The 9 Best Headache Medicines of 2020

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First Look

Best Overall: Excedrin Extra Strength at Amazon

"Featuring three active ingredients that work together to provide quick relief, this is a reliable OTC option for any kind of headache."

Best for Kids: Children’s Motrin Chewable Tablets at Amazon

"A doctor-recommended choice for fighting headaches in kids aged two to 11."

Best for Migraines: Motrin IB Liquid Gels at Amazon

"Ibuprofen is an FDA-approved way to treat migraines, and liquid gels work faster than traditional tablets."

Best for Tension Headaches: Aleve Liquid Gels at Amazon

"Reduce inflammation—often the source of tension headaches—with the NSAID ingredient in Aleve."

Best for Cold Symptoms: Advil Cold and Flu at Amazon

"Relieve your headache and treat common nasal symptoms that can worsen head pain."

Best for Natural Ingredients: Eu Natural’s My Brain! Migraine & Headache Relief Vitamins at Amazon

"A headache-proof dose of magnesium combines with herbal ingredients for an all-natural way to prevent and treat head pain."

Best for Allergy Headaches: Alka-Seltzer Plus Severe Sinus at Amazon

"Acetaminophen and an antihistamine in one dose for relief of headaches caused by seasonal or environmental allergens."

Best with Caffeine: Goody's Extra Strength Headache Powders at Amazon

"Portable, on-the-go pain relievers plus caffeine for maximum headache relief (no water needed)!"

Best for Sinus Pressure: Tylenol Sinus + Headache at Amazon

"Treat head pain by reducing nasal swelling and sinus pressure with this multi-symptom formula."

Whether it's allergies, coronavirus stress, or the upcoming election season, you probably have experienced a headache or two in 2020. There are some effective natural remedies for headaches—like hydrating, aromatherapy, and ice packs—but let’s be honest: headaches happen, and sometimes you just need a way to make them disappear ASAP.

“[As long as you’re not experiencing any acute head injury and the headache doesn’t persist], there are many great OTC options available for people to seek non-complex headache relief on their own or by advice of a medical provider, including pharmacists,” says Jeffrey Fudin, Pharm.D., managing editor of PainDr.com

Out of all these great OTC options, though, which one is right for the particular headache you’ve got? Here’s a guide to a few of the best headache medicines of 2020.

Due to increased demand for online shopping, items in this article may be temporarily out of stock. Updates to this article will be made frequently with products we recommend.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Excedrin Extra Strength

For run-of-the-mill headaches that can’t be blamed on tension, illness, or migraine, Excedrin’s Extra Strength tablets are a stellar choice: featuring three active ingredients that work together to provide quick relief, it’s a reliable OTC option for those moments when your head is pounding, you’ve got to get to work, and you need to feel better fast.

What we like about Excedrin is that it doses you with two different kinds of pain relievers, acetaminophen and aspirin, so you don’t have to guess which one will work better for you on any given day. (Acetaminophen is a strong pain reliever in its own right, but aspirin has anti-inflammatory abilities that bring their own kind of relief.) Then, to make sure you really end up headache-free, Excedrin includes a boost of caffeine—an ingredient known to improve the effectiveness of some OTC pain relievers.

A standard dose of Excedrin Extra Strength is two tablets every six hours, with a maximum of eight tablets per day. Aside from monitoring your aspirin and acetaminophen intake, make sure you’re not also consuming caffeinated beverages on the side.

Best for Kids: Children’s Motrin Chewable Tablets

Treating pain in kids is tricky, since they can’t always explain what hurts or why. But most kids can tell you when their head hurts, and when it does, you’ll want to give them something safe and effective to make the “owie” go away.

Unless you know specifically what has caused your child’s headache, you should choose an OTC medication that contains a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), since this will both reduce inflammation and relieve pain. The children’s version of Motrin, or ibuprofen, is a perfect choice: it’s commonly recommended for treating inflammation and pain in kids over the age of six months.

You don’t have to pick a chewable tablet—you can also opt for a liquid—but chewables often seem less like medicine to kids. Plus, you don’t have to worry as much about upsetting your child’s stomach with a small chewable versus a capful of liquid (headaches often come with some nausea, even for kids). If your child is between the ages of two and 11, they can take a chewable; follow the dosing instructions by age and weight for specifics.

Best for Migraines: Motrin IB Liquid Gels

A migraine headache is a full-body experience, one that often brings nausea, light sensitivity, and fatigue along with excruciating head pain. Not only do you need relief, you need it, like, yesterday—which means you need a reliable OTC medication that can get the job done.

“For true migraine headaches, only ibuprofen products (Advil Migraine and Motrin) and Excedrin Migraine are federally approved as OTC migraine treatments,” says Dr. Fudin, who personally recommends liquid ibuprofen or ibuprofen liquid gels because they are absorbed quicker and therefore can work faster. 

The Motrin IB Liquid Gels contain 200 milligrams of migraine-fighting ibuprofen, can be taken every four to six hours (with a maximum of six capsules per day), and may help you feel better faster than a traditional tablet thanks to their liquid formulation.

Best for Tension Headaches: Aleve Liquid Gels

Tension headaches have a lot of different calling cards, but pain that starts at the back of your head and wraps itself around to your forehead is a key sign that you’re dealing with a headache caused by muscle strain or stress. In this situation, it’s smart to reach for an NSAID pain reliever like Aleve that can reduce swelling along with other muscular causes of tension headaches.

Aleve is available in several different formulations, but we like the liquid gels since—like the Motrin IB we mentioned above—they may bring relief faster than traditional methods. We chose Aleve, specifically, for tension headaches because the root causes (i.e. stress and strain) can linger for a while, and the active ingredient in Aleve, naproxen sodium, can stay in your system working its pain relief magic for up to 12 hours.

A standard dose of Aleve Liquid Gels is one capsule every eight to 12 hours, not exceeding three capsules in a 24-hour period; you can take two capsules as a first dose if your pain is severe enough to warrant extra strength relief.

Best for Cold Symptoms: Advil Cold and Flu

If your headache is caused by a viral illness that’s plaguing you, you don’t have to suffer—or only treat your cold symptoms, ignoring your headache. With a multi-symptom medication, you can find relief from head pain and also work to stop the pain at the source. 

“For sinus headaches with congestion in an otherwise healthy person, hands down Advil Cold and Flu is a great option,” says Dr. Fudin. “It offers ibuprofen (for reducing pain, inflammation, and fever), chlorpheniramine (which dries up mucus secretions and also blocks histamine release from allergens), and phenylephrine, which is a nasal decongestant.”

Although this is a good choice for illness-induced headaches, there are a few things to note: Advil Cold and Flu may make you drowsy, so be mindful of when you’re taking it, and not everyone can safely take drugs like phenylephrine based on other medical conditions (so chat with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure). 

Best for Natural Ingredients: Eu Natural’s My Brain! Migraine & Headache Relief Vitamins

Squeamish about taking an OTC pain reliever every time you have a headache? You could try managing your head pain with a natural supplement—this one by Eu Natural is designed to treat acute headaches but also help you experience fewer headaches overall.

Made with magnesium (a commonly-prescribed migraine supplement) and a few herbal extracts like feverfew and butterbur, a daily dose of this good-for-your-brain vitamin may even out certain chemical imbalances in your body that cause you to have more headaches than the average person. The capsules are vegetarian, gluten-, wheat-, and dairy-free, and third party-tested for effectiveness.

Still, supplements are a product that is not regulated by the FDA, so make sure you buy them from a reputable source and are aware of any possible interactions between active ingredients in your supplements and other medications you’re taking or other medical conditions you have. It’s always smart to let your provider know if you plan to take any supplements.

Best for Allergy Headaches: Alka-Seltzer Plus Severe Sinus

If you get headaches from your allergies, you can certainly alleviate your pain—but it makes more sense to also combat your allergy symptoms, too, so that you hopefully end up with fewer headaches overall. 

The Severe Sinus capsules made by Alka-Seltzer contain acetaminophen to battle your headache, a nasal decongestant to relieve sinus pain, and an antihistamine (doxylamine succinate) to keep your immune response to environmental and seasonal allergies at bay. 

For headaches associated with allergy, this approach may be more beneficial than just taking a non-sedating antihistamine like Claritin or Zyrtec, says Dr. Fudin: “Sedating antihistamines like diphenhydramine or chlorpheniramine could be helpful [when] combined with NSAIDs or acetaminophen because the sedating antihistamines also dry up mucous secretions associated with both allergies and the common cold, unlike their non-sedating counterparts.”

Best with Caffeine: Goody's Extra Strength Headache Powders

When we recommended Excedrin Extra Strength, we mentioned that caffeine can have a superpowered effect on other pain relieving ingredients like acetaminophen and aspirin. A 2016 review published in Anesthesia and Pain Medicine suggests that not only does caffeine have pain relieving effects on its own, working along pain receptors in the body, it may also increase the rate at which acetaminophen is absorbed, boosting its effectiveness.

Of course, you could simply take your acetaminophen or aspirin with a large cup of coffee to boost the pain relief benefits, but that may not always be possible. That’s why we like Goody’s headache powders: it’s caffeine, aspirin, and acetaminophen in a super portable form, making it a good choice for caffeinated pain relief on the go.

Each dose of Goody’s comes in a single-serve packet and you can either swallow the powder alone or mix it with water and drink it down. Either way, it’s easy to take (and available in both orange and mixed fruit flavors). Plus, the powder formulation makes it quick to absorb and less likely to feel quite as jittery as some other caffeinated OTC meds.

Best for Sinus Pressure: Tylenol Sinus + Headache

Is your throbbing headache actually coming from your head, or are your inflamed sinuses to blame? Well, the bad news is that it can be pretty hard to tell: you have sinus cavities in many different places within your head, so it’s not easy to differentiate.

The good news, though, is that with Tylenol Sinus + Headache, you don’t have to. Acetaminophen and phenylephrine, a decongestant, combine here to relieve your head pain and clear your nasal passages, which can rid you of headache-producing mucus and oh-so-uncomfortable sinus pressure.

What we like about this particular option is that you just get pain relief and a decongestant, not additional ingredients designed to stop coughs or combat allergies. That means you can use it in a variety of situations that cause you headaches and sinus pain, whether that’s seasonal allergies, a cold or flu, and even air travel. 

Final Verdict

With its headache-busting blend of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine, Excedrin Extra Strength is a fairly foolproof way to banish your head pain. If your headache is caused by that nasty virus you caught, Dr. Fudin suggests Advil Cold and Flu; if you’re a migraine sufferer, the quick-release relief of Motrin IB Liquid Gels can help you feel better, stat. 

What to Look for in a Headache Medicine

Ingredients: This may sound obvious, but you’ve got to turn the package over and see what the active ingredients in your headache medication are before you take any. Acetaminophen is a good pain reliever, but it doesn’t reduce inflammation—so if you have a tension headache, it might not be the best choice. As Dr. Fudin explained, only ibuprofen products and Excedrin Migraine are federally approved for the treatment of migraine. But because caffeine can assist in headache pain relief, many OTC medications include it, too...and that might be a problem for you if you’re intolerant to high levels of caffeine for whatever reason.

What Symptoms It Addresses: You shouldn’t just indiscriminately pop whatever OTC pain reliever is within reach when you have a headache. Dr. Fudin says if your headache is the result of a respiratory illness or allergies, you should look for a medication that contains an antihistamine or decongestant, to either dry up mucus or reduce swelling in the nasal passages (which can exacerbate headache symptoms). Just don’t forget to consider your overall health before taking a multi-symptom drug: “It’s always best to check with the pharmacist or another medical provider before taking any of these medications alone or combined, in order to be certain there are no medical conditions or drug interactions that preclude their safe use.”

Dosage: Pain relievers do not all follow the same dosing instructions, so you have to consider how much of the medication is recommended and how often you’re allowed to take it. Naproxen sodium, for example (i.e. Aleve) often lasts 12 hours in some formulations, meaning you would only take it twice per day, and that may not be frequently enough for your needs. Likewise, if you’re taking other medications with the same ingredients in them, you may be accidentally taking too much—so it’s important to know how many milligrams of a drug are in each dosage.

Why Trust Verywell Health

Sarah Bradley has been writing health content since 2017—everything from product roundups and illness FAQs to nutrition explainers and the dish on diet trends. She knows how important it is to receive trustworthy and expert-approved advice about over-the-counter products that manage everyday health conditions, from GI issues and allergies to chronic headaches and joint pain.

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  1. Baratloo A, Rouhipour A, Forouzanfar MM, Safari S, Amiri M, Negida A. The Role of Caffeine in Pain Management: A Brief Literature Review. Anesth Pain Med. 2016;6(3):e33193. Published 2016 Mar 26. doi:10.5812/aapm.33193