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Headaches: Migraines, Tension, or Sinus?

By Expert HERWriter
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do you have migraine, tension or sinus headaches? B-D-S/PhotoSpin

Headaches of any kind can be a real pain in the … head. Millions of people experience headaches but knowing which type may help you better understand the triggers and ways to prevent them. Three common ones include migraines, tension and sinus/allergy related.

Migraines are usually moderately to severely intense and can include an aura or no aura. "Aura" is the name for the pre-symptoms that let you know a migraine is coming, such as flashing lights, change in vision, tingling sensations.

The pain is often described as throbbing or pulsating in a particular area of the head, as opposed to the entire head. Many experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness and light sensitivity due to the pain requiring medication, ice, cold wash cloths, or sleep in a dark room.

Migraines may follow a pattern such as having onset from weather/barometric changes or ovulation and menses, or they be sporadic.

Tracking them may be helpful. Common triggers include stress, lack of sleep, wine, MSG, chocolate, diet sodas, tight muscles, food sensitivities, and skipping meals/hypoglycemia.

Common treatments include over-the-counter pain medications, prescription pain medications, migraine medications, avoiding triggers, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), and the herbs feverfew and butterbur.

Tension headaches generally occur with stress, too little sleep, tight muscles and poor posture. Unlike migraine, tension headaches are generally described as milder pain that is dull and aching, or squeezing like a band on the head, and possibly extending into the neck and upper shoulders.

These headaches can occur sporadically or daily, depending on the trigger. Many people report tension headaches in certain situations, such as during long work days, after family events or other stressful situations.

Common treatments include over-the-counter pain medication, avoiding triggers, focusing on proper posture, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, and finding ways to reduce stress.

Sinus and allergy headaches are triggered by congestion and pressure buildup in the sinuses. Sinuses are the open cavities located behind your cheeks, nose, forehead and eyes.

During allergy season, a sinus infection or a cold, the sinuses can become inflamed leading to pain in the forehead, behind the eyes, at the bridge of the nose and the cheeks.

Common treatment includes allergy medications, nasal sprays, decongestants, antibiotics if necessary, and avoiding allergic triggers.

It is important to note that a tension or sinus/allergy headache can turn into a migraine. Therefore being proactive and knowing your triggers can help prevent this progression.

Talk with your health care provider for additional help and workup, especially if your headaches are changing or worsening.


1) A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia (2011). Migraine. Web. 7 April, 2013.

2) Barclay,L. (2009). Sleep Disturbance Linked to Tension Headache. Web. 7 April, 2013.

3) Busko, M. (2009). Migraines, Tension-Type Headaches Respond to Acupuncture. Web. 7 April, 2013.

4) Wells, R., Bertisch, S., Buettner, C., Phillips, R., McCarthy, E. (2011). Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults with Migraines/Severe Headaches. Web. 7 April, 2013.

Reviewed April 8, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment2 Comments

The most common headaches include tension and migraine, which are associated with nervous system disorders. Most people know Chiropractic care can be beneficial for tension/cervicogenic headaches. But, can Chiropractic care help migraines too?
chiropractic web design

May 2, 2013 - 1:44am
EmpowHER Guest

This is a very important differentiation that we all need to know. Otherwise people end up misdiagnosing themselves and suffering from a headache that could have been treated easily for longer.

April 11, 2013 - 2:13am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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