The most common types of headaches, their causes and how to treat them

Feb 15, 2021

When headaches strike, the pain can be throbbing and persistent, and worsen after a few hours, some can even cause nausea. But one thing remains clear: it is difficult to continue with normal life when you suffer from a headache and it can be debilitating. However, the more information you can gather about the different types of headaches, the better you will be prepared to handle them when they occur. This article is focussed on the three most common headaches, their causes and how to treat them.

1. Migraine

Excruciating, debilitating and throbbing pain gradually builds up, typically on one side of your head. It can become intense and walking or talking can make it worse. You may feel nauseous and be sensitive to light or odours. Craving certain foods or changes in how much you urinate can occur the day before a migraine. Some people experience an aura before, during or after an attack. You may see flashing lights, wavy lines or blind spots.


There are different theories as to why some people develop the condition known as migraine, but sometimes the environment or genetics play a big role. The triggers usually vary from one person to another, but stress,anxiety, hormonal changes, smoking, sleep problems, skipping meals or strict diets, strong odours, and bright or flashing lights are often pointed out as the culprits, as do certain foods and beverages. You may want to avoid certain food and drinks like chocolate, (red) wine, pickled foods, aged cheeses, salami and pepperoni.


Rest is best. It is recommended that you lie down, eyes closed, in a dark room and to place a cold compress on your forehead. If you are nauseous, you can drink lots of fluids, especially water. Your doctor may prescribe preventative medication or drugs to relieve your symptoms, but excessive use can cause recurrent headaches, so keep to your doctor's advice and prescriptions. Zolmitriptan tablets have been known to successfully treat migraines.

Zolmitriptan is a triptan that can treat the onset of acute migraine attacks and falls in the pharmaceutical classificationcalled‘selective serotonin receptor agonists’.They are effective because they work by narrowing blood vessels around the brain, to stop the pain signals.

2. Tension headaches

This type of headache is also known as muscle spasm or stress headaches and are the most common. The pain is usually on both sides of the head, and some people have described it as a feeling of something that is being pulled tight around their heads, or as if someone is pressing down hard on the face, head or neck. You may also be more sensitive to light and sound.


Physical body postures that put your head and neck under stress, like sitting in front of a computer for hours or pressing your phone with your shoulder against your ear can cause tension headaches. Stress, intense work, skipping meals, depression, anxiety a lack of sleep or too little sleep can affect the muscles in your neck, face, scalp and jaw, which can also lead to these headaches.


If a health issue - such as arthritis, grinding of teeth or sleep disorders- causes it, your doctor will treat those symptoms first. If this does not alleviate or reduce your other symptoms, or if you do not have any other health problems, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter medication such as Ibuprofen, Aspirin or paracetamol. A warm shower or a warm washcloth on the back of your neck may also help. If none of this works, you may want to try meditation or another relaxation technique to control your stress.

3. Cluster headaches

These headaches occurabruptly, almost out of nowhere and are often result in incapacitating pain, either on one side of your head, but sometimes also behind one or both eyes. They can appear forweeks at the same time of day. The pain is typically at its worst for the first ten minutes after it started, but it can last for several hours. Your eyes may turn red and your nose may swell on the side where the pain occurs, or you could experience sound, light or odour sensitivity.Some people experience an aura (similar to that of a migraine) and feel nauseous.


Because they are more prone to occur at night, some doctors believe they may be caused by irregular sleep. They can be triggered by smoking and alcohol. If you sustained a head injury, or if cluster headaches occur in your family, chances are you will also suffer from cluster headaches. According to research, these headaches occur more frequently in Autumn or Spring and people sometimes mistake them for allergies.


Your doctor may recommend therapy where you inhale pure oxygen to reduce blood flow to the brain. Studies have shown that it can help most people who regularly suffer from cluster headaches. Your doctor can also prescribe Sumatriptan tablets, which are used to treat cluster headaches. In more severe cases, other medication may be prescribed.

While there are many different types of treatment for migraine, Sumatriptan and Zolmitriptan fall into the more affordable range of medicines, but it is also useful to know there is a range of fast-acting medicines like Zomig Nasal Spray and Imigran Nasal Spray and Rizatriptan or Maxalt.

Because different people respond differently to medicines, some people prefer to take Ibuprofen, Aspirin or paracetamol for the headaches, but you can consult your doctor or pharmacist to discuss the best possible treatment for you.

Click here to find out more about other treatments, or where to buy over the counter or prescribed medication online.

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