Nine Ways to Get Rid of a Headache

A headache is a painful sensation that can be felt anywhere on the face or head. Headaches can vary in intensity from mild to severe, and there are several different types of headaches that you may experience.

Read on to learn more about the varying types of headaches, what causes them, and how you can find relief at home.

Man with a headache

Colin Hawkins / Getty

Types


According to the International Headache Society, there are more than 150 types of headaches. Headaches fall into one of two categories—primary or secondary headaches.

A primary headache is a headache that isn't the result of a medical condition. Some examples include:

A secondary headache are headaches that are associated with other conditions, including:

Headaches may vary based on factors like cause, frequency, and location.

Migraine

A migraine typically appears on one side of the head or as a feeling of pressure behind one eye. The pain may be moderate to severe and can cause a throbbing or pulsating sensation. The pain may also worsen with usual physical activity.

Symptoms of a migraine headache include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Worsening of symptoms around light or noise
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Pain that begins at night and wakes you from sleep

Tension Headache

After a migraine, a tension headache is the most common form of headache.

Tensions headaches may also be referred to as "hatband" headaches because the pain of a tension headache feels as though you are wearing a hat that is too tight. This causes pain around the forehead, temples, and the back of the head.

A tension headache can cause pain on both sides of the head. The pain may feel like a deep tightening pain that is mild to moderate in intensity, although these headaches typically do not cause throbbing or pulsing.

What Makes a Tension Headache Worse?

The symptoms of a tension headache may worsen when you look into the light or hear loud noises. A tension headache can last from minutes up to several days.

Cluster Headache

Compared to a migraine, a cluster headache lasts for a relatively short amount of time. Cluster headaches usually last between 20 minutes to two hours.

A cluster headache is located on one side of the head, face, or neck and does not switch sides. The pain may become more intense very quickly, often within the first five to 10 minutes. A cluster headache may also worsen when lying down.

Cluster headaches may happen several times a day for multiple days or weeks at a time before disappearing again.

A cluster headache may be accompanied by other symptoms, including:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Droopy eyelids
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Watery eyes
  • Sweating on face or forehead

They are regarded as some of the most painful forms of headaches.

Sinus Headache

A sinus headache commonly affects the area around the eyes, the bridge of the nose, the cheekbones, and forehead.

The pain of a sinus headache is often described as deep and constant. Sudden movements, exercise, and leaning over can make sinus headaches feel worse as these activities increase the pressure on the sinuses.

A sinus headache may be accompanied by other symptoms, including:

  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Feeling fullness in the ears
  • Plugged ears
  • Swollen face
  • Puffy face
  • Increased mucus in the nasal cavity

How to Get Rid of a Headache

Most headaches will go away with over the counter medications. Migraine and cluster medications will require specific medication to be treated effectively.

At-Home Remedies

There are some steps that you can take at home to manage headaches and reduce their frequency and intensity, including:

  1. Identify and avoid known triggers like certain foods or lack of sleep
  2. Exercise regularly
  3. Make adjustments to your diet to incorporate appropriate nutrients
  4. Manage stress levels
  5. Rest in a dark and quiet environment
  6. Maintain a good posture
  7. Drink enough water
  8. Use a cold or hot compress
  9. Get a massage to relieve tension

When to See a Doctor

Headaches are common and most people will experience them in their lifetime. Typically, headaches do not cause debilitating pain and can be managed with over-the-counter medication.

However, if you get frequent headaches or your headaches stop you from performing everyday activities, you should discuss the issue with a healthcare professional.

There are also times when a headache can be an indication of something more serious. You should contact a medical professional if you have a severe headache accompanied with other symptoms, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Convulsions
  • Muscle weakness
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Pain in the eye
  • Pain in the ear
  • Numbness

Additional circumstances in which your headache should be investigated by a healthcare provider include:

  • Headaches that come on suddenly
  • A headache that worsens over a few weeks
  • Unusual visual symptoms that last longer than an hour and are accompanied by muscle weakness
  • Headaches that occur in the morning and don't go away

A Word From Verywell

Headaches are common and can be caused by a variety of factors. The pain from a headache may range from dull to sharp and can affect different areas on the head and face. If you are experiencing a headache, it will likely subside over time and can be alleviated with the help of pain-relieving medications. If your headaches are persistent, a healthcare professional will be able to help you identify what type of headache you're experiencing and advise the best treatment options.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does a COVID headache feel like?

    COVID-19 may cause a new and persistent headache that hasn't been experienced prior to contracting the virus. This kind of headache may happen daily and persist even after recovering from a COVID infection.

  • Why do I always wake up with a headache?

    Headaches that occur when you first wake up may be an indication of a sleeping disorder. This may be due to sleep apnea, insomnia, or exploding head syndrome. Exploding head syndrome is a disorder in which people hear a crash or explosion that isn't really there in the moments between sleeping and waking.

  • What can I take for a headache while pregnant?

    Pregnant women are not advised to use migraine medications. It is also recommended that you try to treat headaches without the use of medications. Sleep, relaxation, eating a health diet, and a cold or hot compress may help alleviate headaches in those who are pregnant.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hokpins Medicine. Headache.
  2. The International Headache Society. The International Classification of Headache Disorders 3rd edition.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Headaches.
  4. Stanford Health Care. Types of Headache.
  5. Stanford Health Care. Tension Headache.
  6. Stanford Health Care. Cluster Headache.
  7. Health Direct. Headaches.
  8. Your COVID Recovery. Headache.

  9. Ganguly G, Mridha B, Khan A, Rison RA. Exploding head syndrome: a case reportCase Rep Neurol. 2013;5(1):14-17.

  10. Pregnancy birth and baby. Headaches during pregnancy.