Many conditions can cause headache pain. For instance, the flu, colds, toothaches, and allergies can all cause headaches. Stuffy sinuses from allergies and pain from sore teeth or gums can cause facial pain. That pain can then spread to other parts of your head. The following conditions could cause your headache.
Allergies. Sometimes allergies can bring on bad headaches. Allergy headaches are usually accompanied by other symptoms such as the following.
- runny or stuffy nose
- skin rashes or hives
- watery eyes
Being sensitive to a substance that is one of your triggers is not the same as having an allergy. You may be sensitive to aged cheese, which causes a migraine headache. But that is not an allergy. It is important to figure out whether you have sensitivities or allergies because the treatments for allergies and headaches are very different. In both cases, though, you will want to avoid or limit your exposure to the things that cause these reactions. If you have a family history of allergies and believe you may have allergies, tell your doctor. Some adjustments in your treatment may help with your headaches.
Sinusitis. Sinusitis is a viral or bacterial infection in the lining of your sinuses. Sinuses are air-filled spaces around your nose and in your face. Sinusitis feels like a dull, deep ache around your nose and sometimes your forehead and ears. The pain usually gets worse with changes in the weather or when you cough, sneeze, bend over, or move your head suddenly.
Sinusitis often occurs after a cold, an episode with allergies, or dental work. It can be acute, meaning it is infrequent and short-term. Or, it can be chronic, which means it is long-term. Postnasal drip or other symptoms usually accompany it. Headache is a common symptom of sinusitis. That's because the infection causes inflammation and pressure.
Temporal arteritis. Temporal arteritis is an inflammation that occurs in the arteries at your temples. With this condition, chewing or talking can cause headaches. The pain usually occurs in people older than age 50. Temporal arteritis often involves fever and general aches and pains along with impaired vision. Blindness can occur if it's not treated.
Depression. For reasons we don't understand, depression and other mental conditions can make headaches worse. If you are depressed or anxious and think these feelings may be making your headaches worse, ask your doctor whether or not you would benefit from any of the medications that help with depression.
Some types of antidepressants are used to prevent headaches. If you suffer from both headaches and depression, these medications may be a good option for you. See What do I need to know if I take antidepressants? to learn more.
Smoking. If you are a smoker, your smoking may be triggering your headaches or making them worse. A drop in the nicotine level in your blood may trigger a migraine headache. Nicotine constricts blood vessels, and the chemicals in tobacco reduce the amount of oxygen available to your brain. Consider quitting. You could reduce your headaches as well as your risk of cancer, emphysema, and heart disease.
If you are not a smoker, your headaches may be triggered by other people's tobacco smoke. Try avoiding smoke-filled rooms or being around people who smoke. Secondhand smoke is an independent health risk for many diseases, including cancer and heart disease, and may also cause your headaches.
Other health problems that can cause headaches. A number of other health problems can cause headaches. These include:
- temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disease, which affects the jaw muscles
- aneurysms (problems with the blood vessels in the brain or head)
- infections in the nervous system, such as in meningitis
- increased spinal fluid pressure inside the brain