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Types of Headaches

There are different types of headaches someone can experience. Each have their own characteristics and symptoms.


This type of headache is distinguished by the fact that symptoms other than pain occur as part of the headache. Nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, sensitivity to light (photophobia), and other visual symptoms typically occur, and some children may have all of these symptoms without head pain. This is known as an abdominal migraine.

Children tend to have migraines that last for a shorter period of time than adult migraines, but the same medications used for adults are typically used for children.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Stress and muscle tension are often factors in tension-type headaches. While symptoms may differ, the following are common symptoms of a tension-type headache:

  • slow onset of the headache
  • head usually hurts on both sides
  • pain is dull or feels like a band or vice around the head
  • pain may involve the back (posterior) part of the head or neck
  • pain is mild to moderate, but not severe

Tension-type headaches typically do not cause nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light (photophobia).

Headache symptoms depend upon the type of headache. The frequency of headaches and the intensity of the symptoms may vary as well. Headache signs and symptoms that may suggest the need to contact your physician include any of the following:

  • when a headache follows a head injury
  • pain that is worsened by strain, such as a cough or a sneeze
  • vomiting without nausea
  • sudden onset of pain and the "worst headache" ever
  • headache that is becoming more severe or continuous
  • changes in vision
  • weakness in the arms or legs
  • seizures or epilepsy

The signs and symptoms of a headache may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches usually start in children older than 10 years of age, and are more common in adolescent males. Cluster headaches usually occur in a series that may last weeks or months, and this series of headaches may return every year or two. While every child may experience symptoms differently, the following are the most common symptoms of a cluster headache:

  • severe pain on one side of the head, usually behind one eye
  • the eye that is affected may have a droopy lid, small pupil, or redness and swelling of the eyelid
  • runny nose or congestion
  • swelling of the forehead