Different types of headaches and when to see your doctor

In Health and Wellness

Headaches are one of the most problematic pains we experience throughout life. They are often scary, difficult to describe, and can cause debilitating pain that no one else sees. When we experience an unusual headache that lasts longer than a few hours, we often become afraid it could be life-threatening. But is your headache severe enough for a doctor’s visit?

At PPOA, we want to help patients determine when a headache can get better with over-the-counter medication and some rest and what might indicate a life-threatening or chronic condition. Below are some of the different types of common headaches and how to determine when to see your doctor: 

Sinus headache

A “sinus” headache is not technically a diagnosis but a description of the type of headache during the common cold or an allergy flare-up. If you are experiencing a mild cold and have an accompanying headache, this headache can typically be remedied with an OTC pain reliever and rest. 

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are intense headaches that appear in clusters every few hours or every few days. You know you’re experiencing a cluster headache if you have the following symptoms: 

  • Intense pain typically focused around the eye 
  • Swollen, drooping eyelid and tears
  • Nasal congestion
  • It lasts 15 minutes to three hours

If you’re experiencing an excruciating headache like this, you should seek medical attention to rule out other causes. 

Seek immediate medical care if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms alongside your headache:

  • Stiff neck
  • Rash
  • Confusion or slurred speech
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Vision loss
  • Paralysis in any part of your body
  • Excruciating headache that comes on quickly
  • A headache that worsens, especially after a head injury

Thunderclap headaches

A thunderclap headache is a severe headache that seems to come out of nowhere, like a thunderclap. It typically peaks in intensity within 60 seconds and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fever, or cognitive problems. 

Seek medical attention if you experience one of these headaches to rule out severe life-threatening conditions.


Migraines are intense, throbbing headaches that can cause nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. There is no definitive cause for migraines, but they can and should be treated to ensure they don’t inhibit your everyday life. 

If you experience migraines frequently, contact a PPOA physician today. We can help you manage your migraines and ensure they don’t return. 

Chronic headaches or migraine

Chronic headaches are characterized by headaches that occur more than 15 days per month. They can be caused by genetic conditions, age, weight, and lifestyle, but regardless of the cause, they can quickly become debilitating for the patient. 

If you have headaches more days than not during the month, contact your pain management physician to discuss treatment options. 

Headaches are never fun, but they can be mitigated with the help of a pain specialist. If you have headaches that are chronic or unexplained, contact your PPOA physician to talk about solutions. 


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