Read below about headache, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your headache from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Headache Symptoms

You know the drill. Your forehead feels like it was hit with a hammer and your eyes are throbbing. The pain pulsates through your neck and leaves your shoulders feeling tight. You can't think. You can't focus. Dim the lights, shut off the television, and cancel your plans. You have a headache.

Headaches are, unfortunately, a normal part of life [1]. Some people just deal with the pain while others wonder if there is a more serious cause behind their discomfort. Most of the time, a headache is simply a nuisance. But there are instances where a serious medical condition is the culprit behind the pain.

Common symptoms of headaches include:

Symptoms of more severe headaches or migraines include:

Headache Causes Overview

Some common headache causes include:

  • Norovirus: What did you have for lunch? We're only asking because norovirus is a form of food poisoning that can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. Headaches are also a common symptom, most likely being a side effect of dehydration [2].
  • Common Cold: Cough. Sneeze. Repeat. If you have a cold, headaches are a common symptom, thanks to the swelling in the sinus cavities [3].
  • Migraine: Nearly 12 percent of the American population deals with migraine headaches but despite this proportion, the cause is considered unknown [4]. Some can feel a migraine attack coming on when exposed to certain foods or smells while others have no warning at all. The pain can last for hours or even days.
  • Influenza: We all try to escape flu season unscathed but for those of us who do end up down for the count, headaches are a common symptom. Fever is also common in those with a flu virus [3]. As a result, blood vessels dilate and pressure inside the head increases.
  • Tension: Tension headaches are probably the most common type of headache [5]. These are the ones that creep up in the middle of your work day and make each minute feel like an hour.

Suffering for a minute with a headache is a minute too long. Depending on the type of headache and how often it strikes, you need to fight back with a combination of preventative measures and pharmaceutical and natural treatments.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Headache

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced headache. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.New Migraine

    Migraines are headaches of moderate to severe intensity, which happen when blood vessels in the brain swell up. They are episodic and thus can recur often. Most migraine sufferers experience increased sensitivity to sounds and/or lights and become nauseous and vomit.

    Migraine symptoms may resolve within a day or two, but the condition can come and go for a year or more. If any particular episode is unusually severe or does not respond to your customary treatments, you may want to see a doctor urgently.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, fatigue, nausea, mild headache, headache that worsens when head moves
    Symptoms that always occur with new migraine:
    new headache
    Symptoms that never occur with new migraine:
    fever, diarrhea, productive cough, headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Tension Headache (First Onset)

    Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache. It is pain or discomfort in the head and/or neck. It's often associated with muscle tightness in these areas. This condition can occur as little as once a year (infrequent) but as often as more than 15 days per month (chronic). The cause of tension-type headaches is not clear.

    Tension headache symptoms usually resolve within a few hours but can last up to a week. However, if this particular episode is unusually severe or debilitating, you may want to see a doctor urgently.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, nausea or vomiting, moderate headache, loss of appetite, mild headache
    Symptoms that always occur with tension headache (first onset):
    new headache
    Symptoms that never occur with tension headache (first onset):
    photo and phonophobia, throbbing headache, headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Cluster Headache

    A cluster headache is a type of recurring headache that is moderate to severe in intensity. It is often one-sided head pain that may involve tearing of the eyes and a stuffy nose. Attacks can occur regularly for 1 week and up to 1 year. Each period of attacks (i.e. each cluster) is separated by pain-free periods that last at least 1 month or longer. Other common headaches may also occur during these cluster-free periods.

    Each attack can last from 15 min to 3 hours and occurs from once every other day up to 8 times per day. Cluster periods usually resolve in a few weeks to months but can last up to a year.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    severe headache, nausea, throbbing headache, history of headaches, sensitivity to light
    Symptoms that always occur with cluster headache:
    severe headache
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  4. 4.Acute Bacterial Sinusitis

    Acute bacterial sinusitis occurs when the sinuses become infected and, in turn, inflamed, which causes pain and other symptoms. The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the face that are generally clean and empty but when they're sick collect excess mucus and can become infected. When your symptoms are persisting for 10 days or more or are getting worse over time, it's more likely that you'll have a bacterial infection as compared to a viral infection.

    7-15 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, muscle aches
    Symptoms that always occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    clear runny nose, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache, sinus pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Headache Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having headache.

    Headache Quiz
  6. 6.Insomnia Disorder

    Insomnia is a very common sleep disorder that prevents one from falling asleep, staying asleep, or a combination of both.

    Condition is treatable with medication and behavior changes.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, mild headache, insomnia
    Symptoms that always occur with insomnia disorder:
    trouble sleeping
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Sinus Headache

    Sinus headaches are very common. When compared to a normal headache, this pain is generally around the eyes, sinuses, and upper cheeks.

    A few days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, headache that worsens when head moves, facial fullness or pressure, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, sinus pain
    Symptoms that always occur with sinus headache:
    headache
    Symptoms that never occur with sinus headache:
    fever, being severely ill, sore throat, muscle aches, cough, drooping eyelid, wateriness in both eyes, headache resulting from a head injury, severe headache, unexplained limb pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  8. 8.Brain Tumor or Mass

    A brain lesion can be cancerous or non-cancerous. Nonetheless, they are a potentially serious issue and should be discussed with a physician.

    Uncertain. Prognosis is very dependent on what is found

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, nausea, loss of appetite, irritability
    Symptoms that always occur with brain tumor or mass:
    focal neurological symptoms
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  9. 9.Influenza

    Influenza, or Flu, is an infection of the airway caused by the flu virus, which passes through the air and enters the body through the nose or mouth. The symptoms are similar to those of a cold, but the flu is usually more serious.

    Most recover within 1 week but cough and malaise can persist for 2 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, cough, muscle aches
    Symptoms that never occur with influenza:
    headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  10. 10.Concussion Not Needing Imaging

    A traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussion, happens when a bump, blow, jolt, or other head injury causes damage to the brain. Every year, millions of people in the U.S. suffer brain injuries. More than half are bad enough that people must go to the hospital, and the worst injuries can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

    Most patients with mild brain injury recover within hours to days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping
    Symptoms that always occur with concussion not needing imaging:
    head or face injury
    Symptoms that never occur with concussion not needing imaging:
    recent fall from 6 feet or higher, severe vomiting, posttraumatic amnesia over 30 minutes, slurred speech, fainting, moderate vomiting
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Headache Treatments and Relief

In most cases, the best way to treat a headache is to distract yourself from the discomfort or rest until you feel better.

If you are experiencing any of the following headache symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

  • You're having the worst headache you've ever had
  • You're experiencing vision loss that doesn't improve
  • You lose consciousness
  • You're vomiting uncontrollably
  • Your headache has lasted more than 72 hours with minimal relief
  • You have a headache with any symptoms of weakness in the arms, legs or trouble speaking – this could be a stroke

For run-of-the-mill headache symptoms, consider any of the following treatments.

  • Over-the-Counter Medication: A quick dose of acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen should provide you with quick relief.
  • Coffee: Pour yourself a hot cup of joe. If you regularly drink caffeine but skipped your morning beverage, a dose of caffeine should help.
  • Massage: We're giving you an excuse to book a spa treatment. If that's not an option, massaging your own neck, head, or shoulders can help alleviate pain from mild headaches.
  • Rest: If your headache is a result of an illness, like the flu or a cold, rest is some of the best medicine. Choose a comfortable location in a dark room with minimal noise.
  • Work Out: Though it might seem like exercise would make your headache worse, a quick bike ride, dip in the pool, or brisk walk through the neighborhood can help reduce your discomfort.
  • Essential Oils: Both lavender and peppermint have been used to naturally treat headaches. You can either massage the oils (after being mixed with a carrier oil) over your temples or diffuse them.
  • Water: If you have to think about the last time you had a glass of water, early dehydration could be the cause of your headache. Increase your water intake and you'll hopefully notice a decrease in pain rather quickly.

FAQs About Headache

Here are some frequently asked questions about headache.

Why do I have a constant headache?

Headaches can be caused by many different things, including chronic migraine headaches, chronic tension headaches, and a consistent headache called "hemicrania continua" [6]. Usually, these headaches occur frequently and last longer than four hours at a time. If you are having one of these headaches commonly, this is called a "Chronic Daily Headache." Most commonly, it is caused by a change in diet, sleep, or stress but can also me caused by head trauma, drugs, or dehydration.

What is cluster headache?

A cluster headache is a headache that normally affects one side of the face and is accompanied by severe pain around or above the eye, and at the temple (the upper frontal side of the head). It may also occur with droopy eyelids, crying, redness in the eye, and usually lasts 15 minutes to three hours [7]. Attacks may occur as frequently as eight times a day for weeks.

What does a migraine feel like?

A migraine may feel different for different people, but it is most commonly described as a one-sided throbbing headache accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound as well as occasional nausea. It may also be accompanied by floating figures or "aura" within an individual's field of vision. Often, it is improved by rest in a quiet space and can be prevented by adequate hydration and adequate sleep without major changes in consistency.

What are the common causes of headaches?

Headaches are commonly caused by lack of sleep, dehydration, change in diet, and stress as well as more worrisome causes like head trauma. Tension headaches are the most common headaches and can be an early sign of a cold or can be caused by disrupted sleep or just psychological stress. To determine the cause of your headache, you should write down any accompanying symptoms including nasal congestion, tearing in the eye, redness in the eye, sore throat, neck or back pain, as well as the side of the head on which a headache occurs and the quality of the pain. The pain may be dull or sharp, pulsatile or constant, it may be caused by a particular motion or food item. All of these are important pieces of information to determine the cause of a headache.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Headache

  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Have you lost your appetite recently?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our headache symptom checker to find out more.

Headache Quiz

Headache Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced headache have also experienced:

    • 12% Nausea
    • 5% Fatigue
    • 3% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
  • People who have experienced headache had symptoms persist for:

    • 53% Less Than a Day
    • 28% Less Than a Week
    • 7% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced headache were most often matched with:

    • 75% Cluster Headache
    • 12% New Migraine
    • 12% Tension Headache (First Onset)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having headache

Headache Quiz

References

  1. Headache. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated November 23, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  2. The Symptoms of Norovirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated October 5, 2015. CDC Link.
  3. Fighting the Flu. UW Health. UW Health Link.
  4. Chronic Migraine. American Migraine Association. American Migraine Association Link.
  5. Rizzoli P, Mullally WJ. Headache. The American Journal of Medicine. 2018;131(1):17-24. AmJMed Link.
  6. Hemicrania Continua Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Updated June 27, 2018. NINDS Link.
  7. Weaver-Agostoni J. Cluster Headache. American Family Physician. 2013;88(2):122-128. AAFP Link.