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Headaches are a very common ailment. There are a few different types of headaches and many different causes of headaches. Some causes are benign and less worrisome; these include stress or anxiety, muscle tension, dehydration, alcohol hangover, caffeine withdrawal, prolonged eye strain or squinting. Some causes are more serious and require immediate evaluation and treatment including altitude sickness, high fever, carbon monoxide poisoning, stroke, tumor, meningitis and other severe infections.

The most common type of headache is called a tension headache. These headaches are usually described as tightness or ache, located on both sides of the head and more commonly felt in the forehead, back of head and neck. Another kind of headache is called a migraine headache, which is often described as pounding or pulsating, commonly located on one side of the head (although sometimes both sides) and can be associated with nausea, vomiting, and light and noise sensitivity.


Treatment for headaches depends on the type and cause of the headaches. For tension headaches, we recommend ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help relieve the pain. For migraine headaches, ibuprofen or acetaminophen in conjunction with a caffeinated beverage may improve symptoms. For headaches related to dehydration, it is important to hydrate, and oral fluids such as oral rehydration solution can help with this. If you are experiencing headaches that could be related to altitude sickness, it is important that you stop ascending and if possible, move to a lower elevation.

When To Worry

Seek immediate medical care if you have any of the following:

Quick Guide

If you have

  • headache that feels like a tight band around the head
  • no fever or vomiting

You may have

tension headache

Consider using

ibuprofen 600 mg every 6 hours as needed for pain OR

acetaminophen 1000 mg every 6-8 hours as needed for pain (do not exceed 3000 mg per day)

If you have

  • throbbing headache on one side of your head
  • sensitivity to light or noise
  • nausea or vomiting

You may have

migraine headache

Consider using

ibuprofen 600 mg every 6 hours as needed for pain OR

acetaminophen 1000 mg every 6-8 hours as needed for pain (do not exceed 3000 mg per day)

You can try drinking a caffeinated beverage with these medicines to lessen symptoms of migraine headache

If you have

  • very severe headache
  • fever
  • nausea or vomiting
  • headache associated with neck pain/stiffness
  • confusion
  • severe eye pain or visual changes

You may have

meningitis, high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), stroke, bleeding in the brain, acute glaucoma, or other life-threatening cause of headache

You should

seek emergency medical care


Ibuprofen (generic for Motrin, generic for Advil) is a pain reliever and the most commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Ibuprofen is used to treat pain.


Acetaminophen (generic for Tylenol) is a pain reliever and fever reducer. Acetaminophen is used to treat pain.


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