What Causes Mild to Moderate Headaches?

Your headache pain isn't severe, but of course you want it to stop. To find the fix that works for you, you first need to know what type it is.

They're not all alike. See which of these sounds like yours. 

Tension Headache

If you get one of these, you'll usually feel pain on both sides of your head or neck, not just on one side. Some people say it feels like a band around their heads. Triggers can include:

  • Stress
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Eye strain
  • Neck pain

These headaches aren't typically made worse by physical activity, light, smells, or sounds. And they usually don't come with nausea and vomiting.

Yours are "episodic" if you get them fewer than 15 days a month. They're "chronic" if you get them more often than that.

Rebound or Medication Overuse Headache

If you take headache drugs too often, it can backfire. Your pain can come on stronger and more often. Doctors call this a "rebound" or "medication overuse" headache.

You'll need to work with your doctor to find the right treatment. Often, you just have to cut back on the medicine you take.

Sinus Headache

These are brought on by sinus congestion and inflammation, typically from a cold, the flu, or allergies, such as hay fever.

The sinuses are air-filled cavities around your eyes, nose, and cheeks. A sinus headache is a dull, deep, and throbbing pain in your face and head. If you bend down or lean over, the pain can get worse. Cold and damp weather can make it hurt more, too.


They're not all alike. The pain can range from mild to severe. You might hurt on only one side of your head. It can throb and get worse with physical activity.

Migraine can have many triggers, including:

  • Stress
  • Foods such as alcohol, aged cheese, and processed meats
  • Caffeine (either from too much or from withdrawal)
  • Menstruation
  • Tension or fatigue
  • Skipped meals
  • Changes in your sleep patterns

Besides head pain, migraine can make you sensitive to light, noise, and smells. You may have "auras," which means you have blurred vision or see spots, dots, or wavy lines. You may also have nausea and fatigue.


New Daily Persistent Headache (NDPH)

These may start suddenly and can go on for 3 months or longer. Many people clearly remember the day their pain began.

Doctors aren't sure why this type of headache starts. Some people find that it strikes after an infection, flu-like illness, surgery, or stressful event.

The pain tends to be moderate, but for some people, it's severe. And it's often hard to treat.

Symptoms can vary widely. Some are like tension headaches. Others share symptoms of migraine, such as nausea or sensitivity to light.

Call your doctor if your headache won't go away or if it's severe.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on November 12, 2017



Cleveland Clinic: "Migraine Headaches," "Tension Headaches."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Rebound Headaches."

Merck Manual: "Tension-Type Headache."

Seminars in Neurology: "Diagnosis and Management of Chronic Daily Headache."

University of Maryland Medical System: "Sinus Headache."

American Migraine Foundation: "Tension-type Headache."

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