Common Types Of Headaches: Causes, Symptoms And Management

Common Types Of Headaches: Causes, Symptoms, Management

Every so often, we hear people groan in pain and say, “I have a blinding headache” or “I have a splitting headache” or even frustratingly exclaim, “I would like to remove my head thanks to this headache!”. From a mild sensation to a throbbing pain, we’ve all experienced headaches at least once in our lives. In fact, headaches are the most common ailments in the world with approximately 90% men and 95% women having experienced it at least once in their lifetime.

There are many different types of headaches with varied symptoms and levels of intensity and there are a myriad reasons for them. The most common types of headaches that trouble people are tension headaches, migraines, cluster headaches and sinus headaches.

To understand the course of action you must take once a headache strikes, let us first take a deep dive to understand the different types of headaches, their causes and symptoms and what we can do to manage them.

Tension Headaches

Causes – While the cause of tension headaches has not really been determined, they’re most often known to be caused by stress or fatigue.Research published by the World Health Organisation suggests that between 1-3% of adults suffer from chronic tension headaches.

They can also be caused due to dehydration and hunger. Experts also link it with muscle tension in the neck, eye strain from looking at the computer too long and poor posture. Episodic tension headaches can last from anywhere between 30 minutes to a few days. The chronic type of tension headaches can occur for more than 15 days with symptoms lasting for several months.

Symptoms Tension headaches usually have a slow onset and feel like something squeezing both the sides of your head. Symptoms usually include dull headache and a feeling of pressure around the forehead.

ManagementTension headaches can also be avoided by maintaining a regular sleep schedule, staying hydrated and not skipping meals.

Cluster Headaches

Causes – The exact cause of cluster headaches is not known but they begin when a pathway in the brain, from the hypothalamus which controls our sleep and wake cycles, is triggered. In this headache, the trigeminal nerve that is responsible for heat and pain sensations in your face – eye, cheek, forehead, jaw and ear, is affected. They are known to reach their full intensity within 5 to 10 minutes and last for anywhere between 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Symptoms – The primary symptom includes excruciating pain situated around the eye which radiates to the jaw and forehead. Pain in this headache is one-sided and associated with excessive tearing, difficulty speaking, redness and drooping of the eye and sensitivity to light among other symptoms.

Management – Cluster headaches call for a visit to the neurologist who will prescribe medication for the same.


Causes – Migraines have several triggers ranging from hormonal changes, stress, tiredness, poor posture, poor-quality sleep, muscle tension in the neck and shoulders to dehydration, bright lights, loud noises, etc.

Symptoms – A migraine has four stages –
1. Prodrome or Preheadache which lasts anywhere between 3 hours to several days
2. Aura which lasts from 5 to 60 minutes
3. Headache which lasts anywhere between 4 to 72 hours
4. Postdrome which lasts for 1 to 2 days. Symptoms vary across the stages. People can experience migraines with or without an aura.

In the Prodrome stage, likely symptoms are irritability, depression, food cravings, sensitivity to light, muscle stiffness, etc.
In the Aura stage you may experience numbness and tingling, visual disturbances like blurry spots, etc.
Headache symptoms include neck pain, insomnia and nausea apart from sensitivity to light and sound.
The Prodrome stage will have you experience fatigue, depression and an inability to comprehend or concentrate on things.

Management – Migraines generally tend to put a stop to your daily routines given their intensity. Abortive or preventive medications are prescribed by doctors for migraines. Lifestyle changes like maintaining a proper sleep schedule, not skipping meals, exercising regularly and controlling stress levels through meditation and mindful breathing also help in managing migraines.

Sinus Headaches

Causes – The common cold is most one of the major culprits for your sinus headache. A viral or bacterial infection causes the sinus passages to become congested.  Seasonal allergies apart from structural differences that prevent sinuses from draining properly also cause sinus headaches.

Symptoms – The one main symptom of a sinus headache is an uncomfortable pressure in your forehead, above the nose, on the bridge of the nose, in the gums and on the cheeks. Apart from other common symptoms like a runny nose and coughing, some people also experience a swelling of their face. Research suggests that people complain of their pain worsening on coughing or leaning forward.

Management – Sinus headaches are usually relieved as your cold or allergy subsides. Apart from this, inhaling steam or putting a warm washcloth over the area of your sinuses may help relieve pressure.

Other common headaches include heat-induced headaches caused due to dehydration, caffeine headaches which can be caused due to either consuming too much caffeine or quitting caffeine (or tea) cold turkey; exertion headaches which are caused after bouts of intense physical activity like running, weightlifting, etc.

Because nagging, irritable headaches can put a dent in your daily routine, it is essential to have something for quick relief by your side. Two such products are the legendary Zandu Balm and Zandu Roll On.They are made with an Ayurvedic formulation of ingredients like essential oils, menthol, camphor and capsicum among others and a special non-sticky, non-greasy formula for headache relief on-the-go. They are best for tension headaches and sinus headaches (just add a little bit of Zandu Balm to your steam water for inhalation for relief from a cold) for relief when you need it most. If your headache persists for a long time or if you are experiencing migraines and cluster headaches frequently, it is important to consult your physician for necessary medication you can take for relief.