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Headaches

Most headaches go away on their own and are not a sign of something more serious.

How you can ease headaches yourself

Headaches can last between 30 minutes and several hours.

Do

  • drink plenty of water

  • get plenty of rest if you have a cold or the flu

  • try to relax – stress can make headaches worse

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen

Don’t

  • do not drink alcohol

  • do not skip meals (even if you might not feel like eating anything)

  • do not sleep more than you usually would – it can make the headache worse

  • do not strain your eyes for a long time – for example, by looking at a screen

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • your headache keeps coming back
  • painkillers do not help and your headache gets worse
  • you have a bad throbbing pain at the front or side of your head – it could be a migraine or, more rarely, a cluster headache
  • you feel sick, vomit and find light or noise painful
Information:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during COVID-19

Urgent advice: Get an urgent GP appointment or call 111 if:

You or your child has a severe headache and:

  • jaw pain when eating
  • blurred or double vision
  • a sore scalp
  • other symptoms, such as numbness or weakness in the arms or legs

Also get an urgent GP appointment or call 111 if your child is under 12 and has any 1 of the following:

  • a headache that wakes them at night
  • a headache when they wake up in the morning
  • a headache that gets progressively worse
  • a headache triggered or made worse by coughing, sneezing or bending down
  • a headache with vomiting
  • a headache with a squint (where the eyes point in different directions) or an inability to look upward

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if you or your child:

  • has a head injury – for example, from a fall or accident
  • has a headache that came on suddenly and is extremely painful

You or your child has an extremely painful headache and:

  • sudden problems speaking or remembering things
  • loss of vision
  • feel drowsy or confused
  • has a very high temperature and symptoms of meningitis
  • the white part of the eye is red

Also call 999 or go to A&E if your child is under 12 and has any 1 of the following:

  • a headache with vision problems or difficulty speaking, swallowing, balancing or walking
  • a headache with drowsiness or a persistent lack of energy
  • a headache that starts within 5 days of a head injury

What can cause headaches

The most common reasons are:

  • having a cold or flu
  • stress
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • bad posture
  • eyesight problems
  • not eating regular meals
  • not drinking enough fluids (dehydration)
  • taking too many painkillers
  • having your period or during menopause

Page last reviewed: 09 February 2021
Next review due: 09 February 2024