What a Headache on the Right Side Means

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Having a headache on the right side can be confusing and worrisome since a general headache is often felt all over the head. However, different types of headaches are felt in different locations and can cause different symptoms.

A headache on the right side likely has a common cause that will be easy to treat; however, this type of headache can also be a sign of a more serious health condition.

This article will go over the possible causes of a headache on the right side. You'll also learn how to tell if having a headache on the right side of your head means that you need to talk to your provider or seek emergency care.

What to Know About Right-Sided Headaches - Illustration by Ellen Lindner

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Causes of Right-Sided Headaches

Headaches on the ride side of the head are generally classified the same as headaches in general—they are either primary or secondary:

  • Primary headaches exist on their own (for example, migraines).
  • Secondary headaches are caused by something else like pregnancy, medication, trauma, or an underlying illness or condition (for example, an infection or arthritis in the bones of the neck).

Primary Headaches

There are a few kinds of primary headaches that can cause pain on the right side of the head.

Migraine

If you're having a migraine, you may only have a headache on the right side of your head. Migraine is a neurological disorder that happens to about 12% of the population. It is more common in females than males.

A migraine headache feels like a throbbing, burning, or drilling pain. It can be felt on one or both sides of the head. The pain tends to get worse with physical activity. A headache from a migraine can last from hours to three days.

Other symptoms of a migraine include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Light, sound, and smell sensitivity
  • Nose congestion
  • Neck stiffness and pain
  • Anxiety and/or a depressed mood
  • Insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep)

Cluster Headache

Another kind of headache that can be felt on just the right side is a cluster headache.

This kind of headache causes a severe, sharp, or stabbing one-sided headache around the eye or temple. The pain can last up to three hours. Cluster headaches are more common in men.

In addition to a right-sided headache, you might have other cluster headache symptoms such as:

  • The pupil of the eye becomes small (miosis)
  • Drooping of the upper eyelid (ptosis)
  • Eye tearing and/or redness
  • Stuffy and/or runny nose
  • Facial sweating and/or flushing
  • Unusual skin sensitivity
  • Inability to sit still or lie down

Hemicrania Continua

Hemicrania continua is a rare one-sided headache that is more common in females. The headache might just be on the right side of the head, but it happens daily and continuously without any pain-free periods.

Along with a non-stop headache, people get exacerbations of severe pain—essentially, a headache on top of a headache.

Hemicrania continua can also cause symptoms that happen on the same side as the headache, such as:

  • Redness or tearing of your eye
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sweating or flushing of your face
  • Feeling like you have sand in your eye
  • A sensation of ear fullness
  • Restlessness
  • Worsening of the pain with movement

Paroxysmal Hemicrania

Paroxysmal hemicrania is a rare primary headache disorder that can cause a headache on the right side.

The disorder causes brief, severe attacks of one-sided headache pain. The attacks occur at least five times a day and usually last for two to 30 minutes.

The other symptoms of paroxysmal hemicrania happen on the same side of the headache and can include:

  • Eye redness and/or tearing
  • Stuffy and/or runny nose
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Facial sweating and/or flushing
  • Miosis and/or ptosis

SUNCT Syndrome

Another disorder that can cause a headache on the right side is "SUNCT," which stands for short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with conjunctival injection and tearing.

This syndrome causes short, intense attacks of pain on one side of the head, typically around one eye.

SUNCT syndrome is more common in males. The average age of onset is 50 years old.

A right-sided headache from SUNCT can also come with other symptoms including:

  • Ptosis
  • Eye tearing
  • A stuffy nose
  • Facial sweating

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches can also be on just the right side.

Trigeminal Neuralgia

If you have trigeminal neuralgia, you may have a headache on just the right side of your head. The condition causes sudden or continuous episodes of intensely sharp, burning, throbbing, or shock-like pain in the face, including the cheek, jaw, teeth, gums, lips, eyes, and forehead.

The pain almost always occurs on one side of the face— in fact, the right side is more common than the left.

Trigeminal neuralgia is a rare condition. It's believed to happen because of inflammation or compression of the trigeminal nerve (the fifth cranial nerve).

Common triggers of the pain are:

  • Talking
  • Smiling
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Applying makeup
  • Shaving

Cervicogenic Headache

You may get a headache on the right side if you have a cervicogenic headache, which is caused by a bone, joint, or soft tissue problem in the neck. This type of headache causes one-sided pain that starts in the neck and spreads to the front of the head.

The pain of a cervicogenic headache starts or gets worse with neck movement and is usually accompanied by neck stiffness and arm or shoulder pain on the same side as the head pain.

Giant Cell Arteritis

You can also get a headache on the right side if you have other conditions that are not headache disorders.

One example is giant cell arteritis (GCA) or temporal arteritis. It is a type of blood vessel inflammation (vasculitis) that affects large- and medium-sized arteries. The arteries in the neck that travel to the head are the most commonly affected.

The headache of GCA is new in onset, severe, and is usually located over one of the temples—which might be on the right side.

Other symptoms of GCA include:

  • Scalp tenderness
  • Pain when chewing (jaw claudication)
  • Vision loss
  • Muscle stiffness and pain

Ruptured Brain Aneurysm

There are also some medical emergencies that can cause a headache on just the right side.

For example, if an enlarged artery bursts open and bleeds into the brain (ruptured brain aneurysm) it can cause a severe, explosive headache called a thunderclap headache. The pain can be on just one side of the head.

A thunderclap headache reaches maximal intensity within one minute. A person may also have other symptoms like:

  • Confusion
  • Seizure
  • Passing out (fainting)
  • Fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Neurological problems like weakness or numbness

Other Causes of Thunderclap Headache

A thunderclap headache is not always a sign of an aneurysm. It can also occur with other serious health conditions, such as:

Other Types of Headaches

There are also other types of headaches that can cause pain on just the right side, though it's not as common.

Tension-type headaches are the most common primary headache disorder. However, they tend to cause all-over head pain, not just pain on one side.

Tension-type headaches cause a gripping or rubber band-like sensation around the head. They are milder compared to migraine or cluster headaches. While they can come with light sensitivity or sound sensitivity, they do not cause both symptoms.

There are also secondary headaches that mimic migraine or tension-type headaches and can be felt on just one side of the head, such as:

  • Postinfectious headaches usually develop from a viral infection like influenza (flu) or COVID-19.
  • Post-traumatic headaches occur after a traumatic brain injury and can also come up with dizziness, nausea, and problems concentrating.
  • Brain tumor headaches can be constant and get worse at night or early in the morning.
  • Headaches from an ischemic stroke (when an artery that supplies blood to the brain is clogged) usually occur are the same time as any neurological symptoms.
One-Sided Primary Headaches
  • Migraine

  • Cluster headache

  • Hemicrania continua

  • Paroxysmal hemicrania

  • SUNCT syndrome

Generalized Primary Headaches
  • Tension-type headache

  • Migraine

Treatment for Right Side Headache

Most headaches, including those on the right side of the head, can be treated with a combination of medication and home remedies.

Medication

There are several prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can be used to treat the different types of headaches felt on the right side.

Migraines

Mild to moderate migraines are usually treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen), or Aleve (naproxen sodium).

However, more severe migraine attacks typically require a triptan, like Imitrex (sumatriptan), or a combination NSAID/triptan, like Treximet.

For people with migraines who cannot take or tolerate a triptan, a drug that targets a specific serotonin receptor, called Reyvow (lasmiditan), might be helpful.

Alternatively, a calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) blocker such as Nurtec ODT (rimegepant) can be tried.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are usually treated first by inhaling oxygen. If oxygen is not helpful, a triptan that is injected or inhaled through the nose is usually tried. Imitrex is available in injectable and inhaled forms.

Hemicrania Continua and Paroxysmal Hemicrania

Both hemicrania continua and paroxysmal hemicrania will get better when taking an NSAID called Indocin (indomethacin).

SUNCT Syndrome

SUNCT is harder to treat but may respond to corticosteroids (steroids) or certain anti-seizure drugs like Lamictal (lamotrigine).

Giant Cell Arteritis

GCA is treated with high doses of corticosteroids.

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is usually treated with medications like Tegretol (carbamazepine), Neurontin (gabapentin), or Trileptal (oxcarbazepine).

Cervicogenic Headache

A cervicogenic headache can be treated with a nerve pain medication called Lyrica (pregabalin).

If medication is not effective, an anesthetic (numbing) blockade of the affected joint in the neck may be helpful.

Ruptured Brain Aneurysm

A ruptured brain aneurysm is a medical emergency that requires immediate brain surgery to place a clip on the artery to stop it from bleeding into the brain.

Home Remedies for Right Side Headache

If you have a headache on the right side, there are also some home remedies that might be helpful, but it will depend on what kind of headache you have.

For example:

  • Migraines can be eased by resting in a dark, quiet room, and placing a cold pack or compress on the area of pain.
  • Cluster headaches can be managed by engaging in deep breathing exercises and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. Limiting alcohol use and not smoking might also be helpful.
  • Cervicogenic headaches often respond well to doing range-of-motion and stretching exercises under the guidance of a physical therapist. Neck and head pain might be soothed by applying either a cold compress or a moist, heated towel for 10- to 15-minute intervals.

When to See a Provider for a Headache on the Right Side

Most headaches on the right side are not serious or dangerous. However, there are some signs and symptoms that could go along with a right-sided headache that would alert you to a more serious cause.

Call your provider if:

  • Your headache pattern is changing
  • Your headache is preventing you from engaging in normal, daily activities
  • You have a new headache and are over age 65, are pregnant or just gave birth, or have a history of cancer or a weakened immune system
  • Your headache is triggered by sneezing, coughing, or exercising
  • You are experiencing a headache associated with taking painkillers regularly

When to Go to the ER For a Right-Sided Headache

Go to your nearest emergency room if your right-sided headache:

  • Is severe, begins abruptly, and/or is the "worst headache of your life"
  • Is severe and accompanied by a painful red eye, high fever, stiff neck, or confusion
  • Is associated with symptoms of a stroke, such as weakness, numbness, or vision changes
  • Came on after you got a blow to the head

Summary

A headache located on the right side of your head can provide a clue about the type of headache you are having.

While most one-sided headaches are migraines, they can also be caused by an underlying problem with the nerves, blood vessels, or other structures located within your neck, face, or brain.

A Word From Verywell

The cause of headaches on the right side or all over your head can be complex. Diagnosing and treating them can also be complicated.

If you get headaches on the right side and are not managing them well on your own or with your provider, see a headaches specialist. They can make sure you have the correct headache diagnosis and help you get the most effective treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should you worry about a headache?

    Seek emergency medical attention if you have a severe, sudden headache or a headache associated with a high fever, stiff neck, confusion, symptoms of a stroke, or after getting a blow to the head.

  • How long do headaches usually last?

    How long a headache lasts depends on the type. For example, tension-type headaches last 30 minutes to seven days, migraines last four to 72 hours, and cluster headaches last 15 minutes to three hours.

  • Can dehydration cause headaches?

    Dehydration is a trigger for different kinds of headaches, including migraines. If you haven't had enough fluid, a headache can also be a sign of dehydration.

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By Colleen Doherty, MD
 Colleen Doherty, MD, is a board-certified internist living with multiple sclerosis.