physician if your headaches don’t improve; sometimes these headaches are actually migraines.

Cluster: Cluster headaches are said to be the most painful of headaches. The pain is described as if something is poking you, hard, behind the eye. These headaches can happen without warning, last between 15 minutes and three hours and occur up to eight times per day. They’re alternatively referred to as suicide headaches because the pain is so severe. Patients have reported symptoms like swollen eyelids, blocked or runny nose, and tearing in the eye. Speak with your physician if you experience these symptoms. Often, these headaches are misdiagnosed and the treatment differs from that of migraines.

Speak with your physician about the types of headaches you are experiencing and how often the headaches occur.