How to cure headaches: types of headaches and how to treat them

how to cure headaches

Headaches are one of the most common health complaints and can have over 200 different causes. The trigger is not always as easy to determine as with head injuries. Usually the causes are harmless and can be treated yourself with simple means. We outline how to cure headaches, how to identify different types of headaches, and how to treat them with home remedies or medication.

How to cure headaches: overview

Almost everyone has a headache now and then. Still, only about one in a hundred goes to the doctor about it. No wonder: conventional medicine cannot cure the two main forms, tension headaches and migraines. Nevertheless, it makes sense to see a doctor if you have frequent, severe headaches that last longer than two days.

The medical term for headache is cephalgia. There are over 200 different types of headache. The pain is mostly caused by overexcited cells in the skull. There is no obvious physical harm in headache, but neuronal associations are unbalanced. It occurs outside the brain, because the brain itself has no pain receptors and is therefore insensitive to pain.

However, too much pressure on the meninges and the nerve tracts that run in them can cause pain. Reduced blood flow or inflammation of the meninges (meningitis) can also trigger the symptoms. Also read how to treat swollen lips: causes, cures and prevention

Headache is one of the most common ailments, along with back pain, especially in women. The complaints are very varied. They can affect different or several parts of the head, occur in attacks or be felt all the time. Depending on the cause, headaches occur either in certain areas of the head or in the entire head.

The pain intensity can be very different and also depends on the individual pain sensation of the person concerned. Patients describe various forms of headache as dull, stabbing, pressing, throbbing, or boring. For some, the symptoms are constant, for others it is fluctuating.

The pain can be so severe that the person becomes sick and vomits. Sensitivity to light and visual disturbances are also possible accompanying symptoms. Both of these can lead to depression. If the headache is accompanied by a high fever, vomiting, stiff neck and clouded consciousness, a doctor should be consulted immediately. Also read how to cure hiccups: complete guide to get rid of hiccups

How to cure headaches: types of headaches

Primary headaches

Primary headaches are those where the headache itself is the problem, rather than just a symptom of an underlying illness. Primary headaches include tension headaches, migraines and hangovers.

A migraine means strong, paroxysmal occurring, usually unilateral headaches that are often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Sometimes a so-called aura such as blurred vision, sensitivity to light or tingling precedes. In migraines, the blood vessels in the brain change: first they constrict and then they expand significantly. In addition to these vascular changes, inflammatory processes and disturbances in the chemical messenger substances in the brain probably also play a role.

There are many triggers for these types of headaches: psychological reasons (stress, excessive demands), hormonal changes during the cycle or during menopause, diet, weather conditions, unfavorable posture. Drafts, ametropia, muscular changes, environmental toxins, noise, alcohol , nicotine, lack of sleep or altered sleep-wake rhythm. Various factors can also play a role.

Sometimes it’s just dehydration and all you have to do is drink something. Sometimes it is due to used air in the room and it is sufficient to briefly open the window for fresh air. But also with weather changes, tension in the back or with female hormone fluctuations during the cycle, different types of headaches including the most common side effects such as nausea and circulatory problems can occur.

Tense neck muscles: In most cases, this is the result of a lack of exercise, long periods of sitting, the wrong mattress, uncomfortable shoes or stress. The cramped back and neck area often pinches nerves that end in the head area and leads to tension headaches. In this case, warmth and stretching can have a beneficial effect. Those affected should put a hot water bottle on the neck for about 30 minutes. If there is no improvement, pain pills can help.

Hormone fluctuations: An imbalance in important messenger substances can trigger headaches, especially migraines. If the serotonin level in the brain is too high, blood vessels contract, which is discussed by medical professionals as the cause of migraine headaches. Doctors recommend taking an antiemetic at the first signs of the attack. It relieves nausea and enhances the effects of pain relievers.

Painkillers: Painkillers can also cause headaches. If these are consumed too often, additional chronic complaints can occur. These are then often expressed in dull, oppressive to stabbing headaches that last the whole day. Both halves of the head are typically affected by the symptoms for at least two weeks. For this reason, headache patients should take analgesics or migraine drugs for a maximum of ten days a month. In doing so, they prevent drugs from becoming the cause of chronic headaches. However, it takes several years for this headache to settle due to overuse of over-the-counter pain relievers.

Lifestyle: Stress, smoking or alcohol can trigger migraines. But long periods of sitting in front of the screen, lack of sleep or irregular sleep can also trigger migraines and other primary forms of headache.

If you get primary headaches often, it is best to keep a headache journal for a while. Enter when and how severe what type of headache occurs. This information can be an important aid in treatment.

Tension headaches

The most common type of headache is a tension headache. These can last anywhere from half an hour to a week. Both sides of the head are affected by a pressing or constricting pain of mild to medium strength. The pain radiates from the back of the head to the forehead or shoulder. As a rule, the symptoms only appear occasionally, but they can also become permanent.

Tension headache is to be categorized as chronic if it occurs for at least three months on more than 14 days per month. Stress headaches in particular cause tension headaches. Muscular tension in the neck as well as nicotine or alcohol are also triggers. Physical activity can alleviate the discomfort.


Migraines are the second most common type of headache and can severely affect the everyday life of those affected. It manifests itself in one-sided, seizure-like, pulsating and severe pain, which in the course of the attack also changes the side of the head and worsens even with light physical activity. An attack can last from a few hours to several days. Unlike other types of headache, migraines are chronic.

Around half of all those affected suffer one attack per month, and one in ten struggles with four or more attacks. Noise and light often have the effect of aggravating pain. In addition, nausea and vomiting are common symptoms. An attack can be accompanied by visual disturbances such as flickering, streaks, lines or visual field defects, tingling in the arms and legs, and difficulty finding words. Typical signs,

The trigger for migraines can lie in the genes. Certain circumstances, which vary from person to person, then ultimately trigger them. In addition to climatic influences, these also include, for example, bright light, weather changes, hormonal changes (the female cycle or the use of hormone preparations), stress, mental or physical exertion as well as changes in the daily rhythm and rhythm of life. Certain foods and beverages such as red wine and chocolate, as well as certain drugs, can also promote migraine attacks.

Compared to chronic tension headaches, migraines can be treated very well with medication. A non-medicated migraine can mean a very severe reduction in quality of life for those affected. Even small physical exertions are often not possible.

Cluster headache

Cluster headaches are a very rare form of headache that occurs in clusters, episodically. Only every thousandth person is affected, although it occurs more frequently in men than in women. Those affected are afflicted by the pain up to eight times a day for weeks or months, then not at all for months or years. In addition, there are also chronic cases with no or only very short pain-free phases.

Those affected describe the pain as intense, piercing, or stabbing. The attacks usually last between 15 minutes and three hours. The pain manifests itself unilaterally in the area of ​​the eye socket and the temples. Watery and red eyes, redness of the face, a runny or blocked nose and / or a drooping eyelid are typical side effects. Some patients continuously walk back and forth or rock their upper body back and forth during an attack. Alcohol, flickering or harsh lights, and certain food additives are some of the most common triggers.

How to cure headaches: Secondary headaches

Some headaches are caused by illnesses such as high or low blood pressure, flu, meningitis, frontal sinus infection or brain tumor. Headaches can also occur after an accident, for example whiplash injuries. In these cases it is the actual illness or injury that needs to be treated.

Such headaches are called secondary headaches – in contrast to primary headaches, which are not illness-related. Their causes can include:

  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Sinus infection
  • Stroke
  • Brain tumors

Drug headache

Pain relievers used to treat acute headaches can lead to persistent headaches. For fear of pain attacks, those affected sometimes take pain medication every day or increase the dosage on their own initiative. The result is a vicious circle, because the overdose can affect the brain metabolism and lower the limit at which a stimulus is perceived as pain. Stimuli that were previously perceived as normal or not painful by the pain center then lead to pain sensations. As a result, the headache becomes chronic and lasts for at least 15 days per month.

Once pain medication is taken for at least 10 to 15 days per month for at least three months, there is a risk that it will develop into chronic headaches as a result of pain medication overuse.

Illness headache

In rare cases, headaches result from organic damage, illness, or injury. If you see any of these signs, seek medical advice:

  • Fever and chills
  • Stiff neck and / or pain in the neck and back
  • Muscle and joint pain that gets worse or persists
  • fatigue
  • Memory or concentration disorders paired with exhaustion, nausea, dizziness and difficulty walking

These headaches can be triggered by infections, tension, lack of fluids, uncorrected poor eyesight, sensitivity to the weather or stress. The hangover headache is one of them. Most of the triggers for occasional secondary headaches, however, are harmless. The symptoms can usually be brought under control through sleep and relaxation, exercise in the fresh air, two liters of water a day and a balanced diet.

How to keep a headache diary

To identify the cause of the symptoms: keep a headache diary. Your observations on the type, duration, frequency and intensity of the headache as well as your lifestyle and eating habits can provide the doctor with information for his diagnosis. Keep your headache diary like a calendar, preferably for a month or two. Record these points regarding your complaints:

  • Time
  • Strength and duration
  • Type of pain (e.g. throbbing, pounding, pulsating, dull, pressing, stabbing)
  • Localization (unilateral, bilateral, more in the front, back, etc.)
  • Possible triggers (stress, anger, alcohol, coffee, other food and beverages, medication, etc.)
  • Symptoms of an aura (flashes of light, speech disorders, loss of visual field)
  • additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or noise
  • Whether rest or exercise brought relief
  • Weather changes
  • Medicines and their effects
  • For women: whether you are currently on the menstrual period or what stage of your cycle you are

If the pain does not subside or if it keeps getting worse, then a visit to the doctor cannot be postponed. A headache calendar or headache diary can help make connections and identify triggers. You can get a headache diary from your family doctor or neurologist, or you can download it from the Internet.

How to cure headaches with home remedies

Sometimes it is enough to replenish the body’s reserves of fluids. The body needs two to three liters every day. On hot summer days or in everyday stress, it can easily happen that drinking is neglected.

How to cure headaches with warmth

Heat is especially effective for tension headaches. It lowers muscle tension e.g. B. by means of a warmed cherry stone pillow or a moist and warm compress. Warm foot baths or mustard meal foot baths are also recommended for migraines. Alternating showers according to Kneipp as well as foot and arm baths with increasing temperature help. If the head hurts because the sinuses are “closed”, a warmed cherry stone pillow can help.

How to cure headaches with cold

If you feel a throbbing pain, cooling can be pleasant. Keeping a gel pillow from the refrigerator or a cold washcloth on the forehead or temples for several minutes will reduce the perception of pain. If the headache is accompanied by tiredness and low blood pressure, a cold arm bath according can increase the blood flow in the arms and thus change the circulatory system in the upper half of the body. Try also a cool cloth on your forehead.

How to cure headaches with essential oils

Peppermint oil has an analgesic effect. Apply it extensively to the forehead and temples. Caution: essential oils are not suitable for small children and possibly also for asthmatics. Gently massage the temples, crown and neck with peppermint oil, and also try lavender oil for mild relief and better sleep.

How to cure headaches with willow bark

This herbal product contains salicylates, the precursors of the well-known pain reliever acetylsalicylic acid (ASA). The ingredients of willow bark have a similar effect, but not as intense as ASA. It is available as tea, tablets or capsules. It is not recommended for children or for people who take blood thinners.

How to cure headaches with meadowsweet

If you suffer from a headache during a flu-like infection, teas with this medicinal plant have proven themselves. Meadowsweet also contains acetylsalicylic acid precursors and has an analgesic effect.

How to cure headaches with caffeine

Espresso or coffee can improve the symptoms, as caffeine constricts the blood vessels and increases blood pressure. A cup of strong unsweetened coffee mixed with the juice of a lemon can also help.

How to cure headaches with exercise and relaxation

Exercise in the fresh air increases the supply of oxygen and helps. Bathing relaxes the muscles. Relaxation and breathing exercises (e.g. autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation) can help cure headaches.

Home remedies can be relaxing and invigorating for headaches. However, they should only be used carefully in children. For children from two years of age, for example, a little eucalyptus oil can be applied to the temples and carefully massaged in – but only at a safe distance from the eyes, because essential oils can be very stinging. They can also cause skin irritation on sensitive skin. Peppermint oil should not be used in children under the age of six, as it could cause cramps in the airways and asthma-like attacks.


When treating tension headaches and mild migraines with pain relievers, there are acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), ibuprofen or paracetamol, among others. However, such drugs should be used with caution. For severe migraine attacks there are triptans and for cluster headaches there are various options such as triptans, oxygen inhalation or local anesthesia in the nostril on the painful side. Drug-induced headache can usually only be stopped by withdrawing the relevant substance.

Conservative therapy

Orthopedic tension headaches are treated with conservative therapy. The following methods are used:

  • Heating or cooling applications
  • Training of the cervical spine and shoulder muscles
  • Stretching and massages
  • Stress management and relaxation therapies
  • Spineliner Therapy
  • The aim is to relieve pain, improve mobility of the musculoskeletal system, relieve tension and balance misalignments, especially in the cervical spine.

Operative therapy

In very rare cases, surgery is considered in migraine sufferers. During the procedure, a forehead muscle is severed. The “corrugator” muscle is located between the eyebrows at the bridge of the nose. If you pull this together, the typical frown lines appear on the forehead. In some people, this muscle squeezes the small branches of the facial nerve called the trigeminal nerve. The strong stimulation of the nerve plexus can theoretically trigger a migraine attack. In some people who had the muscle cut, the migraine symptoms also decreased afterwards.

Before the operation, the doctor tests the possible success. For this purpose, he temporarily paralyzes the anger muscle with the neurotoxin botulinum toxin. If the number of migraines falls by more than half in the following weeks, the patient is admitted to the operation.