Headaches - Different types and causes (Part 1 of 2)

Did you know...

Did you know that over 90% of all Americans experience headaches? While headaches may be common, not all are the same. If and how you treat them depends on what type of headaches you experience. Below is the first portion of our 2 part series where we will be covering the different types of headaches, their symptoms, and their causes.


A Sinus headache is often described as a deep and constant pain in your cheekbones, forehead, or the bridge of your nose. The pain usually gets stronger when you move your head suddenly or strain. You may also experience other sinus symptoms, such as:

  • A runny nose

  • Feeling of fullness in your ears

  • Fever

  • Swelling in your face


Most often, sinus headaches are a symptom of sinusitis, where the sinuses become inflamed from allergies or other triggers like an infection. Other causes of sinus headaches include seasonal allergies that last an extended period of time (also known as rhinitis or hay fever), sinus infections, and sinus blockages.



Tension headaches can be described as a dull pain, tightness, or pressure around your forehead or the back of your head and neck. Some people say it feels like something is squeezing their skull. These headaches are the most common type for adults and are often referred to as stress headaches.

Tension headaches are caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck regions. A variety of foods, activities, and stressors can cause these types of contractions. Some of the more common triggers include:

  • Alcohol

  • Eye strain

  • dry eyes

  • Fatigue

  • Smoking

  • A cold or flu

  • A sinus infection

  • Caffeine

  • Poor posture

  • Emotional stress

  • Staring at a computer for a long time

  • Driving for long periods

  • Cold temperatures



A migraine is a powerful headache that often is accompanied with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. They can last from 4 hours to 3 days, and sometimes longer.

According to the American Migraine Foundation more than 36 million Americans get them, and women 3 times more often than men. Most people start having migraine headaches between ages 10 and 40. However, many women find that their migraines improve or disappear after age 50.


Doctors don’t know the exact cause of migraine headaches, although they seem to be related to changes in the brain as well as to genes that run in families. You can even inherit the triggers that give you migraine headaches, like fatigue, bright lights, and weather changes. Other common triggers include:

  • Alcohol

  • Caffeine

  • Stress

  • Sensory stimuli such as bright lights, sun glare, loud sounds, and strong smells.

  • Changes in sleep

  • Physical Exertion

  • Medications

  • Foods and Eating Habits. Examples include aged cheeses, processed foods, skipping meals, and fasting.

  • Food additives such as aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG)



Cluster headaches are a series of relatively short but extremely painful headaches that occur every day for weeks or months at a time. While it’s not always the case, they tend to occur around the same time each year such as spring or fall. As a result of their seasonal nature they are often misdiagnosed as symptoms of allergies.

Symptoms include intense pain around one eye that is severe enough that most people can't sit still and will often pace during an attack. Cluster headaches can be more severe than a migraine, but they usually don't last as long.

Other symptoms include:

  • Discomfort or a mild burning sensation

  • Swollen or drooping eye

  • Smaller pupil in the eye

  • Eye redness or watering

  • Runny or congested nose

  • Red, warm face

  • Sweating


It’s unknown what causes cluster headaches but it has been shown that they are more common in people who smoke and heavy drinkers. During a “cluster period” sufferers are more sensitive to alcohol and nicotine. Having just a little bit can trigger another headache. It’s also believed that these headaches are in some way related to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.