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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 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 coronavirus

Urgent advice: Get advice from 111 now if:

You have a severe headache and:

  • your jaw hurts when eating
  • blurred or double vision
  • your scalp feels sore
  • you get other symptoms – for example, your arms or legs feel numb or weak

111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.

Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.

Other ways to get help

A GP may be able to treat you.

Ask your GP surgery for an urgent appointment.

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

  • you injured or hit your head badly – for example, from a fall or accident
  • a headache came on suddenly and is extremely painful

You have an extremely painful headache and:

  • sudden problems speaking or remembering things
  • loss of vision
  • you're feeling drowsy or confused
  • you have a very high temperature, feel hot and shivery, and have a stiff neck or a rash
  • the white part of your eye is red

What can cause headaches

The most common reasons are:

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

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