Headaches are something that almost all of us have dealt with, at some point in our lives. However, despite how common they are, we tend to brush them off as nothing. We simply take some medicine, and it’s gone in a few minutes. Most of the time, headaches are nothing to worry about. However, there are certain symptoms associated with headaches that you should look out for as these may hint at a more serious health problem.

So… What Causes A Headache? 

There are a number of different possible reasons why people get headaches. A headache can be caused by something as simple as dehydration, or it can be caused by external factors present in our day to day lives, like stress and triggers that we don’t even think about, like bright lights and noise.

However, to identify the actual cause behind a headache you are currently experiencing, it’s important to first identify the type of headache that you have. Headaches aren’t a general type of illness that has one specific treatment. The cause and treatment of your headache depend significantly on the type of headache you’re dealing with. Once you know what kind of headache you’re dealing with, it’ll be much easier to find the proper way to treat it.

The reason behind this is that certain treatments don’t work as well for specific types of headaches. So in order to maximize the effects of your headache treatment, we’re going to talk about the different types of headaches, their symptoms, what causes them, and how to treat these effectively.

Different Types of Headaches and Their Causes

There are two main types of headaches: primary, and secondary headaches. Primary headaches are headaches where the actual headache itself is the main condition and is not caused by another health issue. On the other hand, secondary headaches are headaches that happen as a result of underlying health conditions.

Primary Headaches

 Tension-Type Headache

Out of all of the types of primary headaches known to us, tension-type headaches are considered the most common. It is also the most common type of headache that the general population typically experiences.

Tension headaches are rarely severe, and these are often characterized by a tight band of pain wrapping around the forehead. This type of headache can manifest as either mild, moderate, or severe. It is present on both sides of the head and can sometimes be confused for a migraine, especially when it manifests as a more intense type of pain.

However, the main difference between the two is that tension headaches do not have the main symptoms of a migraine, which are nausea and vomiting. As common as tension headaches are, there are no definite underlying causes of tension headaches. These have been found to happen because of sitting in front of a computer for long periods of time, fatigue, stress, poor posture, and even a drop in temperature.


Migraines are identified as a recurring type of headache. These have been found to be caused by brain imbalances, which affects the nerves and blood vessels in the brain. It usually manifests itself on one side of the head and is accompanied by other symptoms like nausea as well as sensitivity to light and sound.

Before an actual migraine occurs, there are usually symptoms that show up a few days prior. These symptoms may include changes in your mood, difficulty concentrating, feeling of cold hands and feet, and increased thirst.

There are plenty of things that can trigger a migraine, and these can range from hormonal triggers, changes in sleep patterns, strong smells, certain types of food, fasting, and overconsumption of caffeinated drinks.

Cluster Headache

Out of all of the known primary headaches, cluster headaches are the rarest type of headache. It affects only about 2 out of 1,000 people or roughly 0.2% of the general population. It is difficult to determine what causes these types of headaches, but it has been found that some people who experience cluster headaches also have a family member who experiences these headaches.

However, this happens so infrequently that it is not sufficient enough information to determine if cluster headaches are definitely caused by genetics. Patterns of cluster headaches do suggest that these headaches have something to do with the hypothalamus.

Cluster headaches manifest itself as an intense pain on one side of the head and can last up to 2 hours. It has no prior symptoms, and the pain happens suddenly with no warning. Symptoms that are typically associated with this type of headache include a red and watering eye, a runny nostril, and the drooping and swelling of an eyelid.

While there is no definite cause behind this type of headache, there are certain factors that have been found to trigger these headaches. Some of these triggers include strong smelling substances like strong perfumes and petrol, and alcohol has also been found to be a trigger.

Secondary Headaches


Substance Abuse or Withdrawal

This type of headache is typically caused by the overuse of substances. One of the most common types of substance abuse headache is a medication-overuse headache, which is caused by the overuse of medication.

This is especially prevalent with pain medication, as overuse of this particular type of medication can cause the body to become dependent on the medication. Once you stop taking the medication, the pain comes back, which leads to more medication intake.

After a while, it takes more a larger quantity to achieve the same effect as the usual dose would. Eventually, during periods when medication hasn’t been taken, headaches will occur. Substance abuse and withdrawal headaches also happen with other types of substances like caffeine, alcohol, and other kinds of medication.

Head Trauma

Trauma to the head and shoulders can cause headaches, with tension headaches being the most common type of headache. This kind of headache usually occurs when there is trauma or injury caused to the head and/or neck area.


Upper Respiratory Tract Infections

Upper respiratory tract infections are a very common cause of headaches. Infections like sinusitis, viral upper respiratory tract infection, and streptococcal pharyngitis are commonly associated with headaches. These are often accompanied by a fever and a sore throat.


Hangover headaches are headaches that happen the day after consuming a significant amount of alcohol. This type of headache can usually be felt on both sides of the head and the pain it manifests is more of a more throbbing type of pain. It is not uncommon for it to get worse with physical activity.

Because alcohol is a diuretic, the body tends to release fluids faster, which leads to dehydration. If you go to bed after a night of drinking without supplementing the alcohol with plenty of water, your body becomes dehydrated, which causes a hangover the next day.

Brain Tumor

Patients with brain tumors experience headaches very often. It’s quite similar to a migraine in that a headache is sometimes associated with symptoms like nausea. However, this kind of headache can get worse during coughing or a change in body position.

This type of headache also does not respond to the usual headache remedies like pain medication. However, the kind and severity of the symptoms depend on how large the tumor is and where it’s located.



Headaches are commonly characterized as a dull throbbing or a sharp pain in your head. They can be localized on one point in your head, both sides or the pain can wrap around your head like a vice. Depending on the kind of headache that you are experiencing, they can last anywhere from an hour to several days.

Your headaches can also be accompanied by symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, a strong aversion to strong smells, and neck pain. However, these symptoms also manifest differently depending on the kind of a headache you have.

How to Treat Headaches

Headaches can be easily treated, especially if they’re the milder type of headaches that we typically experience, like tension headaches. These can be easily treated with over the counter pain medicine and rest. Drinking plenty of water can also help with relieving a headache, as lack of hydration can also cause symptoms of headaches.

However, for more complex types of headaches, more specialized treatments must be administered. For example, if you experience chronic migraines, it’s important to begin treatment as soon as early symptoms begin to occur.

Staying in a dark and quiet room is a good way to minimize migraine pain as bright lights and loud sounds can aggravate the symptoms of a migraine. Taking small amounts of caffeine and magnesium can also help relieve the earlier symptoms of migraines.

Cluster headaches are more difficult to treat because of how rare this condition happens and the unique circumstances surrounding it. Some of the medical treatments for cluster headaches include breathing oxygen through a mask, steroids, and injectable sumatriptan.

Secondary headaches are usually relieved when the source of the headache is treated. But these headaches can be treated temporarily with pain medication and rest.

While there is no such thing as a cure-all for all headaches, there are remedies that you can take or do in order to help alleviate and even prevent some of the more common types of headaches and symptoms.

How to Prevent Headaches


Get enough rest

Sleep deprivation can cause serious headaches, especially if it’s combined with other potential triggers like stress. It’s very important that you get the right amount of sleep in order to prevent getting headaches.

However, too much sleep can also trigger a headache, so it’s important to listen to your body and find the right number of hours of sleep that gives you the amount of rest that you need without overdoing it.


Minimize alcohol intake

Alcohol has been found to trigger different types of headaches in people. If you suffer from tension headaches, cluster headaches, and migraines, it’s best to minimize your alcohol headache.

The reason why alcohol has been known to trigger headaches is that it is a vasodilator substance, which means that it can cause blood vessels to widen, which in turn, leads to headaches.

Alcohol is also very commonly known as a diuretic, which causes the body to let go of fluids very quickly, which can lead to a dehydration headache. If you’re drinking alcohol, it’s very important that you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration headaches and a hangover the next day.


Avoid foods that contain histamine

Foods that contain histamine such dairy products, shellfish, alcohol, and other fermented foods like pickles and beer have been known to trigger migraine attacks, especially in people that suffer from chronic migraines. If you find that you suffer from migraines regularly, it’s highly recommended that you avoid foods with high histamine levels.


Watch your caffeine intake

In small, manageable amounts, coffee, tea, and other beverages that contain caffeine can help manage and alleviate severe symptoms of a headache. If you have a migraine, for example, drinking caffeine can help with managing the symptoms early on if you drink it before an actual migraine occurs. Caffeine has also been known to boost the effectivity of pain medication that is typically used to treat headaches.

Because caffeine has been known to improve the mood and constricts blood vessels, it can certainly help with preventing severe headaches. However, make sure that you don’t take in too much caffeine, as too much caffeine intake can cause withdrawal symptoms such as a withdrawal headache. Knowing the right amount of caffeine to drink can mean the difference between headache relief and making it worse.


Manage your stress levels

As stress is known to be one of the common triggers for various types of headaches like tension-type headaches and migraines, it’s very important for people to learn how to manage their stress levels.

You can do this by taking part in activities that can help you with your stress levels. Taking up a hobby, learning yoga, taking some personal time off during the day to relax, these are just some of the few ways that you can learn to manage your stress levels to prevent headaches.


Avoid strong smells

Migraines and tension-type headaches are commonly triggered by strong smells, so if you know that you experience these types of headaches and that they happen when you smell something strong, then you should definitely stay away from these.

Strong perfumes, paint, cigarette smoke, and strong-smelling food are just some of the strong-smelling triggers that can cause headaches. Strong smells can also cause sinusitis, which in turn, can cause sinus headaches, so if you know that you suffer from sinusitis, it’s best that you also learn how to avoid these.


Watch how you work

A lot of people are not aware of how they work. They simply sit down in front of their office computers and begin working. However, spending too much time in front of your computer can also cause headaches.

If you have a job that requires you to spend plenty of time in front of a computer, it’s important that you learn how to take a short break every hour to rest your eyes.

The way you sit can also trigger headaches. Improper posture can place a lot of stress on the neck, which can lead to a migraine or a tension-type headache. It’s very important to be aware of how you work and to make sure that you are comfortable in order to avoid triggering a headache.

To Wrap Up

Overall, headaches are not an uncommon occurrence, and there are plenty of reasons why we get headaches. However, while most of them are not life-threatening, it’s very important that we learn the signs of the more serious types of headaches and what we can do to treat or prevent these.

While headaches are more inconvenient, they do have the potential to disrupt our daily activities. We should be mindful of what triggers are present in our daily lives that can cause headaches to happen and do our best to avoid them or treat them as soon as possible.

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