It is important to understand that there are different types of headaches. Each type of headache has different symptoms and treatments. This table describes different types of headaches, the symptoms, typical causes, treatment and prevention.

For the treatments and preventions presented, these examples can help give you ideas to discuss with your provider. They do NOT substitute for your health care provider’s advice.

Headache Types and Treatments


Allergy Headaches

Symptoms:

  • Generalized (all over) headache
  • Nasal congestion (stuffy nose)
  • Watery eyes

Things That Can Make Headaches Worse:

  • Seasonal allergens, such as pollen and molds
  • Allergies to food do not usually cause headaches

Treatment:

  • Antihistamine medicine
  • Topical nasal cortisone spray

Prevention:

  • Allergy medicine

Analgesic Rebound/ Medication Overuse Headache (MOH)

Symptoms:

  • Might feel like a dull, tension-type headache or might be a more severe migraine-like headache

Things That Can Make Headaches Worse:

  • Use of prescription or over-the-counter medicines on a daily or near daily basis

Treatment:

  • Stop taking medicine
  • Headache might initially get worse but will begin to get better after 3-5 days
  • Preventive medicine needed (These are medicines you take to prevent a headache from starting.)

Prevention:

  • Medicines such as ergots, triptans, opioids and barbi- turates should not be used more than 10 days a month
  • Simple pain relievers should not be used more than 15 days a month

Chronic Daily Headaches (CDH)

Symptoms:

  • Refers to a broad range of headache disorders that happen more than 15 days a month
  • Two categories of CDHs are determined by how long you have the headache
    • less than 4 hours
    • more than 4 hours

Things That Can Make Headaches Worse:

  • Might start as a transformed migraine; this is a migraine that has been going on so long that it is now a CDH 
  • Might start as a chronic tension-type headache
  • Can be associated with overuse of a medicine

Treatment:

  • Different treatment options will be recommended based on the type of CDH
  • Use of analgesics will be limited

Prevention:

  • Based on:
    • diagnosis of headache
    • how long a headache lasts
    • number of headaches each month

Cluster Headaches

Symptoms:

  • Excruciating pain around the eyes
  • Tearing of eye, nose congestion (stuffy nose), flushing of face
  • Pain frequently develops during sleep and might last several hours
  • Occur every day for weeks or a month, and then disappear for up to a year

Things That Can Make Headaches Worse:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Excessive smoking

Treatment:

  • Over-the-counter or prescription medicines

Prevention:

  • Use same medicines used to treat the headaches

Migraine With and Without Aura

Symptoms:

  • Migraine with aura, except warning symptoms develop such as visual disturbances or numbness in arm or leg
  • Warning symptoms likely to go away within a half hour, followed by severe, one-sided throbbing pain, often accom- panied by nausea, vomiting, cold hands, and sensitivity to sound and light

Things That Can Make Headaches Worse:

  • Certain foods
  • Please refer to patient education handout called Managing Migraine Headaches
  • Birth control pill or menopausal hormones
  • Excessive hunger
  • Changes in altitude, weather, light
  • Excessive smoking
  • Emotional stress
  • Hereditary component

Treatment:

  • Ice packs
  • Prescription migraine medicines

Prevention:

  • Biofeedback
  • Please refer to patient education handout called Managing Migraine Headaches
  • Prescription medicines that can prevent the headache

Post-Traumatic Headaches

Symptoms:

  • Localized or generalized pain that is similar to migraine or tension-type headache symptoms
  • Usually occur on daily basis and resist treatment

Things That Can Make Headaches Worse:

  • Pain can occur after relatively minor injuries
  • Cause of pain is often difficult to diagnose.

Treatment:

  • Over-the-counter or prescription medicines
  • Biofeedback

Prevention:

  • Taking precautions to avoid trauma

Sinus Headaches

Symptoms:

  • Gnawing pain over nose and sinus that often increases in severity throughout day
  • Caused by acute infection, usually with fever, that blocks sinus ducts and prevents normal drainage
  • Migraine, cluster headaches often misdiagnosed as sinus in origin (sinus headaches are rare)

Things That Can Make Headaches Worse:

  • Infection
  • Nasal polyps
  • Anatomical deformities, such as a deviated septum, that block the sinus ducts

Treatment:

  • Treat with antibiotics, decongestants or surgical drainage, if necessary

Prevention:

  • None

Tension-Type Headaches

Symptoms:

  • Dull, nonthrobbing pain
  • Frequently on both sides of head
  • Associated with tightness of scalp or neck
  • Severity remains constant

Things That Can Make Headaches Worse:

  • Emotional stress
  • Depression that has not been identified and/or treated

Treatment:

  • Rest
  • Over-the-counter pain reliever
  • Caffeine
  • Ice packs
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Antidepressants, if appropriate
  • Biofeedback
  • Psychotherapy

Prevention:

  • Avoiding stress
  • Using biofeedback, relaxation techniques or antidepressant medicines

This information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice of your health care providers. If you have any questions, talk with your doctor or others on your health care team. If you are a Gillette patient with urgent questions or concerns, please contact Telehealth Nursing at 651-229-3890.