Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

What should you do when your head hurts?

6/21/2021 by Nathan Young, D.O.


Of the hundreds of types of headaches, the four most common types are: 

  • Sinus 
    Sinus headaches cause pain in the face, sinuses, eyes, ears or forehead; congestion; itching and runny nose; fever; and swelling in the face. 
  • Tension 
    Tension headaches typically feel like a tight band or compression, without throbbing or sensitivity. 
  • Migraine 
    Migraine headaches tend to be throbbing and pounding, and associated with sensitivity to light, sound, smell and movement. 
  • Cluster 
    Cluster headaches tend to cause severe pain on one side of the head and occur off and on for weeks over the course of a few months. 

How do you know what type of headache you have and when should you be seen? Is it serious, and do you need to go to the emergency department? 

Most headaches will resolve on their own with over-the-counter pain relievers, time and rest. If the headache pattern is consistent with migraine or tension-type headache, and does not occur with the loss of vision, strength, coordination, walking or the ability to communicate, then a brain MRI or other brain scans are generally not needed or beneficial. You can manage these headaches and may not need or benefit from a visit with your primary care provider. 

Any headache that persists or is associated with changes in your function of vision, communication, strength, coordination or walking should be evaluated urgently in a clinic or the emergency department. 

If you are seen by your care team in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson, keep in mind that they are directly connected to the Integrated Community Specialty — Neurology team. This team of specialists in the Baldwin building in Rochester is easily accessible to your care team at the time of your visit. The team can offer a specialty perspective and advice that may lead to a faster diagnosis and effective treatment. The team-based model and excellent collaboration may save you from added trips to the office to be seen. 

Nathan Young, D.O., is a community general neurologist practicing in the Integrated Community Specialty — Neurology practice at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He has special interests and focuses on headaches, particularly migraines, as well as general neurology.