Young man touching head with hands and keeping eyes closed while sitting on the sofa at home

Migraine Headaches

Often viewed as one of the most painful of headaches, migraines are often accompanied by a variety of other unpleasant symptoms such as light and sound sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting. One symptom sometimes present in patients with migraines is the occurrence of an aura, or a change in vision that warns the patient of an upcoming episode. The intense, throbbing pain characteristic of migraine headaches is most often only located on one side of the head, but it is possible for the pain to “travel” across to the other side of the head as well.

Though the exact cause of migraines is unknown, chemical or hormonal factors within the brain could possibly be linked. Triggers of these headaches include: stress, hormonal changes, or the presence of strong stimuli such as bright light. Because of the severity of the symptoms of migraines, they can be treated with prescription medication as well as over the counter medicine.

Tension Headaches

Also known as stress headaches, this very common type of headache is characterized by a dull, squeezing pain around the entire head. There are many variables associated with tension headaches such as pain level, duration (lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a few days), and causes, but most people who suffer with them notice episodes that persist for months.

During a tension headache, muscles around the head and neck contract, causing a variable amount of blood flow to reach the brain. Causes associated with these contractions are triggering activities or foods (which differ from person to person), but more commonly daily stressors, such as staring at the same space, such as a computer screen for increased amounts of time.

Severity of tension headaches varies, but even the most intense should not cause much sensitivity or vomiting. Classification of tension headaches are by frequency: episodic tension headaches occur fewer than fifteen times per month, and chronic occur more than fifteen per month.

Cluster Headaches

Headaches that occur within short periods of each other are cluster headaches. They are characterized by severe pain centralized behind one eye. Although rare, treatment is available to relieve symptoms of this type of headache.

Symptoms of cluster headaches (other than one-sided head pain) such as runny nose, teary, red eyes, and swelling around the eyes are often confused with seasonal allergies. However, while these very painful headaches will likely occur at least once a day over a period of several days or weeks, they will disappear just a quickly. Most frequently, cluster headaches hit at the same time each day, usually later in the evening or at night.

Occipital Neuralgia

Nerves that run from the top of the spine to the scalp are called the occipital nerves. When these nerves are triggered, it can cause pain that spreads throughout the area where those nerves are located, similar to a headache (specifically a migraine headache.) The pain associated with occipital neuralgia is usually sharp and intense but will not last as long as most headaches do. Although the (sometimes debilitating) pain may not last more than a few minutes, the throbbing around the occipital nerves may continue longer. Because the root cause of occipital neuralgia is the pinching of nerves, treatment for this disorder is different from treatment of headaches, but may be more easily treated after proper diagnosis.