The different types of headaches, their potential causes, symptoms and how you can treat them without taking medicines

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The different types of headaches, their potential causes, symptoms and how you can treat them without taking medicines

About half of the total adult population worldwide suffers from recurrent headaches, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates. Due to its societal impacts and the sheer number of global sufferers, the WHO classifies headache prevalence as a public health concern.

More than disrupting our daily lives, headaches can lead to drastic behavioral changes and could reduce the quality of one’s life. They can cripple even the strongest and the bravest, leading to decreased productivity in school, at work and elsewhere. 

If you’re suffering from recurrent headaches (who doesn’t?), it’s not the end of the world. There are simple home remedies for these types of pain and, the best part is, you don’t need to spend money on or worry about taking chemical-laden headache medicines.  

What are the types of headaches?

Primary headaches

Refer to a dysfunction or overactivity within your head structures that are sensitive to pain. The chemical interactions within the brain, nerves or blood vessels surrounding your skull and even tight head and neck muscles can all contribute to primary headaches.  

1. Cluster headache  This happens in cyclical patterns that last from weeks to months. An intense, throbbing pain behind or around one eye is one of the telling signs of a cluster headache. 

Symptoms also include swollen eyelid, watery eyes and a blocked or runny nose, which makes some sufferers suspect hayfever. 

2. Migraine  An intense pain felt on one side of the head and accompanied by nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light, sound and smell are signs of a migraine. Stress and anxiety, sleep disruption, hormonal changes and dehydration are the most common triggers. 

Some sufferers reported sensory disturbances called “aura” before its onset. These include seeing flickering lights, numbness, muscle weakness and partial vision loss. 

3. Tension headache – This occurs when a person is overstressed or their muscles are tense. A dull pain on both sides, in the middle and top of the head are symptoms of a tension headache. Stress, lack of sleep, fatigue, hunger, eye strain and depression can set off this type of headache.  

4. Exertional headache  Intense physical activity such as running, jumping, weightlifting and sexual intercourse can cause exertional headaches. Don’t worry, an attack of this type doesn’t last long.

5. Hypnic headache  If you’re in your 50s and are often awakened by a mild to severe, throbbing head pain, it’s likely a hypnic headache. It’s not clear why they happen and their triggers are still unknown. 

Secondary headaches

Are usually a symptom of an underlying health condition. They’re usually abrupt, with some patients saying it’s the first and worst headache of their lives. 

6. Caffeine-related headaches – While caffeine is touted as a migraine inhibitor, heavy consumption or abruptly eliminating it from your diet can also cause headaches. 

7. Head injury headaches – Hits to the neck and head may cause pain due to accumulation of blood or fluids in the brain.

8. Post-traumatic headaches  This type of headache occurs within seven days following a head injury or after regaining consciousness from a trauma. Its symptoms include insomnia, dizziness, memory problems, fatigue, mood changes and depression.

9. Hormone-related headaches – Variations in estrogen levels can cause headaches. Women who are at various stages of menstruation, ovulation, pregnancy or menopause, including those taking oral contraceptives, are vulnerable to these.

10. Medication overuse headaches – Also known as a rebound headache, MOH is caused by extended use of painkillers, including headache medications.

5 drug-free home treatments for headaches

Painkillers can be addictive and may have adverse effects especially after prolonged consumption. Introducing your body to heal from recurrent headaches free from drugs is essential for your well-being.  

Warm or cold compress

Applying cold therapy is the top self-care treatment for headache sufferers. It works by constricting the blood vessels, numbing the pain and reducing inflammation. A 2013 study found that the application of a neck ice pack targeting the carotid arteries dramatically reduced migraine pain among its test subjects. 

For tension headaches where tight muscles are involved, it is better to use a warm compress to relax the affected muscles. 

Warm or cold shower 

As heat eases tense and painful muscles, a warm shower best to use if you’re suffering from headaches and soreness in the other parts of your body. 

However, a cold shower may be better for a migraine bout, as heat could worsen nausea and dizziness that usually accompany it.


Yes, there is such a thing as a water-deprivation (dehydration) headache, according to this study. For you to feel better after the symptoms manifest, just rehydrate. 

Remove any pressure on the head

Sometimes, too much pressure on your head can cause pain. A ponytail that’s too tight or a hat that’s been on your head for too long can cause external compression headaches.   

Say no to bright lights

Light sensitivity dramatically multiplies in some people who have headaches. Bright lights from your computer and mobile phone screens make your symptoms worse. It’s better for you to stay in a dark room or to wear eye mask or migraine head cap to heal faster from headaches. 

You should wear sunglasses outdoors, add anti-glare screens to your computer and install blackout curtains.

Get some shuteye

Adults should have at least seven hours of sleep. A lack of proper sleep not only impacts your mental performance, but it can cause headaches as well.   

Getting enough sleep might help you get rid of headaches. Sneaking in a recovery nap while wearing an eye mask or migraine head cap can put your pain to a screeching halt. 


Endorphins, our body’s natural painkillers and the hormones that trigger positive feelings in our body, are released when we exercise. They likewise help reduce stress, promote deep slumber and better circulation. The deficiencies of these are known to spark migraines or headaches.  

2018 research on pediatric headaches revealed that a lack of exercise might have an impact on the incidences of adolescent headaches. Predictably, regular exercises such as riding a bike and briskly walking for at least 30 minutes daily could help. 

Insert some needles 

Acupuncture is a component of traditional Chinese medicine which involves using small needles and placing them in specific parts of your body to promote self-healing. A research cited its efficacy in preventing and reducing the frequency of migraines and tension headaches, perhaps even more effectively than oral painkillers. 

Massage your pressure points

Reflexology, another traditional Chinese medicine, stresses that massaging specific pressure points may help relieve tension in different parts of your body. 

For headaches, try pinching the area between your thumb and index finger, or the  

area between the eyebrows and the two spots at the base of the eyebrows on either side of the bridge of the nose. A neck massage may also help release tension.

Practice relaxation techniques

Stress and anxiety are headache triggers. By practicing relaxation techniques, a headache sufferer can better control the physiological responses to pain, reducing anxiety and stress.  

According to a 2016 research, progressive muscle relaxation training such as deep-belly breathing and guided meditations may reduce migraine frequency by up to 41 percent. Practicing yoga and stretches in the middle of a headache bout may also help manage pain.

Ginger tea

Ginger and its close relative, turmeric, provide various health benefits, ranking among the top 10 herbal supplements in the US in 2017. A 2018 study affirmed ginger’s efficacy as a complementary treatment for migraines. They do come in various forms, with powder, gel and capsules being the most popular.   

Mix ginger powder with water to make your own relaxing herbal tea that can help with your headaches and even tummy problems.   


Caffeine-filled beverages such as coffee, tea and carbonated drinks can help ease headache symptoms, because it can relax the blood vessels around your brain, increasing circulation and relieving tension. 

However, too much caffeine consumption and withdrawal may also cause headaches. 


Hypersensitivity to specific smells can trigger headaches in some patients. But aromatherapy may be effective in relieving the pain. This study noted that inhaling lavender oil reduced headache severity in patients. Other essential oils like peppermint, chamomile, rosemary and eucalyptus oils are also said to help reduce pain. 

Tweak your diet 

Specific minerals such as magnesiumriboflavin (vitamin B2) and coenzyme Q10 are said to help reduce the incidence of migraine attacks. Avocados, nuts and legumes are known to be rich in magnesium, while vitamin B2-rich foods include milk, beef, fish, avocado and egg. Sources for CoQ10 include pork, fish, spinach, broccoli and sesame seeds.  

You may also need to watch what you’re eating, as some food ingredients—among them being nitrates found in deli meats and monosodium glutamate in Asian dishes—can generate headaches.   

Avoid alcohol intake

Headaches may be an effect of a hangover and could also be a symptom of dehydration, as alcohol is a diuretic. Thus, avoiding alcohol, especially red wine, could reduce your risk of having headaches.

When to see a doctor

Immediate medical attention is needed in headaches that are:

  • Recurring in children.
  • Very sudden and exceptionally painful.
  • Caused by a forceful blow to the head or an accident.
  • Accompanied by vision impairment, imbalance, slurred speech, fever, seizures, loss of consciousness, persistent vomiting, numbness or weakness. 


Headaches can be managed at home through natural means and without using prescription medication. These drug-free headache relievers vary in efficacy, and some may work better than others, depending on your condition. Our advice is to try a few of them to see what works best for you. 

If your symptoms worsen, it’s best to seek medical assistance.

So, how about you? Which home remedies for headache do you swear by? Let’s start a conversation here.

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