Pressure in Your Head? Here’s What It Means

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A rush of pressure or lasting tightness in your head can be uncomfortable, but it isn't always a cause for alarm. Pressure in your head can be caused by a cold, allergies, migraines, and more.

This article will explore what types of problems can cause pressure in your head and what you can do to find relief.

Women holding head

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Symptoms

It can be difficult to figure out what is causing discomfort with a headache. Pain, pressure, irritability, and nausea are all symptoms that can occur with headaches.

Your head is made up of a complex system of lobes, empty spaces called sinuses, blood vessels, nerves, and ventricles. Pressure is regulated very closely in all of these systems, and any disruption to this balance can be noticeable.

Where Is the Pressure?

If you have a head injury, a severe cold, or a migraine, you may have head pain and pressure in more than one place. If the feeling of pressure is more specific, it can help provide clues about the cause of your symptoms.

Medical issues can cause pressure in different areas. For example, a sinus infection may cause pressure in your face, especially under your eyes and around your nose. A migraine or tension headache, on the other hand, can appear as:

  • A band of pressure around the head
  • Pain or pressure behind your eyes
  • Stiffness and pressure at the back of head or neck

If you feel head pressure often, or it becomes worse with treatment, you may want to schedule an appointment with your provider to discuss your symptoms. Details of what the pressure feels like can help your provider make a diagnosis and find the best treatment for you.

Possible Causes of Head Pressure

As much as pressure and pain in your head are important symptoms to discuss with your healthcare provider, the root cause of the problem is not always clear. There are a number of potential causes, some more serious than others.

Tension Headache

Tension headaches are the most common form of headache that feels like pressure around your head. These headaches usually develop because of tightness in the head and scalp muscles caused by:

Unusual positioning of the head or illness can cause tension headaches. Beyond muscle tension, these types of headaches can develop because of:

Adults and older teens are most likely to develop tension headaches, and they are more common in women than in men. Tension headaches can also run in families.

Sinus Headache

A sinus headache (rhinosinusitis) is caused by a viral or bacterial infection in your sinus cavities. There are more than a dozen sinus cavities in your face—on each side of your nose between your eyes, in your cheeks, and on your forehead—so where these headaches cause pressure can vary, depending on which sinuses are infected.

True sinus headaches are rare but are obvious from the thick, discolored nasal drainage that comes with the infection. You might also have facial pain and pressure, lose your sense of smell, or have a fever.

You may develop feelings of pressure when your sinuses are blocked or inflamed because of a cold or allergies.

Migraine

Migraines are a recurring type of headache that can take many forms. Classified as a neurological disease and not just a headache, migraines affect about 39 million Americans and cause symptoms ranging from pain to nausea or visual disturbances (aura).

There are many different causes of migraines, which are usually unique to each person. Some common causes include:

If migraines run in your family, they are likely genetic. The best way to understand what is causing your migraine is to keep a diary of what you ate, your activity, and how you felt before, during, and after a migraine occurs.

Ear Problems

Your ears play a role in helping your body sense movement and balance. A problem in the part of the inner ear that helps control balance can cause a type of migraine called a vestibular migraine. While migraines are often associated with pain, this type of migraine doesn't always feature this symptom. Problems with balance and feelings of vertigo (a sense of spinning) are common with these migraines.

In addition to migraines, an ear infection can also cause feelings of pressure or pain in your head. Infections in the ear put pressure on the delicate structures of the middle and inner ear. These infections are often caused by viral illness or bacteria.

Concussion

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that usually results from a physical blow to the head that causes movement of your brain inside your skull. Contact sports are common causes of concussions. Head pressure and headache are typical symptoms reported with concussions.

Neurological Disease

Many neurological diseases and conditions can lead to increased pressure in your head. One of these conditions is known as intracranial hypertension, a generic term to describe increased pressure in the brain. For some people, there is no clear cause, and this is called idiopathic intracranial hypertension.

Other causes of increased intracranial pressure include:

Treatment

Treatment depends on what is causing the increased pressure in the first place. If the cause of your pain is a cold or headache, you can try home remedies like:

  • Warm compresses on your face to open your sinuses
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants or antihistamines
  • Humidity or steam
  • Rest
  • Massage
  • OTC pain relievers

Head pressure caused by sinus or ear infections may require treatment with antibiotics unless it's caused by a viral illness. You also may need to consider allergies as a potential cause, and find ways to manage and prevent allergic responses.

If a blood clot, increased fluid in your head, or brain tumor is the cause, your healthcare provider will need to perform more tests to tailor your treatment to the underlying problem.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Pressure in your head or head pain isn't always serious, but some conditions can cause these symptoms and require immediate examination and treatment. If the pressure or pain in the head is sudden and severe, seek emergency care.

If you have recurring head pressure or pain, especially with symptoms like loss of balance or coordination, mood changes, fever, or nausea, you should call your healthcare provider or seek emergency medical care.

Summary

Headache, injury, illness, or disease can cause pressure in your head. The location of the pressure or pain can help your healthcare provider determine the cause. Head pressure can be treated with home remedies or may require prescription medication, like antibiotics in more severe cases. Talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns about your symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

Most of the time, pressure in your head is not serious. Regardless of severity, identifying the cause and finding an effective treatment can be a frustrating process. If this feeling comes and goes often or doesn't get better with time, see your healthcare provider to rule out more serious health issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do I feel pressure in my head when standing up?

    Gravity is a major culprit with a head rush. Your blood pressure changes when you stand, and some conditions can make this phenomenon more noticeable.

  • Why do I feel pressure in my head when bending over?

    When you bend over, your blood pressure shifts. This is a normal feeling, but in severe cases might be a cause for concern. If this happens long after you've moved or causes severe dizziness, talk to your healthcare provider.

16 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.
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By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.