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Headache Locations and Causes

This easy-to-follow guide will help you figure out the type of pain you’re experiencing, so you can treat it—fast.

When you have a headache, it can be tempting to get into bed, pull the covers over your head, and try not to think about how lousy you feel until the pain has passed. But paying attention to the location of your pain is key, as it can indicate the type of headache you have. Once you know this, you’ll be better prepared to choose the right type of relief so you feel better, faster.

Here’s a guide to help identify different headache types based on where it hurts and to determine the best options for treatment.

Tension Headache

Pain location

Tension headaches can feel like a tight band that stretches across your head.1

Symptoms

Tension headache symptoms vary and can include:

  • Mild to moderate dull, aching head pain
  • Stiff muscles, tightness in the neck, shoulders, scalp, and jaw

There are two types of tension headaches:

  • Episodic (occurring less than 15 times a month)
  • Chronic (occurring more than 15 times a month over the course of more than three months)

Either type can last anywhere from a half hour to a week.2

Causes

While tension headaches might be brought on by many different factors, stress is the most common trigger.3 Researchers believe a heightened sensitivity to pain, and increased muscle tenderness, may also play a role in tension-type headaches.4

Treatment

  • Develop ways to cope with stress
  • Massage the affected area
  • Apply hot or cold compresses
  • Ensure you get enough sleep and exercise5
  • OTC pain relievers that combine acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine may also be effective6

Talk to your doctor for more information.

See how Excedrin Tension helps other tension headache sufferers manage their pain.

Cluster Headache

Pain Location

Cluster headaches develop as a cluster on one side of the head, usually in or behind one eye or at the temple.

Symptoms

Cluster headaches often come on during sleep and can last for a period of days, weeks, or even months before going into remission for long periods.7 Symptoms can include:

  • Tearing eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Occasional flushed, sweaty skin on the affected half of the face prior to headache8

Causes

The exact cause is still unknown, but risk factors include smoking (more than half of sufferers are current or former smokers), familial history (close relatives who experience cluster headaches) and drinking alcohol. Men are up to six times more likely to develop cluster headaches than women.9

Treatment

It’s best to consult a physician if you think you might be experiencing cluster headaches. To ease the pain during an attack or cycle of attacks, your doctor may administer the following:

  • Oxygen
  • Nasal spray
  • Prescription medication

Your health-care professional will be able to determine which treatment options are best for you.10

Sinus Headache

Pain Location

Pain from sinus headaches most often develops in the cheekbones, forehead, and/or bridge of the nose.

Symptoms

Sinus headache pain is characterized by deep, constant pain that usually intensifies with sudden head movements or straining. Other sinus symptoms include:

  • Thick, discolored nasal discharge
  • Feeling of fullness in the cheeks, forehead and brow
  • Congestion11

Causes

Sinus headaches are caused by an inflammation of the sinuses, which are air-filled cavities located in the forehead, cheekbones, and behind the bridge of the nose that produce a thin mucus that drains out of the nose.12  Allergies can also inflame the sinuses, causing pain and leading to sinus headaches.13

Treatment

Possible treatment approaches for sinus headaches include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Pain relievers
  • Nasal vasoconstrictors
  • Analgesics
  • Corticosteroids may be prescribed by a physician to further decrease inflammation14

If you have questions or concerns about your sinus headache pain, talk with your doctor.

Show References

Hide References

1. “Tension-Type Headache” NCBI. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2190284/

2. “Tension-Type Headache” NCBI. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2190284/

3. “Tension Headache” Mayo Clinic. Web. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tension-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20353977

4. “Tension Headache” Mayo Clinic. Web. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tension-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20353977

5. “Tension-type headaches: Self-care measures for relief” Mayo Clinic. Web. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tension-headache/in-depth/headaches/art-20047631

6. “The Complete Headache Chart” National Headache Foundation. Web. https://headaches.org/resources/the-complete-headache-chart/

7. “Cluster Headache” Mayo Clinic. Web. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cluster-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20352080

8. “The Complete Headache Chart” National Headache Foundation. Web. https://headaches.org/resources/the-complete-headache-chart/

9. “Cluster Headaches” The Cleveland Clinic. Web. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5003-cluster-headaches

10. “Cluster Headaches: Management and Treatment” The Cleveland Clinic. Web. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5003-cluster-headaches/management-and-treatment

11. “Sinus Headaches” Mayo Clinic. Web. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sinus-headaches/symptoms-causes/syc-20377580

12. “Picture of the Sinuses” WebMD. Web. https://www.webmd.com/allergies/picture-of-the-sinuses#1

13. “Sinus Headaches” Headaches.org. Web. https://headaches.org/2007/10/25/sinus-headache/

14. “Sinus Headaches” Headaches.org. Web. https://headaches.org/2007/10/25/sinus-headache/

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