What is Your Headache Trying to Tell You? | Vital Pharmacy Supplies

Whether you suffer with tension headaches or debilitating migraines, the throbbing, distracting pain of a headache can be almost unbearable. Every headache has a trigger point, so we’ve mapped out four of the main types of headaches to look out for and what you can do about them

Suffering with a headache is not only painful, it’s utterly distracting. Endless throbbing, shooting pains from any part of your head can throw your concentration, and you general mindset, completely out of whack. There are so many different types of headaches, and their locations, causes and symptoms can vary from person to person.

Some of the more common types of headache — like tension headaches — can affect the whole head, while others — such as cluster or sinus headaches — typically affect a more specific, localised area.

Although most are short-lived and rarely a cause for concern, it’s helpful to know how to identify the type of headache you’re experiencing, so you know your best course of treatment, or if in fact you need to see a doctor.

From tension and cluster headaches to migraines and sinus pain, here are the four main types of headache explained, so you know what to look out for.

Woman headache


Anyone who suffers with migraines will characteristically experience an intense throbbing pain on one side of the head. This pain can last for days, and can significantly limit your ability to carry out your daily routine. People with migraine headaches are often sensitive to light and sound. Nausea and vomiting also usually occur.

Common migraine symptoms include:

  • moderate to severe pain on one side of the head
  • blurred vision, seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines, stars or blind spots (this is also known as an aura, usually a preceding symptom of the migraine)hHeightened sensitivity to light, sound and smell
  • dizziness/light-headed
  • nausea and vomiting
Common triggers of migraines include:
  • stress and anxiety
  • lack of sleep
  • hormonal changes
  • skipped meals
  • dehydration
  • some foods (such as cheese and chocolate) and medications
  • bright lights and loud noise
Seek medical advice immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
  • notice your headache getting progressively worse
  • develop muscle weakness or paralysis
  • have a high temperature
  • develop double vision
  • experience seizures
  • notice a rash anywhere on your body

Man headache

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, often triggered by stress. Most people experience them occasionally and they present themselves as a dull, constant pain felt on both sides of the head. 

Common tension headache symptoms include:
  • Dull, aching pain on both sides of the head
  • tenderness of the face, head, neck, and shoulders
  • a feeling of pressure behind the eyes
  • sensitivity to light and sound
These headaches can last anywhere between 30 minutes and several hours. Severity can vary, but they rarely prevent normal activities. The cause of tension headaches is unclear, but stress, anxiety, and depression are common triggers.

Other potential tension headache triggers include:
  • dehydration
  • loud noise
  • lack of exercise
  • poor sleep
  • bad posture
  • skipped meals
  • eye strain
Seek medical advice immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
  • cannot control your headache with medication
  • experience muscle weakness or paralysis
  • feel confused or disorientated
  • develop slurred speech
  • feel nauseous or start to vomit

Woman lying in bed

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are severe, recurring headaches that occur around or behind one eye or on one side of the face at a time. They tend to recur at the same time every day (they are most common at night), and are usually characterised by a severe stabbing or burning pain. Sometimes swelling, redness, flushing, and sweating can occur on the side that’s affected by the headache. Nasal congestion and eye tearing also often occur on the same side as the headache.

Each individual headache can last from 15 minutes to three hours. Most people experience one to four headaches a day, usually around the same time each day, during a cluster. After one headache resolves, another will soon follow.

Unlike migraine and tension headache, cluster headaches generally aren’t associated with triggers, such as foods, hormonal changes or stress. They are usually sudden without any warning, and are three times more common in men than women.

Common symptoms of cluster headaches can include:

  • stabbing or burning pain centred around one eye
  • watering eye
  • swollen eyelid
  • a blocked or a runny nose
  • sensitivity to light and sound
  • restlessness or agitation
  • shrunken or constricted pupil 

Doctors aren’t sure what causes cluster headaches, but they are more common for people who smoke. It may be possible to avoid them if you limit your exposure to cigarettes and strong-smelling chemicals in perfume and paint. You should also avoid drinking alcohol during an attack.

When to consult your doctor

Cluster headaches are not life-threatening but if you are experiencing one for the first time, you should seek immediate medical attention to rule out other causes, including meningitis or a stroke.

You should also seek immediate advice if you experience any of the other following symptoms:

  • notice a change in their frequency or severity
  • experience new symptoms
  • develop weakness or paralysis
  • have a fever

Headache pills

Allergy or Sinus Headaches 

Sinus headaches are caused by sinusitis, a swelling of the sinuses. This is usually the result of an allergic reaction or infection — sinusitis often occurs after a viral upper respiratory infection or cold. The pain is severe, and consists of a dull, throbbing ache around the eyes, cheeks, and forehead. The pain can often worsen with movement — the pain generally gets worse when you bend forward — and at times can spread to the teeth and jaw.

These types of headaches are usually accompanied by a thick green or yellow nasal mucus, decreased sense of smell, and pain in one cheek or upper teeth. If there are no nasal symptoms, then the headache is more likely to be a migraine. They are often easy to confuse as they display similar symptoms.
People who suffer with chronic seasonal allergies or sinusitis are susceptible to these kinds of headaches.

Common symptoms of sinus headaches can include:

  • blocked, stuffy nose
  • pain, pressure in your cheeks, brow or forehead
  • fever
  • light or sound sensitivity
  • fatigue
  • an achy feeling in your upper teeth 

When to consult your doctor

A sinus headache can also be a symptom of a sinus infection. In this case, your doctor will need to prescribe you a course of antibiotics to clear up in the infection.

Seek further medical advice if you experience any of the symptoms below:

  • experience severe pain that gets worse
  • symptoms don’t improve with painkillers
  • headache does not improve after a week
  • headaches occur frequently

Liked our guide to headaches? We've got plenty more health advice on our Health & Wellness Edit, guaranteed to give your body a well-deserved boost. Suffer with hayfever? Here's how to nip it in the bud (excuse the pun), if you suffer with joint pain, take a look at this handy guide to keeping your bones healthy and strong. 

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