By Family Circle Health Editors
Photo by Stocksy

Types of headaches

  • Tension: most common. Dull, steady pain that feels like a band around your forehead.
  • Migraine: moderate to severe ache. May be accompanied by nausea, vision changes or light and sound sensitivity.
  • Cluster: intense pain behind one eye with tearing, redness and a stuffy nose on the same side. Lasts 15 minutes to three hours, then stops.
  • Sinus: pain or tenderness over either side of your nose and around your eyebrows. Uncommon, but occurs with a bacterial or viral infection.

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Take note

Pop an OTC med at the first sign of pain for more effective relief.

What Triggers Them?

  • Stress
  • Inconsistent sleep
  • Skipping a meal 
  • Dehydration 
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor posture
  • Eye strain 
  • Caffeine (too much or withdrawal)
  • Taking more than two doses of OTC headache meds a week can cause rebound pain.

Stock Your Medicine Cabinet

Many headaches can be relieved by over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications. “Headache specialists recommend ibuprofen (like Advil), naproxen (Aleve) and acetaminophen (Tylenol),” says Rashmi Halker Singh, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. Because we all react differently to OTC meds, it’s worth trying more than one kind to see what works best for you. Naproxen tends to last longer, but if the pain isn’t incapacitating, acetaminophen may be more effective. Aspirin typically isn’t recommended since high doses are often needed, which increases bleeding risk. If you suffer from headaches more than once a month, avoid combination meds; they can contain aspirin and caffeine and may worsen the situation. If you take anything more than 10 days a month, see your doctor to come up with a better plan for treating your chronic pain.

Teens & Headaches

Almost every child has had a headache by age 15, so it’s pretty much a rite of passage. Tension and migraine headaches are the most common and can impact kids differently than adults: Both are shorter in duration and felt all over the head; migraines are accompanied by nausea or vomiting. (Triggers and treatments are the same.) If your teen complains about a headache after a head bump or fall—even if it’s days after the incident—it could be a concussion, says Nauman Tariq, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Headache Center. See your doctor immediately.

Migraine Breakthroughs

Last year, three game-changing prescription drugs (Ajovy, Aimovig and Emgality) were approved for migraine prevention. “They block CGRP, a protein released during migraines,” says Singh. Botox injections are another option if you have episodes more than 15 days per month. And three neuromodulation devices are now available by prescription for treatment at home. When applied to your head or neck, they prevent or treat headaches through electrical stimulation or magnetic impulses. 

Go to the ER if...

  • It’s your worst headache ever with pain intensifying in the first minute.
  • It’s severe with numbness or weakness on one side of your body, vision problems or dizziness.
  • You also have a fever or neck stiffness and pain.
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