Common Health Problems  »  General Health Conditions


Signs & Symptoms

For Tension or Muscular Headaches

  1. A dull ache in the forehead, above the ears, or at the back of the head.

  2. Pain in the neck or shoulders.

For Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches usually occur once or twice a year. They attack in groups, every day for a week or more at a time. Often, they start at night, but can start during the day, too. Cluster headaches can last from 15 minutes to 3 hours. They can interrupt sleep.

  1. Sharp, burning, and intense pain on one side of the head. The pain is so severe, you can’t lie down or keep still.

  2. Pain in or on the sides of the eyes. The eyes water.

  3. Pupils look smaller. Eyelids droop.

For Migraine Headaches

Migraines can occur with or without an aura. With an aura, spots or flashing lights or numbness occur 10 to 30 minutes before the headache. Ten percent of all migraines are this type; 90% occur without an aura.

  1. One side of the head may hurt more than the other.

  2. Nausea or vomiting.

  3. Light hurts the eyes. Noise bothers you. The headache is worse with activity.

  4. After the headache, some people have a drained feeling with tired, aching muscles. Others feel great.

For Sinus Headaches

  1. Pain in the forehead, cheekbones, and nose. The pain is worse in the morning.

  2. Increased pain when you bend over or touch your face.

  3. Stuffy nose.


For Tension Headaches

  1. Not getting enough sleep.

  2. Feeling “stressed out.”

  3. Reading for long periods of time or eyestrain.

  4. Doing repetitive work.

  5. Staying in one position for a long time, such as working with a computer.

For Cluster Headaches

The cause is not known. These headaches are four times more common in men than in women. Heavy drinkers and smokers are at an increased risk for cluster headaches.

For Migraine Headaches

These headaches happen when blood vessels in the head open too wide or close too tight. They occur more often in females than in males. Migraines tend to run in families. For people prone to migraine headaches, certain things trigger them.

  1. Menstruation in females.

  2. Caffeine and drinks with alcohol, such as red wine. Aged cheeses. Cured meats.

  3. Stress. Changes in sleeping patterns.

  4. Heavy exercise.

For Sinus Headaches

These occur when fluids in the nose aren’t able to drain well. This builds up pressure in the sinuses. A cold, allergies, and airplane travel can cause a sinus headache.

Other Causes of Headaches

  1. Analgesic rebound from regular or repeated use of over-the-counter or prescribed pain relievers.

  2. Eating or drinking something very cold, such as ice cream. {Note: To prevent ice cream headaches, warm the ice cream for a few seconds in the front of the mouth.}

  3. Cigarette smoke, pollution, etc.

  4. Caffeine withdrawal.

  5. Uncorrected vision problems, such as nearsightedness.

  6. A symptom of a health problem. Examples are allergies, depression, high blood pressure, a pinched nerve in the neck, and dental problems.

  7. Low blood sugar. Hunger. Sensitivity to certain foods and drinks. (See “Foods & Drinks That May Cause Headaches on the left side.)

Children’s Headaches

Children’s headaches that come once in awhile can be treated with ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Make sure to use the right type and dose for the child’s weight. Don’t give aspirin to anyone younger than 19 years of age due to its link to Reye’s Syndrome. If the child complains of head pain on a regular basis, take the child to his or her doctor.

  1. Headaches tend to last less time than they do in adults.

  2. Sometimes, an upset stomach and vomiting occur.

  3. Headaches come in groups then are gone for months.

Self-Care / Prevention

  1. Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit.

  2. Try to stop the headache when it starts.

  3. Take an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine for pain as directed.

  4. Massage the back of your neck with your thumbs. Work from the ears toward the center of the back of your head. Also, rub gently along the sides of your eyes. Gently rub your shoulders, neck, and jaw. Get a massage.

  5. Take a warm bath or shower. Place a cold or warm washcloth or OTC hot or cold pack over the area that aches.

  6. Relax. Picture a calm scene in your head.

  7. Meditate or breathe deeply.

  8. Exercise on a regular basis. Get adequate rest.

  9. Try using a different pillow and/or sleep position.

  10. If you grind your teeth, tell your dentist or doctor.

  11. Keep a diary of when, where, and why headaches occur. Avoid foods and beverages that may cause headaches.

  12. To help prevent headaches and nausea caused by a hangover, try an OTC product, such as Chaser–Freedom From Hangovers.

  13. For a hangover: After drinking alcohol, take an OTC pain reliever. Eat solid foods. Rest or sleep. Have 2 or more glasses of water before you go to sleep. Drink 2 or more glasses of water when you wake up.

Questions to Ask

Is the headache linked with any of these problems?

  1. A serious head injury or passing out.

  2. A blow to the head that causes severe pain, enlarged pupils, vomiting, or confusion.

Do you have symptoms of a cluster headache or migraine headache listed above?

With a severe headache that lasts, do any other symptoms of meningitis occur?

Is the headache linked with any of these problems?

  1. Severe pain in and around one eye.

  2. Blurred vision or double vision.

  3. Slurring of speech.

  4. Mental confusion.

  5. Personality change.

  6. A problem moving the arms or legs.

  7. Unusual sleepiness.

Has the headache lasted more than 2 to 3 days and does the pain keep getting worse and last longer?

Source: CVS Caremark Health Resources

Do you have a headache at the same time of a day, week, or month, and do over-the-counter pain relievers not help the pain?

Do you take pain relievers more than 3 times a week for at least 3 weeks for headaches or did you get headaches only after taking a new medicine?


Self-care can treat headaches caused by tension, fatigue, and/or stress. Certain over-the-counter medicines and prescribed medicines can treat migraine headaches.

Headaches that are symptoms of health problems are relieved when the condition is treated with success.

Foods & Drinks That May Cause Headaches

  1. Alcoholic beverages, especially red wine.

  2. Aspartame (the artificial sweetener in NutraSweet®).

  3. Bananas (if more than 1/2 banana a day).

  4. Caffeine from coffee, tea, cola, other soft drinks, chocolate, or some medications. Suddenly stopping caffeine intake.

  5. Citrus fruits (if more than 1/2 cup a day).

  6. Cured meats, such as frankfurters.

  7. Food additives, such as MSG.

  8. Hard cheeses like aged cheddar or provolone.

  9. Nuts. Peanut butter.

  10. Onions.

  11. Sour cream.

  12. Soy sauce.

  13. Vinegar.

Less often, a headache is a symptom of a serious health problem that needs immediate care. Examples are acute glaucoma and stroke.

Has the headache come on fast and does it hurt much more than any headache in the past?

Do you have nausea or vomiting with a headache that doesn’t go away or that recurs?

For pregnant females, does swelling of the legs, hands, and/or face also occur with the headache?

Is the headache not relieved by over-the-counter pain relievers and does it occur with any signs and symptoms of a sinus infection or in a person with high blood pressure?


National Headache Foundation


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