What’s Causing Your Headache?

Headaches are common throughout life, but sometimes there is a simple explanation.


Your headache may be occasional, or more frequent, and if that is the case then you do need to see your doctor to establish exactly what the problem is.

First check if any of these might be affecting you.

The hormone factor

Menopause can see an increase in headaches due to hormone fluctuations of both oestrogen and progesterone.

Headaches are usually caused when the blood vessels are dilated which is often a feature of oestrogen dominance, but progesterone does restore normal vascular tone to counteract the dilation in a safe and natural way.

If your oestrogen levels are fluctuating rapidly, and this can happen quite suddenly, that will very often trigger the blood vessels to go into a spasm, and especially if that happens round the back of the neck or the shoulders, the next thing that will lead to a headache.

Blurry vision

You may get a headache when you try to focus on something near your face. If you’re farsighted, things look fuzzy as you get closer to them.

It could be because your eyeball is too short or the clear covering on your eye, called the cornea, is too flat. You might be born with it, but it starts to happen to most people after 40 and an eye test will help establish what the issue is.

You may need glasses, contact lenses, or surgery that corrects the shape of your cornea.

Tense neck and shoulders

Do you hunch over your computer or tablet for hours or hold your phone to your ear with your shoulder or maybe stress makes you tense the muscles in your jaw?

Any of these may cause tension headaches and a hot shower, warming pad, and over-the-counter painkillers can help.

Regular exercise along with meditation and other relaxation approaches might stop it before it starts.

You’re hungry

Maybe you haven’t eaten for a while and that could give you low blood sugar, which triggers a headache.

It might help to have several small meals instead of three big ones and keep healthy snacks like nuts, fruit or oatcakes and hummus/cheese on hand for emergencies.

You skipped your morning coffee

Your body gets used to the caffeine and reminds you with a throbbing head if you forget to drink your regular cup.

When coffee isn’t at hand, green or black tea or even dark chocolate will do and if you want to quit your caffeine habit, please don’t do it all at once.

Cut down by about 25% a week to get used to it and avoid withdrawal symptoms.


You may have a dull ache in your neck or head that worsens as you get more sexually excited. Or it might be a throbbing headache that arrives quickly just as you climax. Some people feel both.

Most last minutes, but it can be hours. It’s usually nothing to worry about, but tell your doctor right away if you get a headache during or after sex, especially if it never happened before or it’s sudden, which could be signs of something serious.

Swollen sinuses

A simple cold can inflame hollow areas behind your cheekbones and forehead. The swelling could cause pain there that worsens when you bend over.

It might be hard to breathe because mucus, which can get thick and yellow or green, doesn’t drain properly and often non prescription painkillers can help you manage it.

There’s no need to call your doctor unless the symptoms are bad, don’t go away, or get worse.

Too much to drink

Unfortunately a night’s drinking means the following day you pay with a hangover that includes a throbbing head. That’s because alcohol disturbs your sleep and rids your body of liquid and you may feel tired and nauseous, too.

About three to five alcoholic drinks for women is enough to cause it so rehydrate with water, thin soup, or sports drinks.

Anti-inflammatory drugs can help, but avoid paracetamol, which is too hard on your liver when you’ve been drinking.

Ice cream

Sometimes called an “ice cream headache” or “brain freeze,” it happens when you eat something very cold, especially if you do it fast.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes it, but it could be that the icy temperature makes the blood vessels in your mouth shrink, which triggers pain signals to your brain.

It’s nothing to worry about and is usually gone in a minute or so and to prevent it, eat ice cream more slowly.

You hit your head

This one may seem obvious but headaches can start right away or months after an injury. They might be at the site of the blow or all over your skull and may get worse when you’re stressed.

The cause isn’t always clear, but sometimes too much blood builds up in one spot, called a haematoma.

In serious cases, you may feel weak, confused, nauseous, and forgetful so see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms or if you have a headache after hitting your head.

Ear infection

Bacteria or a virus may infect the air-filled middle ear, where tiny bones vibrate to make the sounds you hear.

It usually happens fast and fluid buildup could cause ear and head pain along with drainage of liquid, blood, or pus.

If you notice any of these symptoms, call your doctor, who will want to watch the infection and can help you manage pain and swelling. Most cases get better without treatment in 1-2 weeks.

Excessive pain relief

Even common over-the-counter medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, and paracetamol may cause headaches if you use them more than 15 days a month. Prescription opioids or drugs with caffeine might do it in just 10 days.

People who get migraines are more likely to have this problem and your doctor can help you change your medication and give you other strategies to make you feel better.

Headache triggers

Everyone is different, but foods that are more likely to cause a throbbing head include:

  • Aged cheese
  • Some fruit and nuts
  • Alcohol
  • Foods with nitrates, like processed meats, sausage, or bacon
  • Fermented or pickled foods like sauerkraut or relish
  • A flavour enhancer called MSG

You can figure out your triggers if you track what and when you eat in a food journal and notice what leads to a headache.

Working out

You might hurt on both sides of your head while you exercise hard or after you’re done. Running, swimming, or weightlifting can bring it on.

It’s usually nothing to worry about, but it’s best to check with your doctor to be sure it’s not something serious.

Get medical help right away if you also throw up, pass out, or have double vision.

Wrong pillow

It may give you a headache if it puts your body in the wrong posture all night. And if you toss and turn, the lack of sleep might also lead to a pounding head.

Look for a pillow that keeps your head and neck in line with the rest of your body, as if you are standing up.

Helpful information:

In rare cases, a headache might be a sign of something more serious. It could be a condition that develops slowly, such as a brain tumour, or a medical emergency, like a stroke.

Call 999 if the pain is sudden and severe or you notice any of these symptoms along with it:

  • Numbness or weakness on one side of your face or body
  • Garbled speech or confusion
  • Trouble seeing
  • Dizziness, loss of balance