Symptoms vary depending on the type of headache:
Tension headache - this is the most common type of headache. Pain ranges from mild to moderate and feels like a tight band pressing on the forehead and around the head.
Cluster headache - pain always occurs on the same side of the head, usually over one eye. There may be redness and tearing of the affected eye but the other side of the head will not be affected.
Migraine - Usually affects one side of the head and throbbing in character. The pain can be moderate to severe. Symptoms of migraine can last from four hours to three days or longer and usually go through four phases which are not seen in other types of headaches:
- Prodrome: yawning, irritability and mood disturbance one to two days before the headache starts
- Aura: the most common being visual symptoms such as zig-zag lines or shimmering spots that develop gradually over a few minutes and last less than 30 minutes
- Headache: moderate to severe pain usually on one side of the head, usually with other symptoms such as vomiting, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.
- Postdrome: tiredness and lack of concentration for one to two days after the headache ends and has distinct features not seen in other types of headache.
Occasionally, headache can be a symptom of a serious medical condition. Seek medical attention as soon as possible if you have headache with any of these symptoms or the following risk factors (Red flags):
- Fever and chills, neck stiffness
- Weakness or numbness in the face, hands, arms or legs
- Sudden speech or swallowing difficulties
- Blurred vision or ringing sound in the ears
- if the headache comes on suddenly and the pain is very severe; worst headache in life
- if the headache gets worse when you change positions, e.g. sitting up then lying down or any change in the character of a person's usual headache,
- history of recent head trauma preceeding the onset of headache
- develop new headache while on oral hormonal contraceptive pills