Everyone has experienced the pain of a headache, which can range from mild and annoying to debilitating (they don’t call them “splitting headaches” for nothing).

Different types of headaches are caused by different things, and some are easier to relieve than others.

Tension headaches

The most common type of headache, tension headaches result from the things we do when we’re stressed out or anxious — clenching the jaw, skipping meals or skimping on sleep.

Pain from a tension headache is most often concentrated on both sides of the head, but can center behind or between the eyes, or across the cheeks or forehead.

Migraine headaches

Migraines are a chronic illness that typically features recurring moderate to severe pain on one side or both sides of the head. The throbbing, pulsating pain typically lasts between four and 72 hours if left untreated.

“The most common associated symptom of migraine is fatigue and feeling drained of energy,” said Steven Meyers, MD, a neurologist with Endeavor Health.

A migraine also causes sensitivity to light, smell and noise, nausea and vomiting. Simply moving, coughing or sneezing can make the pain worse.

Poor posture and neck or shoulder tension can trigger a migraine. Alcohol consumption can too.

Most people who get migraines have a family history, and they’re likely genetic. Migraines can occur any time of day, but most frequently happen in the morning. Sometimes they happen before menstruation or a period of stress.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are rare, but severe. They strike suddenly, are very painful and concentrate on one side of the head near or behind one eye.

“Cluster headaches are notorious for rapid escalation to a severe retro-orbital headache often within 15 minutes,” Dr. Meyers said. “They occur like clockwork at the same time every day for anywhere between weeks and months.”

The headaches then subside for months or years before reoccurring.

They sometimes include a pre-headache aura and nausea. They often wake people up while sleeping and may cause redness, swelling or tearing to the eye, and a stuffy or runny nose on the affected side.

Interventions that may work

Fortunately, relief is possible for many headaches. Here are some interventions that may work:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen can work wonders on a tension headache. NSAIDs can be helpful if taken right at the onset of a migraine, but sometimes prescription medications are needed to fully ease the pain.
  • Meditation and mindfulness practices can help improve migraine pain tolerance or make headaches easier to manage.
  • Neck stretches can help relieve some headache pain.
  • Taking a hot shower or applying moist heat to the back of the neck can also help ease infrequent tension headaches, as can massage and gentle neck exercises. If heat doesn’t work, cold might. Apply an ice pack to your head or neck.
  • Acupressure, a traditional Chinese medicine that uses pressure points to balance the body’s energy, can help ease all types of headaches.
  • Studies have found that acupuncture may reduce the frequency of tension headaches and can help treat migraines.
  • Some research suggests essential oils — specifically lavender, rosemary, peppermint, chamomile and eucalyptus — can help ease headaches. At the least, essential oils can help reduce stress, and lower stress can help ease headache pain.

Prevention techniques

Preventing headaches, including migraines, requires some self-regulation. Try to include these activities in your daily schedule:

  • Hydrate. Make sure you drink at least 4-6 cups of water throughout each day.
  • Get regular sleep. Research shows there’s a connection between sleep deprivation and headaches. Aim for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, starting at the same bedtime, every night.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise can help relieve stress and tension, which can help you avoid a headache. Exercise also improves blood flow, helps you sleep better and increases oxygen levels, all of which help prevent headaches.
  • Eat. Hunger can trigger a headache. People familiar with migraines may even notice that straying from their regular meal schedule can cause an attack. Try to stick to a schedule of regular meals and snacks throughout the day.
  • Soothe stress. Stress and headaches go hand in hand. Find a stress reliever that works for you and incorporate it into your daily routine.