Tension, sinus, cluster and migraines...oh my!


Feeling the pressure? Did you know that there are several different types of headaches? These pesky and painful throbs can be quite a pain in the neck, or head. While headaches may appear to be the same, they do vary greatly in terms of pain location, pain intensity and how frequently they occur.

Headaches also vary based on what causes them. When the headache itself is the main medical condition, it is classified as a primary headache. However, if the headache is the result of another underlying medical condition, it is classified as a secondary headache.Take a look at these common causes, symptoms and treatments to help ease the pain.


Causes: Tension headaches, which are the most common type of headache, usually involve a dull pain beginning at the back of your head, moving to the neck and scalp. This type of headache can occur from remaining in the same position for too long or staring at a screen. Computers and TV’s can cause neck and eye strain, leading to a tension headache. Stress and dehydration can also increase the likelihood of a tension headache.

Symptoms: The pain of this type of headache can be described as having a tight band around your head. Your eyes may also feel tired. If you’re having this pain for 15 or so days in a month, then you may have chronic tension headaches, whereas episodic tension headaches do not occur as often.

Treatments: To lessen the effects of tension headaches, turn to relaxation techniques to mitigate stress. Apply a heating pad or moist heat (e.g., a warm, moist towel, shower…etc.) as a way to relax the muscles and ease the tension. Practice good posture, especially while sitting. Try giving yourself a massage, focus on kneading the muscles in your neck.


Causes: Sinus headaches are mostly felt behind the nose and eyes. These headaches are caused by inflamed or infected sinuses. This is typically the result of a cold or allergies.

Symptoms: Some symptoms of sinus headaches include a tender face, pain from sudden head movement and a stuffy or runny nose. You may also run a fever.

Treatments: To treat a sinus headache, first treat the inflammation. You might consider using a humidifier, saline solutions and even salt water to relieve nasal passages and ensure they are open. Drink plenty of fluids to help keep the mucus thinner and easier to clear.


Causes: Cluster headaches, or alarm clock headaches, are named for their pattern of striking at the same time for weeks or months. While there is some debate on the overall cause of cluster headaches, these are some of the most common triggers: alcohol consumption, change in altitude, bright light, overexertion, excessive heat, foods that contain nitrates and smoking cigarettes.

Symptoms: With cluster headaches, pain begins behind or around the eye. Pain will build up with a peak about 10 to 15 minutes after the onset of pain. You may also experience red and/or watering eyes, as well as nasal congestion.

Treatments: Treating cluster headaches can require a visit to the physician as often time’s medication is required. Avoiding smoking and alcohol use as these could trigger cluster headaches.


Causes: Migraines are not a severe headache, but rather neurological condition. This condition is three times in women than men. They are distinguished by the fact that symptoms other than pain occur as a part of the condition. Migraines can be caused by multiple triggers, varying from person to person. Some of the most common triggers stem from sudden changes, like changes in weather, barometric pressure, diet, sleep and stress.

Symptoms: With migraines, severe pain is often accompanied by nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, vomiting, sensitivity to lights, smell and even some facial numbness.

Treatments: Like cluster headaches, treating migraines typically requires a multi-faceted approach. In addition to consulting with your physician for medication, you can also utilize these suggestions to help relieve the pain: stay quiet, use cold to numb the pain, avoid light and drink lots of fluids.

When it comes to headaches, whichever type they are, prevention is key. The first step in prevention is to learn your triggers. In addition, there are several self-care techniques that can help reduce pain and ease tension. However, in the event that headaches become a chronic condition, Gwinnett Medical Center’s Neurological specialists are here to help. Your primary care physician can ensure that daily pain is a thing of the past by addressing causes, symptoms and effective treatment options. 

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