Head and chest colds


Tension Headaches

Medications and home care

You can start by drinking more water. You may be dehydrated and need to increase your water intake. Also, you should consider how much sleep you’re getting. Lack of sleep can lead to tension headaches. And make sure you didn’t skip any meals, which can trigger headaches.

If none of those strategies work, then you can take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, to get rid of a tension headache. However, these should only be used occasionally.

According to the Mayo Clinic, using OTC medications too much may lead to “overuse” or “rebound” headaches. These types of headaches occur when you become so accustomed to a medication that you experience pain when the drugs wear off.

OTC drugs are sometimes not enough to treat recurring tension headaches. In such cases, your healthcare provider may give you a prescription for medication, such as:

  • indomethacin
  • ketorolac
  • naproxen
  • opiates
  • prescription-strength acetaminophen

If pain relievers aren’t working, they may prescribe a muscle relaxant. This is a medication that helps stop muscle contractions.

Your healthcare provider may also prescribe an antidepressant, such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). SSRIs can stabilize your brain’s levels of serotonin and can help you cope with stress.

They may also recommend other treatments, such as:

  • Stress management classes. These classes can teach you ways to cope with stress and how to relieve tension.
  • Biofeedback. This is a relaxation technique that teaches you to manage pain and stress.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is talk therapy that helps you recognize situations that cause you stress, anxiety, and tension.
  • Acupuncture. This is an alternative therapy that may reduce stress and tension by applying fine needles to specific areas of your body.


Some supplements may also help relieve tension headaches. However, since alternative remedies can interact with conventional medications, you should always discuss these with your healthcare provider first.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the following supplements may help prevent tension headaches:

  • butterbur
  • coenzyme Q10
  • feverfew
  • magnesium
  • riboflavin (vitamin B-2)

The following may also ease a tension headache:

  • Apply a heating pad or ice pack to your head for 5 to 10 minutes several times a day.
  • Take a hot bath or shower to relax tense muscles.
  • Improve your posture.
  • Take frequent computer breaks to prevent eye strain.

However, these techniques may not keep all tension headaches from returning.

Headache behind the eyes: Causes and treatment


By Beth Longware Duff; reviewed by Gary Heiting, OD

A headache behind the eyes is something most people experience at some point in their life. Symptoms include pain that originates in the sinuses or in back of the eye that may or may not throb like a pulse.

When you experience a headache behind the eyes, you want relief. You also want answers.

What causes a headache behind the eyes? What can you do to alleviate the pain? Is a headache behind the eyes being caused by some vision issue?

Let’s tackle that last question first.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology defines “pain behind the eye” as “physical discomfort due to an eye disease or other condition.” But AAO also says, “where you feel pain is not necessarily an indicator of what’s causing the pain.”

In most cases, a headache behind the eyes is a type of referred pain — that is, pain that’s perceived at a location other than the site where it originates. Referred pain is common because of the body’s network of interconnecting sensory nerves that supplies many different tissues.

“Almost all structures in the head that are sensitive to pain refer the pain to the eye area,” says Dr. Mark W. Green, MD, professor of neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “Just because the pain is in the eye it doesn’t mean the problem is in the eye. In fact, it rarely is.”

Green notes that one useful rule to keep in mind is that if the white portion of the eye (sclera) isn’t red and there are no visual complaints like blurred or distorted vision, it’s unlikely that the headache is related to an eye problem.

Common causes of headache behind eyes


According to AAO, migraine is a leading condition associated with headache behind the eyes.

Migraine headache is the most common type of disabling headache. It is a periodic headache that lasts up to 72 hours and often produces severe, throbbing pain on one side of the head and behind the eye. Migraine headaches also can spread to the back of the head.

Other classic symptoms of migraines include nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, smells and sounds.

“Migraine came from the term ‘megrim’, which means sick headache. People with migraines get sick,” Green says. “We talk about the spectrum of migraine, which are multiple headache types. They feel different, but are still part of the spectrum of migraine.”

Visual disturbances like flashing lights or halos around light sources that are known as migraine aura may precede the headache pain. However, the majority of migraine sufferers do not experience migraine aura.

There are many migraine triggers. These include fatigue, emotional stress, lack of sleep or oversleeping, skipping meals, bright or flickering lights, strong smells, loud noises, certain foods and changes in heat and humidity.

There also appears to be a strong genetic link for migraines, with 70% of sufferers reporting at least one close relative who also has a history of migraines.

Migraines caught early enough may be successfully treated with non-prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, but several prescription medications are available for use both preventatively to reduce the number of attacks and acutely when a migraine headache starts.

A daily medication regimen may be needed to treat chronic migraines and prevent headaches behind the eyes.

Cluster headaches

A cluster headache is a condition characterized by numerous and frequent attacks of short and extremely painful headaches. These cluster periods can last weeks or months, and are then followed by a remission period when no headaches occur for months or years.

A cluster headache usually comes on quickly, sometimes with aura, and can last up to three hours. Symptoms include excruciating pain (often, a headache behind one eye) that may radiate to other parts of the face, head and neck; red and swollen eyes; and excessive tearing.

It is believed that abnormalities in the hypothalamus (the portion of the brain that controls many critical bodily functions) may be responsible for cluster headaches. There are no identified triggers and no cure for cluster headaches behind the eyes.

Treatment of cluster headaches focuses on decreasing the severity of pain, shortening the cluster period and preventing future attacks. Oxygen therapy, injectable triptans and local anesthetics are among the treatments of choice.

Sinus infections

The sinuses are air-filled spaces in the skull. They are located behind the nose, forehead and cheeks — and also behind the eyes. Infection of the sinuses (sinusitis) is a common cause of pain, including headaches behind the eyes.

Migraine headaches often are misdiagnosed as sinus headaches. Treatment for sinus headache involves resolving the underlying infection with prescription antibiotics and decongestants.

Eye conditions that cause headache behind eyes

Finally, there are a number of eye conditions and other problems that can cause headache behind the eyes. These include:


Glaucoma is an eye disease that affects the optic nerve and causes peripheral vision loss, blurred vision, difficulty adapting to darkness and halos around lights.

A specific type of glaucoma called acute angle-closure glaucoma can cause nausea and severe headache behind the eyes. If you experience these symptoms, you should see an eye doctor immediately.

NEED TO SEE AN EYE DOCTOR? Find a local optometrist and schedule an appointment.


Scleritis is a severe inflammation of the sclera, or outer coating of the eyeball.

Most commonly caused by autoimmune disorders, symptoms include headache behind the eye, red or pink eye, tearing and blurred vision as well as light sensitivity.

Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis, or inflammation of the optic nerve, is associated with eye pain or headache behind the eye, blurred vision, loss of color vision, floaters, nausea and vision loss.

SEE RELATED: Optic neuritis and neuropathy: Symptoms, causes and treatment

Graves’ disease

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune eye disorder associated with abnormalities of the thyroid gland. It is characterized by bulging eyes, eyelid retraction, limited ability to move the eyes, red or pink eye, double vision and vision loss.

In some cases, Graves’ disease also can cause headache behind the eyes.

Headaches behind the eyes? See an eye doctor

If you experience unusual headaches behind the eyes, don’t take chances: See an eye doctor immediately.


If the white of your eye is discolored or you experience nausea or visual problems associated with the headache, these are signs and symptoms of an acute glaucoma attack that could cause permanent vision loss.

Page updated August 2019

Schedule an exam.

Find an eye doctor near you.

What’s to know about headache on the left side?

The causes and symptoms of each relevant type of primary headache are explored below.


A headache on the left side could be caused by a migraine. Migraines affect 12 percent of people in the United States and are more common in women than men.

Migraines are characterized by a severe headache, which may throb and is usually on one side of the head. Pain may begin around the eye or temple and then spread across the head.

For it to be considered a migraine, one or more of the following symptoms will accompany it:

  • changes to vision
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dizziness
  • extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch, or smell
  • numbness or a tingling sensation in the face or extremities

A migraine typically lasts 4-72 hours. A person experiencing a migraine may feel like they need to lie down.

The underlying cause of a migraine is not entirely understood. However, it is thought to relate to brain function and nerves or blood vessels around the brain becoming more sensitive.

Migraines can be triggered by:

  • stress
  • certain foods, such as alcohol, cheese, or chocolate
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • bright lights or lights that flicker
  • sustained loud noise
  • strong smells, such as perfume

Tension headaches

Share on PinterestA tension headache may cause pain on the left side and behind the eyes, and may be linked to stress.

Tension headaches account for up to 42 percent of headaches worldwide.

They may occur on one side so could be the cause of a headache on the left side. However, tension headaches are less likely to be one-sided than migraines.

Tension headaches are usually less severe than migraines but can still cause a lot of pain.

Symptoms include:

  • tight, pressing pain that may start behind the eyes and spread across the forehead or the back of the head
  • a feeling like the head is in a vice
  • tight neck and shoulder muscles
  • pain often feels worse at the end of the day

Tension headaches are thought to be caused by muscle tension. They tend to be triggered by:

  • stress
  • tension in the neck or shoulders
  • poor posture
  • a previous neck injury

The cause of a headache on the left side could be a cluster headache. About half a million Americans will experience a cluster headache at least once in their life.

Cluster headaches are extremely painful and are characterized by pain on one side of the head. The symptoms include:

  • pain behind one eye, one temple, or one side of the forehead
  • pain becomes most intense after 5-10 minutes
  • severe pain lasts between 30-60 minutes
  • less intense pain may continue for up to 3 hours

Other related symptoms may include:

  • a blocked or runny nose
  • a drooping eyelid
  • watering and redness in one eye
  • flushed or sweaty face

The exact cause of cluster headaches is unknown, but it is believed to be linked to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.

Cluster headaches typically occur at a similar time every day, in bouts that may last between 4-12 weeks. They often happen in the spring or fall, which is why some people confuse them with allergy headaches.

Nothing can put a damper on all of those resolutions and keep you away from the gym like a cold. Regardless of where you live, your daily activities, or how healthy you are, anyone can be affected by a cold or flu virus, and they spread easily when the air is dry and cold.

An increase in contact with people, whether over the holidays or into the new year, can cause you to catch a cold. When infected individuals cough or sneeze, mucus and germs are released into the air, or into the hands used to cover their mouths. Viruses travel easily from the eye to the nose and throat. The sneezing, coughing, and fever that accompany a cold or flu can also negatively affect your eyes. Eyes can be dry and tired, and it’s not uncommon to gain an eye infection while under the weather. Our eyes are sensitive so it’s important to care for them as best you can, especially during cold and flu season. Most of us touch our face and eyes more often than we realize.

Here are a few common effects of colds on your eyes and how to avoid them.

Pink Eye

One of the most common eye conditions associated with colds and the flu is conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye. This irritating condition can strike at any time and without warning. A number of things can cause pink eye—chemical or smoke exposure, bacteria in the eye, and a viral infection. When you have a cold, chances are your pink eye is caused by a viral strain.

An example of how one can get pink eye is when kids (or adults for that matter) wipe their noses with their hands and then rub their eyes. Keep a look out for behavior like this that can spread viruses. Should you or someone you care for get pink eye, seek an optometrist and remember—it is very contagious!

Burning and Itching

Pink eye isn’t the only thing that can cause itchy and burning eyes. When you have a cold, your whole body is vulnerable. Sometimes, this burning and itching can be caused by dry eyes. Remember, colds push your body to extremes. Some people experience too much mucus production, which leads to a discharge and some people don’t produce enough.

Temptation to rub dry eyes will be strong! Resist! Rubbing your eyes will only make the itching worse. Plus, if your eye is infected, you can spread it to the other eye.

If you have burning and itching symptoms, you can use a cold compress. You could also use a damp cloth. Another suggestion is to eat omega-3 rich foods. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in oily fish, flaxseeds, eggs and walnuts. For quick relief, you can also use non-medicated eye drops.

Light Sensitivity

A common symptom of a cold is frequent headaches. When everything is congested, your brain really feels the impact. When this happens, your eyes can become extra sensitive to the light. There isn’t much you can do in this case other than make like a vampire and stay away from the light. Reducing your time using digital devices when you’re sick can also help. Too much concentrating on small screens and small fonts has the potential to cause eye strain, fatigue and may even cause dizziness.

Make sure to get in for your eye exam! An eye exam can detect early signs of the flu and help you prepare to stay healthy during the winter months.

Wishing you a healthy winter season!

By Ryan W. on January 19, 2018

VSP Blog

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

What Is Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)?

Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, filmy membrane that covers the white of your eye. The conjunctiva, which produces mucus to coat and lubricate the surface of the eye, contains fine blood vessels that can be seen on close inspection. When the conjunctiva becomes irritated or inflamed, the blood vessels, which supply it, enlarge and become more prominent, causing the eye to turn red.


  • Pinkness or redness in the eye
  • Red, inflamed inner eyelids
  • Blurred vision
  • Sandy or scratchy feeling in the eye
  • Pus, mucous, or watery discharge from the eye

The symptoms described above may not necessarily mean that you have conjunctivitis. However, if you experience one or more of these symptoms, contact your ophthalmologist for a complete exam.


There are many sources of eye irritation that can cause conjunctivitis.

  • Bacterial Conjunctivitis
    Bacterial infections can cause a red eye, which is associated with pus or discharge from the eye, or they can cause a red eye which is associated with crusting of the eyelashes with little or no discharge.
  • Viral Conjunctivitis
    Viruses can cause conjunctivitis, such as the familiar red eyes, sore throat, and runny nose of a common cold. Viral conjunctivitis usually produces a watery mucous discharge and lasts from 1 to 2 weeks. Infectious conjunctivitis, commonly known as “pink eye,” can be quite contagious. Cloth handkerchiefs and towels should not be shared during this time. Hand washing also will help prevent the spread of this infection.
  • Allergies
    Allergies can cause conjunctivitis, which produces a stringy, white discharge. Allergies can make the eyes itchy or produce a chronic red eye and environmental irritants, such as smoke or fumes, may cause conjunctivitis. Any type of conjunctivitis is aggravated by dryness of the eyes.

Risk Factors

The risk factors for conjunctivitis depend on the type of conjunctivitis. Bacterial conjunctivitis results from exposure to a bacterial organism to which the eye is vulnerable. Some of the more worrisome types of bacterial conjunctivitis can be caused by organisms that also cause sexually transmitted diseases; a sudden onset of the above symptoms in the context of a new sexual partner needs to be evaluated.

Viral conjunctivitis is extremely contagious. Often the person with viral conjunctivitis has had an upper respiratory infection preceding the onset of the red eye or has been around someone with an upper respiratory infection. People who work in health care settings or with children have a high risk of exposure to the viruses that can cause viral conjunctivitis.

Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by the environmental factors that trigger an allergic reaction in the eye and these triggers are different for each person.

Tests and Diagnosis

The different types of conjunctivitis often can be distinguished by an eye examination, including your medical history. If your ophthalmologist suspects bacterial conjunctivitis, s/he will culture your eyelids, conjunctiva, and discharge to make a diagnosis and choose the best treatment. Viral and allergic conjunctivitis often do not require special testing for diagnosis.

Treatment and Drugs

If you think you might have conjunctivitis, you should

  • Keep your hands away from your eyes
  • Thoroughly wash your hands before and after applying eye medications
  • Do not share towels, washcloths, cosmetics, or eyedrops with others
  • Seek treatment promptly
  • Small children, who may forget these precautions, should be kept away from school, camp, and the swimming pool until the condition is cured

Treatment for Bacterial or Viral Conjuntivitis

Infectious conjunctivitis, caused by bacteria, usually is treated with antibiotic eye drops and/or ointment. Other infectious forms, caused by viruses, can’t be treated with antibiotics. They must be fought off by your body’s immune system. But some antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent secondary bacterial infections from developing. Artificial tears and warm compresses may help keep the eye comfortable while viral conjunctivitis runs its course.

Treatment for Allergic Forms of Conjuntivitis

When treating allergic and chemical forms of conjunctivitis, the cause of the allergy or irritation must first be removed. For instance, avoid contact with any animal if it causes an allergic reaction. Wear swimming goggles if chlorinated water irritates your eyes. In cases where these measures won’t work, prescription and over-the-counter eye drops are available to help relieve the discomfort.

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Reviewed by Jill E. Bixler, M.D.


What Causes a Cold?

The common cold is caused by a virus, most commonly the rhinovirus. The virus enters your body through your eyes, mouth or nose and causes a viral infection in your nose and throat.

These viruses can be spread multiple ways. When a sick person coughs, sneezes or even talks, the virus spreads through droplets in the air. Other causes of cold symptoms include touching surfaces contaminated by the virus, such as doorknobs, cellphones, toys or utensils.

These viruses can lead to head congestion, chest congestion or sometimes both. If you’re experiencing symptoms in your head, like a runny nose, watery eyes or a headache, then you probably have a “head cold.” However, if your chest is congested and you can’t quit coughing, you probably have a “chest cold.”

Several factors can increase your risk of catching a cold. If a person has a weakened immune system, smokes regularly or is under age six, they are at greater risk of contracting a virus.

Recognize Cold Symptoms

Do you feel like you’ve caught a cold? Check out these common cold symptoms:

  • Runny, stuffy nose, and nasal swelling
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Mild body aches

What Causes Coughing?

Coughing is a reflex that helps you clear your throat of mucus or other irritants. One of the most common causes for persistent coughing is a viral upper respiratory tract infection, such as a common cold or the flu. When you have a cold, your body creates more mucus to both remove the infection and protect the body from other bacteria and viruses.2 A cough from a cold helps remove that extra mucus from your lungs and throat so you can breathe easier.

How Colds Trigger Nasal Swelling and Congestion

During a cold, your body is creating extra mucus to relieve the germs in your nose and sinuses, and this extra mucus causes the veins in your nose to become inflamed, resulting in swollen tissues. This can interfere with the sinuses’ ability to drain, causing mucus buildup. You’ll feel congested — unable to breathe through your nose with pressure or pain in your forehead, between or behind your eyes, and in your teeth.

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

Colds and the flu share many of the same symptoms, so it can be almost impossible to tell the difference between the two. Your doctor can administer a special test in the first few days of your illness to determine if you have influenza, but you can also recognize subtle differences in symptoms. If you catch a cold, symptoms are usually milder and you’re more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Overall, flu symptoms come on stronger and more abruptly, manifesting as headaches, fever, chills and aches.

Common Cold Treatment

If you notice signs of the common cold, you can take steps to improve your symptoms and make yourself more comfortable. Here are some cough and cold treatment tips. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.


It can be hard to slow down when you have a cold, but your body needs the rest. Get plenty of sleep each night and avoid daily tasks that cause overexertion. If you need to take time off work or keep your children home from school to recover, don’t hesitate. This also avoids spreading the virus to others.

Drink Fluids

Staying hydrated can help combat cold symptoms, so always keep that water glass full. Water, fruit juices or clear broth can keep you hydrated and loosen congestion. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages like coffee or soda, which can make dehydration worse.

Moisturize the Air

Use a cool-mist vaporizer or a humidifier to keep moisture in the air and prevent dry nasal passages and airways, which can increase inflammation that leads to nasal congestion and cough. Make sure to change the water and clean the unit properly.

Help Prevent Pesky Cold Symptoms

Do your best to make it through the cold season without a runny nose or persistent cough by taking steps to decrease your chances of getting a cold and experiencing cold symptoms.

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Don’t share personal items like utensils and towels
  • Stay away from people who are sick

Overall, make healthy lifestyle decisions to boost your immunity, which includes eating nutritious food, sleeping eight hours, exercising and managing stress.

Try SUDAFED® to Relieve Head Congestion, Cold and Flu Symptoms

A multi-symptom medicine can help relieve the congestion, coughing and aches that typically accompany the cold, flu and head congestion. Plus, a multi-symptom product can be more convenient than taking individual products. Try SUDAFED PE® Head Congestion + Flu Severe for symptom relief. Always read and follow the label carefully, and make sure the product is right for you.

We’ve all been there. You wake up with a sore throat, then come the aches and congestion that feels like it may cause your head to explode.

Then starts the great debate. Is it a cold, or something worse like the flu? Should you see your healthcare provider or just stay home and get plenty of rest?

“While both have similar symptoms, the flu is much more severe and can result in serious health problems,” says Richard Martin, MD, a family medicine physician at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant in Scranton. That’s why it’s so important to know the difference between flu and cold symptoms.

With flu season upon us – often spanning from fall until spring – let’s take a look at how to spot the difference and get you on the road to recovery ASAP.

What are symptoms of a cold?

Cold symptoms come on gradually and are milder than symptoms of the flu. Symptoms commonly include:

  • Cough
  • Mild fever (more common in children)
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy nose

Cold symptoms typically last for about a week. However, you’re contagious during the first few days. So it’s important to stay home, get plenty of fluids and be sure to rest!
“Most colds are caused by a virus and antibiotics won’t treat them. It’s best to get plenty of rest, fluids and use over the counter medicines to help manage symptoms,” says Dr. Martin.
However, if your symptoms last longer than a week, check with your healthcare provider to rule out an allergy or bacterial infection.

What are symptoms of flu?

Flu symptoms are often severe and come on quickly. If you have a fever and body or muscle aches right away, you may have the flu virus. Symptoms commonly include:

  • Aches
  • Chest discomfort, cough
  • Chills
  • Extreme tiredness/fatigue
  • Headache
  • High fever
  • Sometimes nausea and diarrhea

Most symptoms improve over the course of a few days, but you’ll likely feel run down for a week or so. The flu is caused by the influenza virus which leaves you contagious for a few days, so it’s important to stay home and rest.
If you suspect you or a loved one have the flu, be aware of your risk of developing serious health issues.
“The flu can lead to serious health problems like pneumonia, especially in the young, elderly, or those with heart or lung problems,” says Dr. Martin.
As with most common colds, antibiotics won’t help your flu symptoms, but getting rest, fluids and using over the counter medicine can help ease your symptoms.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe an antiviral medication. These medications help you feel better sooner and may prevent complications like pneumonia.

When to call your doctor

For most people, having a cold or the flu doesn’t require a trip to the emergency room. Most symptoms resolve after some much-needed rest.
However, you should call your healthcare provider or visit the closest Geisinger Careworks Urgent Care if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away after 2 or 3 weeks, or it comes with shortness of breath
  • A fever lasting more than 3 days
  • Congestion and headache that doesn’t ease up after a week
  • Severe throat pain

How to prevent a cold or flu

To decrease your chances of catching a cold or the flu, remember to wash your hands frequently. Washing with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds (or sing the “happy birthday” song) can help get rid of the germs on your skin.
You should also avoid contact with sick people, and if you become sick, stay home to prevent infecting others.
“The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated every year,” says Dr. Martin. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months or older should get a flu shot every season. While they aren’t guaranteed to stop you from getting sick, they are around 60 percent effective at preventing the flu – and they can be life-saving when it comes to children and at-risk adults.

Next steps

Make an appointment with Richard Martin, MD

Get your flu shot at Geisinger

Why does the cold wind make my head hurt?

Expert answer

Thanks for your question. You are describing a phenomenon known as “cold stimulus headache,” sometimes called “brain freeze” by children eating ice cream very quickly. It occurs when something cold (such as a food, drink or air) stimulates an area of the head and causes a headache.

To get more information about this occurrence, I interviewed Dr. Mark Brown, an Austin, Texas, physician who is board certified in Otolaryngology, Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Sleep Medicine.

How common are cold stimulus headaches?

The frequency of these headaches is hard to pin down. In limited population studies from Denmark and Taiwan, the lifetime prevalence varies from 15 percent and 41 percent respectively. One new area of interest is in cold water divers, in whom these severe headaches need to be differentiated from “the bends.” Also, cold stimulus headaches may be more common in migraine sufferers.

What causes them?

It is thought that stimulation of the trigeminal nerve (the nerve that provides sensation information for most of the face, head, mouth, throat and neck) by cold temperature causes constriction of blood vessels in the brain (somewhat like a migraine) and thus a headache.

How do you treat cold stimulus headaches?

As these headaches are typically very short lived (usually five minutes at the most), there is generally not much to do other than avoidance. It can also be helpful to cover exposed areas of the head and neck when venturing into cold weather. In addition to earmuffs, wear a hat and scarf.

Any other tips?

Eat your ice cream slowly. You can maximize your enjoyment of your guilty pleasure and minimize the likelihood of a nasty headache!

What type of headache do you have?

Headaches are familiar to nearly everyone: in any given year, almost 90% of men and 95% of women have at least one. In the vast majority of cases, however, the pain isn’t an omen of some terrible disease. The three most common types of headaches are tension, sinus, and migraine. Other than sinus congestion, most headaches are triggered by stress, fatigue, lack of sleep, hunger, or caffeine withdrawal.

Mixed headaches

As understanding of the different types of headaches has evolved, researchers have altered some of their beliefs about migraine and tension headaches and the relationship between the two. This is largely because of the realization that some headaches don’t neatly fit either category. “Mixed” headaches have characteristics of both types, and because they’re hard to classify, treatment can be challenging.

For instance, the more intense a tension headache gets, the more it resembles the sharp, throbbing pain of a migraine headache. Likewise, when a migraine headache becomes more frequent, its pain begins to feel like that of a tension headache. Symptoms of headaches fall along a continuum ordered by their characteristics: the occasional tension headache is at one end and the migraine headache is at the other. In between are chronic daily headaches, which can start with features typical of either tension or migraine headache.

Headache caused by a medication or illness

Some headaches are actually symptoms of another health problem. Many non-life-threatening medical conditions, such as a head cold, the flu, or a sinus infection, can cause headache. Some less common but serious causes include bleeding, infection, or a tumor. A headache can also be the only warning signal of high blood pressure (hypertension). In addition, certain medications — such as nitroglycerin, prescribed for a heart condition, and estrogen, prescribed for menopausal symptoms — are notorious causes of headache.

Because the following symptoms could indicate a significant medical problem, seek medical care promptly if you experience:

  • a sudden headache that feels like a blow to the head (with or without a stiff neck)
  • headache with fever
  • convulsions
  • persistent headache following a blow to the head
  • confusion or loss of consciousness
  • headache along with pain in the eye or ear
  • relentless headache when you were previously headache-free
  • headache that interferes with routine activities.

Always take children who have recurring headaches to the doctor, especially when the pain occurs at night or is present when the child wakes in the morning.

Common types of headaches

Headache Type

What it feels like

Who gets it

How often and for how long


Mild to moderate steady pain throughout the head, but commonly felt across the forehead or in the back of the head. Generally not accompanied by other symptoms.

Can affect children, but is most common in adults.

Frequency varies. Generally hours in length.


Mild to moderate steady pain that typically occurs in the face, at the bridge of the nose, or in the cheeks. May be accompanied by nasal congestion and postnasal drip.

Affects people of all ages. People with allergies seem most vulnerable.

Frequency varies. Generally hours in length. Often seasonal.


Moderate to severe throbbing pain, often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. The pain may be localized to the temple, eye, or back of the head, often on one side only. In migraine with aura, visual disturbance precedes the pain.

Typically occurs from childhood to middle age. In children, migraine is slightly more common among males, but after puberty, it’s much more common in females.

Attacks last a day or longer. They tend to occur less often during pregnancy and with advancing age.

Image: Bigstock

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Headaches and flu

An introduction to headaches and flu

A headache caused by the flu will usually occur alongside other symptoms. Suffering from a headache can make it difficult to think and concentrate, but this alongside other flu symptoms is often what makes having the flu such an unpleasant experience. This type of headache should not last for more than a few days.

Why am I experiencing headaches with the flu?

Headaches caused by the flu often occur alongside a fever. Flu viruses cannot multiply in high temperatures, so your body raises your temperature, resulting in a fever. This causes your blood vessels to dilate, increasing the pressure inside your head, causing feelings of heaviness or pounding as well as pain.

In addition, headaches can be worsened by sinus pain. When you have the flu, the mucous membranes lining your sinuses and nasal cavities can become inflamed. This also leads to increased pressure around your face and eyes, worsening your headache.

Are there home remedies to help me?

Home remedies are often designed to make you feel more comfortable rather than to treat your condition. For a headache, reducing the pressure inside your head and clearing any nasal congestion helps to reduce pain.

Some people find that a warm cloth on their face by their sinuses helps to loosen the mucus, thus reducing inflammation and congestion, relieving a little pressure around the face and eyes. Additionally, congestion can be cleared by inhaling steam with peppermint, or another menthol-based inhalation. However, be careful not to scald yourself.

Others, on the other hand, find that a cool cloth on the forehead or temples helps to reduce dilation of blood vessels in the head easing the pressure and pain.

Lying down in a quiet room in which you can dim or turn off the lights often helps you to feel better. However, lying flat can cause nasal congestion to worsen, and so it is worth lying slightly propped up.

What about herbal remedies?

The most effective way to use herbal remedies in this situation is to address the underlying problem by supporting the immune system, rather than those which are directed towards individual symptoms.

For this reason, licensed herbal remedies such as Echinaforce® Echinacea tincture or tablets should help you to fight off the infection more quickly. This contains fresh extracts of the Echinacea plant, which has been used for many years as a support for the immune system.

Are there conventional medicines to help with headaches?

Generally speaking, persistent headaches, headaches with unknown cause, or which are accompanied by dizziness, vomiting or confusion should always be checked by a doctor. In addition, medical attention should be sought if a headache occurs after a knock to the head.

After ruling out any underlying causes of headache, a doctor may prescribe anti-viral drugs, Oseltamivir or Zanamivir, in severe cases of the flu, or in vulnerable patients, such as the elderly.

More commonly, there are several flu remedies available over-the-counter, often containing paracetemol or aspirin, designed to reduce fever. If this is achieved, then your headache is likely to ease.

If you’re reading this because you can’t remember what a headache feels like, you’re lucky. A headache is a pounding feeling in your head or neck that is triggered by pain-sensitive nerves.

There are two main types of headaches; primary and secondary. Primary headaches are the result of small temporary changes to the nerves, blood vessels and muscles in your head, and include migraines and tension headaches. On the other hand, secondary headaches are triggered by problems elsewhere in the head and are brought on by illnesses like colds and flu. These most commonly occur as congestion and/or sinus headaches.

What are the symptoms of a cold and flu headache?

What you’ll notice most about a cold and flu headache is the persistent pain that never seems to let up. The pain may even affect your focus and concentration.

Sinus and congestion headaches have their own distinctive symptoms; the pain you experience with these headaches feels like a band of pressure wrapping around your head, in particular around your nose and sinus areas. The pain can get stronger with any sudden movements of your head. Headaches like these are usually worse in the morning because mucus builds up whilst you are asleep, adding to the pressure.

What causes a headache?

When you are suffering from a cold or flu, a headache can form thanks to infection-fighting molecules called “cytokines.” These little molecules are released by your immune system. While their primary function is to fight off infection, they can bring on inflammation which in turn can cause headache in some people.

Another cause of a headache is pressure caused by the swelling and inflammation of the sinus cavities to accommodate increased mucus from a cold or flu. This can cause the feeling of persistent pain that you feel during this bout of headache.

If you don’t have a cold or flu or any other illness, and your headache concerns you, see your doctor for advice.

How to relieve a headache.

There are many causes of a headache and while there is no absolute cure, there are ways to find relief. Before turning to the medicine cabinet you can:

  • Have a warm bath or shower. This soothes, calms and relaxes muscles.
  • Get a head full of fresh air. Go outside and take a walk.
  • Doing gentle neck stretches will also help loosen your neck muscles and provide relief.

Drink up! A common cause of headaches is dehydration, so make sure you have plenty of fluids.

Treatments for headache

If your headache stems from a cold or flu, CODRAL® can help you relieve discomfort with their range of multi symptom treatments, including;

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