Tingling in the Head: Causes and Treatments

A wide range of issues can cause you to feel numbness, the sensation of pins and needles, or tingling in the head and face. Clinically referred to as paresthesia, this condition is a sign of neuropathy, which is damage or dysfunction of the nerves.

Upper respiratory and sinus infections are common causes of paresthesia, as are headache disorders, head injuries, and diabetes, among other conditions. Tingling in the head may also arise due to neurological and autoimmune conditions, such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and stroke.

This article breaks down the common causes of numbness and pins-and-needles sensations in the head and face, as well as what you can do to manage them.

Head Tingling Location. and Potential Causes - Illustration by Daniel Fishel

Verywell / Daniel Fishel

Causes of Tingling in the Head

The head tingling and numbness associated with paresthesia and primarily signs of nerve disorders in the affected area. Basically, certain nerves in the face and head become hyperactive, signaling pain sensations that aren’t there. This occurs due to nerve impingement (a trapped nerve, when too much pressure is on a nerve), disruptions of blood circulation, nerve inflammation or damage, or chronic underlying conditions.

The list of health conditions that lead to this is extensive.

Sinus and Respiratory Infections

Viral infections of the sinuses and upper respiratory tract can cause an inflammation of tissues that impinges nerves in the head and face, leading to paresthesia. Common infections that cause tingling and numbness of the head include the common cold, influenza (flu), and sinusitis.

Anxiety and Stress

Mental health conditions, especially anxiety and stress, have been linked with head tingling and numbness. Constriction of blood vessels is a physiological response to this type of distress, which in turn disrupts nerve function. The sensation of pins and needles has also been reported to affect the tongue and inside of the mouth, a condition called psychogenic lingual paresthesia.

Headaches and Migraines

Paresthesia and numbness may also be a feature of certain kinds of headaches. Several kinds of migraines, including migraine with aura and hemiplegic migraine (a migraine and weakness on one side of the body), are associated with neuropathy and bring on these symptoms. In these cases, patients may report this sensation prior to a headache attack.

Additionally, these symptoms may also arise in other kinds of headaches, such as:

  • Cluster headache (severe, recurring pain)
  • Eye strain headache (caused by focusing on a task for too long)
  • Tension headache (dull pain from stress and muscle tension)

Head Injury

The nerve damage associated with head injuries, such as falls, collisions, or puncture wounds, can also lead to tingling and the sensation of pins and needles. Paresthesia arises as the nerve pathways recover and heal.

Diabetes

Tingling sensations are also a complication of diabetes mellitus (type 2 diabetes), a common metabolic disorder that causes elevated levels of sugars in the blood. Over time, this condition damages the nerves and causes inflammation, leading to symptoms.

Diabetic paresthesia typically affects the hands and feet, though some, especially older patients, also experience it in the head and face.

Substance Misuse

Among the health effects of excessive consumption of alcohol is damage to the nerves, called alcoholic neuropathy. The sensation of pins and needles in the head or face may be a sign of prolonged abuse, especially among drinkers who have malnutrition or thiamine deficiency.

Medications

Neuropathy of the face and head can also be side effects of a range of medications. Type of drugs that may cause it include:

Be Aware of Side Effects

If you’ve been prescribed any medication, make sure you’re aware of its side effects and learn the correct way to use it. Ask your doctor or pharmacist any questions you have about safe and effective use, as well as what signs might prompt calling them or seeking emergency care.

ASMR

A relaxation approach that first became popular around 2010, autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos work in part by spurring a pleasant kind of paresthesia in the neck and head. These videos often depict repetitive movements and have a soothing, intimate quality. They may feature someone whispering, brushing hair, or eating crunchy foods.  

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a degenerative autoimmune disorder of the central nervous system, in which the immune system attacks the lining of nerves in the brain, spine, or eyes. Alongside muscle weakness, cognitive issues, spasticity (muscle tightness), and pain, MS is causes tingling and numbness in the face and head.

Epilepsy and Other Seizures

Seizures, often occurring due to the neurological disorder epilepsy, are bursts of disruptive activity in the brain. They cause convulsions, among other symptoms. Especially if attacks occur repeatedly, paresthesia and neuropathy in the face and head can result.

Bacterial and Viral Infections

Certain bacterial and viral infections can also lead to tingling in the head and face. This can accompany encephalitis, a bacterial infection that causes swelling of the brain.

Symptoms also arise in cases of transverse myelination, a rare condition that causes inflammation in the spine. Most cases of TM arise are due to viral and bacterial infections, including:

Autoimmune Diseases

Alongside MS, several other autoimmune disorders cause nerve damage, leading to paresthesia:

Neurodegenerative Conditions

Characterized by progressive deterioration of neurons in the central nervous system (CNS), neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, which affects movement, and dementia, which affects cognitive function, may also cause numbness and tingling in the head.

Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia is a rare kind of headache that arises in the neck before spreading up to the head, face, and eyes. These headaches occur due to irritation and compression of the occipital nerve at the top of the spine and base of the skull, causing numbness and tingling. This can occur as a result of trauma or compression, as well as other conditions like arthritis, tumors, or lesions.

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Compression around the trigeminal nerve, a major nerve of the face and eye, can also be a cause of tingling in the head. This chronic condition, called trigeminal neuralgia, primarily arises as sharp, stabbing, and severe facial pain. 

Stroke

Ischemic strokes and transient-ischemic attacks (ministrokes), bursts of irregular brain hyperactivity caused by blood clots, are another common reason people experience paresthesia. This medical emergency leads to rapid cell death among neurons (brain cells), which can cause long-term cognitive and functional effects.    

 Other Conditions and Causes

Other conditions lead to tingling symptoms in patients are:

  • Bell’s palsy is a paralysis or weakness of one side of the face brought on by infection or autoimmune disease that also causes drooping around the eye and mouth.
  • High blood pressure can cause microvascular cranial nerve palsy, in which blood flow to nerves is disrupted.
  • Tumors or vascular lesions (abnormal growths) in the spine or brain can also compress nerves, causing symptoms.
  • Hypothyroidism, which is insufficient activity of the thyroid gland, can affect nerve function, cause pain and numbness.
  • Deficiency in vitamin B12 can also impact the nerves and cause tingling.
  • Poor posture can cause compression of nerves in the neck and back of the head.
  • Electrolyte imbalances, elevated or depleted levels of important minerals like calcium, potassium, and sodium, may also cause neuropathy.

Specific Symptoms and Causes

The nature of the paresthesia depends on the nerve or nerves affected, as well as the underlying condition causing the issue. It’s a good idea to keep track of your condition, as this information can help your doctor with diagnosis. Here’s a quick breakdown of specific symptoms as well as what causes them.  

Tingling in the Head: One Side Only

In some cases, the paresthesia is unilateral, meaning it affects only one side of the head or face; it can also affect one ear or one temple. This occurs in cases of:

  • Infection of the facial nerve
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Diabetes
  • Migraine
  • MS
  • Stress and anxiety

Tingling in the Head and Face

Many cases of paresthesia affect both sides of the face or head, though only individual sides or areas are sometimes affected. Along with the conditions listed above, the following conditions can contribute to tingling:

Tingling in the Head and Neck

When nerves in the neck become pinched, compressed, or damaged, tingling in the head occurs. Called cervical radiculopathy, this is caused by disk herniation (painful condition caused by pressure within the disks of the spine) or bone spurs (osteophytes, bony growths on the ends of bones) in the neck.

Tingling in the Head and Dizziness

The combination of tingling in the head and light-headedness and dizziness can be indicative of a range of conditions as well. These symptoms are seen in cases of:

  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Ear infection
  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage caused by high blood sugar)
  • Head injury or blunt trauma
  • Certain infections
  • Stress, anxiety, and panic attacks
  • Ischemic stroke or transient ischemic stroke

Cold Sensation in the Head

Sensations of cold in the head, such as the pain associated with brain freeze, are typically the result of disruptions in blood flow. As the temperature around blood vessels in the mouth drops, the body automatically dilates the vessels to compensate. This can lead to headaches.

Coping

Most cases of tingling in the head are temporary and resolve on their own as the underlying condition resolves. For more persistent cases, taking care of what’s causing the tingling will resolve the issue. It’s therefore important to know when you need medical help, as well as what you can do to ease the symptoms.  

At-Home Remedies

Lifestyle changes and other at-home approaches can decrease the incidence of tingling issues related to stress and anxiety, posture, primary headache disorders. Furthermore, there are steps you can take to combat diabetes and reduce blood pressure, which can also help. This involves:

  • Getting plenty of rest and going to bed at the same time every day
  • Working on stress relief and developing stress management strategies
  • Ensuring you have good posture
  • Getting the recommended amount of exercise
  • Avoiding repetitive movements

Alternative Therapies

While the evidence is somewhat mixed, some alternative methods can also be attempted to help with head paresthesia or problems related to nerves. These include:

When to See a Healthcare Provider

In some cases, the paresthesia is a sign of something serious. Get immediate emergency help if you’re experiencing head tingling along with the following:

  • Sudden onset of head tingling
  • Confusion
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Black outs/loss of consciousness
  • Numbness and loss of sensation in major portions of the body
  • Paralysis
  • Inability to speak or speech disruptions
  • Disruption of vision
  • Sudden onset of weakness

Summary

Tingling in the head, referred to clinically as paresthesia, is the result of compression or damage to nerves of the face, head, or neck. A wide range of diseases and conditions can cause parasthesia. Most common among these are diabetes, stress, anxiety, and primary headache disorders, as well as certain infections and neurological conditions.

Most cases of tingling in the head resolve on their own. However, others are signs of more serious issues. Home management involves promoting relaxation and boosting dietary and fitness habits.

A Word From Verywell

If tingling in the head is something you experience, it’s important to understand what underlying condition you’re dealing with. It may be difficult to find the cause, as a wide range of cases cause tingling in the head. However, having an answer and the right treatment can make all the difference. This means being vigilant about what you experience and being willing to get medical help. The sooner you know what’s causing paresthesia, the sooner you'll get relief.  

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can anxiety cause weird head sensations?

    Yes. When anxiety levels are high or you experience a panic attack, the body initiates a range of physical responses. Among these is constriction of the blood vessels, affecting blood flow to nerves in the head. As a result, people experience sensations of pins and needles, pain, and other symptoms.

  • Why does my head feel like brain freeze?

    Brain freeze, a benign type of headache when you drink a very cold drink too fast, is related to changes in blood flow. The cold of the drink spurs your body to open up blood vessels as a means of warming up, which can spur head pain.

  • Can high blood pressure cause tingling in head?

    Tingling in the head can also arise if you have high blood pressure (hypertension). Disrupted blood flow to nerves in the head leads to microvascular nerve palsy, a disorder of the facial nerve that can also lead to tingling.

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