Headache pills falling out of pill bottle.

headache symptoms:

important things to know.

If you experience an occasional headache, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that up to 75% of adults worldwide had a headache in the past year.1 Head pain can result from any number of causes and come in many different varieties, including tension headaches, migraine headaches, and caffeine headaches.

Headaches can be debilitating, especially if you are getting them often. Head pain is one of the most common conditions MDLIVE board-certified doctors care for every year.

  • 1https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9639-headaches

Get the facts on headaches.

Dr. Cynthia E. Collins, MDLIVE Clinical Medical Director, talks us through the facts about head pain, symptoms, and treatments. If you’re having frequent headaches or migraines, talk to an MDLIVE doctor in minutes to feel better faster.

What causes a headache?

While it may feel like it, a headache has nothing to do with your brain. Your brain tissue has no nerve fibers and doesn’t ‘feel’ pain. A headache is pain in the head or face area, the nerves that run over your scalp, or blood vessels at the base of your brain. Headaches can be hereditary, especially migraines, or can be caused by common triggers such as alcohol use, change in eating or sleeping patterns, depression, dehydration, muscle strain, weather changes, and eye, dental or jaw problems.

There are generally two kinds of headaches – primary and secondary. Primary headaches are head pain not triggered by other issues with your body. Secondary headaches are pain derived from one or more other health issues, including allergies, lack of caffeine or too much caffeine, hypertension, infection, illness, or injury. Cold food or drinks can also cause a headache called “brain freeze,” which is not serious and goes away quickly.

Primary headaches

Type Causes

Tension headache

Stress, anxiety

Migraine headache

Genetics, hormones, stress. Learn more about migraine headaches here

Cluster headache

Cause unknown

Secondary headaches

Type Causes

Sinus headache

Sinus infections, colds, and allergies

Caffeine headache

Too much caffeine, withdrawal from caffeine

Hormonal headache

A quick drop in estrogen levels right before menstruation

Some surprising causes of headaches.

While there are many common triggers for headaches, keep an eye out for some of the more uncommon causes:



Take it easy on meats like cold cuts, sausage, and hot dogs – they contain nitrates that can make your head ache.

perfume spray


Strong scents like perfumes, paint, and ammonia can trigger or worsen headaches.

ponytail hairstyle


Let your hair down. Pulling it back too tight or wearing tight hats and headbands can bring on a headache.



Sit up straight! Slumping in your chair can create pressure in your head and neck.

water drops


Drink up! When your body doesn’t get the fluids it needs, your brain shrinks away from your skull and causes pain. Learn more about the importance of staying hydrated.

Common symptoms of a headache include:

The symptoms and head pain accompanying a headache will vary, depending on what type of headache you have. Some headaches hurt on both sides of your head, and others focus on one area. COVID headaches present as whole-head pressure and are one of the first symptoms of COVID that people can have. Pain can range from mild to severe and cause other symptoms throughout the body:2

  • 2https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/headache

Throbbing pain

sharp headache

Sharp, intense pain

neck pain

Neck and shoulder pain

eye pain

Eye pain or sensitivity

abdominal pain

Upset stomach



Dr. Collins’ perspective

“Don’t take chances with head pain. If you have a headache that is debilitating or disrupts your daily routine, it’s always a good idea to speak with a doctor. It could resolve with a simple treatment or be a symptom of a more serious illness. Getting medical help quickly can help discover potential causes and get the right treatment to heal the headache so you can have productive days without reoccurrences.”

Different types of headaches.

Where you are feeling the pain can help you determine which kind of headache you have:

Tension Headache

Tension Headache

Migraine Headache

Migraine Headache

Cluster Headache

Cluster Headache

Sinus Headache

Sinus Headache

Caffeine Headache

Caffeine Headache

Hormonal Headache

Hormonal Headache

What treatments are available for headaches?

Depending on your headache type, a board-certified MDLIVE doctor can determine what type of prescription or over-the-counter medication is best for your headache. They can also suggest possible steps you can take at home to alleviate symptoms.

Prescription and over the counter medications:

  • Various prescription medications

  • Acetaminophen

  • Ibuprofen

  • Aspirin

  • Naproxen sodium


  • 3https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-daily-headaches/in-depth/headaches/art-20047375

At-home treatments you can try:

  • Apply a hot or cold compress to your head

  • Rest in a cool, dark room

  • Meditation / Relaxation exercises

  • Massage

  • A small amount of caffeine

Lifestyle changes that can help reduce/prevent headaches:

  • Drink lots of water

  • Get light to moderate exercise for 30 minutes each day

  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep each night

  • Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast

Is stress causing your headaches?

Stress causes a great majority of headaches. If you feel stressed, angry, or need support, you can have your first therapy appointment with an MDLIVE licensed therapist in as little as one week. Here is Dr. Collins’ advice on letting your anger go.

Schedule an appointment

Dr. Collins’ perspective

“If a cold or sinus infection is causing your headache, speak with an MDLIVE doctor to ease your symptoms and get the right type of treatment. Frequent tension headaches can be caused by stress or not getting enough sleep. This is how to get more sleep.”

How can you get help without going to a doctor’s office?

If severe or frequent headaches affect your normal routine, have an appointment with an MDLIVE board-certified doctor by phone or video in minutes. With reliable 24/7 care, MDLIVE can help ease your headache symptoms and help you feel better faster.4

  • 4If you have a medical or mental health emergency, call 911. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience a life-threatening condition or acute or severe symptoms, including headaches that are extremely severe, steadily getting worse, the result of head trauma, or are accompanied by high fever, slurred speech, weakness, numbness, or seizures.

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