Causes of headache at the front of the head

There are many different types of headaches, several of which involve frontal head pain. Identifying the specific type can help a person or their doctor determine the best treatment.

Causes of headache at the front of the head
Ache at the front of the head

A headache at the front of the head is rarely related to that part of the brain, and it is not a condition in itself. Pain in the front of the head usually indicates one of several types of headaches.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 9 in 10 adults will experience a headache at some point during their lifetime. Headaches are among the most common reasons for consulting a doctor or missing work or school.

In this article, we explain types of headaches that can cause pain in the front of the head. We discuss the causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment and offer advice on when to see a doctor.

Headaches that cause frontal head pain

Each of the four types of headaches below is likely to cause pain in the front of the head.

1. Tension headache

A tension headache is the most common type of headache, and most people will experience a tension headache from time to time.

These headaches have the following symptoms:

  • a dull, constant ache that a person can feel throughout the head
  • pain that often begins in the forehead or temples or behind the eyes
  • pain around the head, scalp, face, neck, and shoulders
  • a sensation of tightness or pressure that resembles the tightening of a belt around the head

The severity of tension headaches can range from mild to severe.

A tension headache typically lasts between 30 minutes and several hours, but can sometimes persist for days. A tension headache may also occur on multiple days within a month.

Stress, anxiety, or depression often triggers tension headaches, but tension headache can also occur due to tiredness, bad posture, or musculoskeletal problems in the neck.

People can often relieve pain from tension headaches by taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin. The following actions may also be helpful:

  • having a massage
  • exercising the neck gently
  • taking a hot shower
  • placing a hot towel or washcloth on the forehead or neck

It is important to seek medical care for severe or persistent headaches and for those that occur more than 15 times a month, which doctors consider chronic. A doctor may sometimes prescribe the antidepressant amitriptyline to treat chronic tension headaches.

2. Eyestrain

Eyestrain may also lead to frontal headaches. Headaches resulting from eyestrain may feel similar to a tension headache, but uncorrected vision or astigmatism in one or both eyes is usually the cause.

Eyestrain can have various causes, including:

  • prolonged visual tasks, such as reading or using a computer
  • extended periods of concentration
  • emotional stress
  • bad posture

People with eyestrain headaches should see an eye doctor, called an ophthalmologist, for an eye test. If defective eyesight is the cause, a person may require glasses or contact lenses.

People can also take certain steps to minimize eyestrain. These steps include:

  • taking regular breaks from visually demanding tasks
  • practicing good posture when sitting at a desk
  • stretching the neck, arms, and back regularly
  • using an anti-glare filter for computer screens

3. Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are rare but can be extremely painful. A person will typically feel pain on one side of the head, often around the eye, temple, or forehead.

These headaches usually begin without warning, and they can last for several hours. A person may experience more than one of these headaches a day.

Other symptoms of cluster headaches include:

  • feeling restless or agitated
  • nasal discharge
  • a blocked nose
  • a watering or swollen eye

People can experience bouts of cluster headaches that go on for weeks or months, usually 4–12 weeks. These headaches tend to occur around the same time each day and often wake people up.

The cause of cluster headaches is not well-understood, but they may occur in families. Alcohol, smoking tobacco, and exposure to strong-smelling chemicals can trigger headache attacks.

People experiencing cluster headaches need to speak with a doctor. Treatment options include:

  • sumatriptan
  • corticosteroids
  • oxygen therapy
  • lithium
  • verapamil, a calcium channel blocker
  • injections of local anesthetic into the back of the head

In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to implant an electrical stimulation device in the side of that person’s face.

4. Sinus headaches

An infection or allergic reaction can cause the sinuses to become inflamed, which is known as sinusitis.

The swelling of the sinuses can result in a frontal headache and tenderness around the forehead, cheeks, and eyes.

The characteristics of these headaches include:

  • a dull, throbbing ache
  • pain that head movements aggravate
  • nasal discharge
  • a blocked nose
  • fever
  • a toothache

People often have sinusitis following a cold or the flu, and it usually resolves without treatment.

However, a person looking to relieve the associated congestion can use a saltwater solution to clear their nostrils or inhale steam from a bowl of hot water.

The best way to manage sinusitis depends on the cause:

  • A cold or the flu: A person can use over-the-counter nasal decongestants and pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Bacterial infection: A doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.
  • Allergy: A doctor may recommend an antihistamine.

A doctor might also provide a corticosteroid nasal spray to relieve swelling. In some cases, it may be necessary to refer a person with sinusitis to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

Anyone who has sinusitis that persists for longer than a week or gets worse should speak with a doctor.

Prevention

Certain lifestyle practices can help prevent or reduce the frequency of headaches. These actions include:

  • Getting enough sleep: A person should try to go to sleep and wake up at regular times and resist the urge to oversleep on the weekends. Most adults require at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
  • Engaging in regular physical activity: Exercising several times a week can help reduce stress and improve or maintain physical fitness.
  • Improving posture: If poor posture is the cause of a person’s headaches, they should sit up straight and ensure that the lower back is properly supported. It is best to avoid sitting in the same position for too long and to take regular breaks from sitting at desks and looking at screens.
  • Drinking moderate caffeine intake: Although too much caffeine can cause headaches, quitting drinking caffeine suddenly can also have this effect, particularly if a person has habitually consumed large amounts of caffeine.
  • Drinking plenty of water: By drinking enough water throughout the day, people can avoid a dehydration headache.
  • Avoiding frequent use of pain relievers: The overuse of medication to manage headaches — which usually means taking pain relievers on 10 or more days of the month — can cause headaches. A doctor can offer advice on preventive treatment approaches.

Common causes for headaches include:

  • stress or anger
  • poor posture
  • perfume and other chemicals
  • air pressure and weather changes
  • medications
  • grinding the teeth
  • bright lights
  • some foods and drinks, including cheese, sodas, processed meats, and cold foods, such as ice cream

Therapies and activities that aid in relaxation or help manage pain and stress may also help prevent headaches. These therapies include:

  • biofeedback
  • muscle relaxation techniques
  • meditation and breathing exercises
  • applying heat
  • cognitive behavioral therapy for stress
  • massage
  • neck exercises
  • physical therapy
  • yoga

You should keep a headache diary to identify the triggers.

Summary

Many types of headaches can cause pain in the front of the head. In most cases, this pain is the result of a tension headache.

People can take several steps to help prevent frontal headaches, including managing stress, maintaining good posture, and drinking plenty of water.

Anyone who experiences persistent, worsening, or very severe headaches should seek medical advice.

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