What does a right-sided headache mean?
Read on to learn more about headaches on the right side of the head and remedies to help manage the pain.
A headache on the right side of the head may be caused by:
Neurological issues can cause a headache on the right side only.
Various issues in the brain can cause a one-sided pain.
The following neurological conditions may be responsible for headaches on one side:
- Occipital neuralgia: This occurs when nerves running from the top of the spinal cord to the scalp (occipital nerves) become damaged or inflamed. Symptoms include sharp pain in the back of the head and neck, pain behind the eye, and sensitivity to light.
- Temporal arteritis: Arteries in the head and neck become inflamed with temporal arteritis. Along with muscle pain, it causes a severe headache on the side of the head. Other symptoms include fatigue, jaw pain, and tender temples.
- Trigeminal neuralgia: This causes intense pain in the face and head. The pain usually affects only one side at a time. It is caused by disruption to the trigeminal nerve at the base of the brain.
Headaches can occur as a side effect of prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications. They can also be caused by overusing medication, including OTC painkillers such as:
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
This type of headache is called a rebound headache. According to the World Health Organization, it is the most common type of secondary headache disorder. A secondary headache is a headache that is caused by another condition.
Headaches caused by medication overuse are often at their worst upon waking.
Other causes of headaches can lead to pain across the entire head or just one side.
- an aneurysm, a weak or bulging artery wall
- head injury
- infections, including sinus infections
- fluctuations in blood sugar levels caused by missing meals
- muscle strains or knots in the neck
What types of headache affect the right side?
There are over 300 types of headache, about 90 percent of which have no known cause.
Migraines are often accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound.
Genetics are thought to play a role in migraine headaches — a type of severe headache that causes a pulsating sensation or throbbing pain in the head.
The severe pulsating sensations or throbbing are usually accompanied by:
- blurred vision
- sensitivity to light
- sensitivity to sound
Up to a third of people that get migraines experience visual disturbances or temporary loss of vision (known as an aura) before the onset of the pain. Symptoms can last for up to 72 hours if untreated, with the pain typically affecting only one side of the head.
The following factors can trigger migraines:
- bright lights
- changes in weather (humidity, heat, pressure)
- emotional stress or anxiety
- foods and drinks, such as alcohol, chocolate, cheese, and cured meats
- hormonal changes in women
- loud noises
- skipping meals
- strong smells
- too much or too little sleep
Early treatment is key to reducing the length and severity of symptoms. Treatments include OTC or prescription medicines. Prevention involves avoiding triggers and using preventative medications, in some cases.
Cluster headaches are rare but severe headaches that occur in cyclical patterns. The pain is intense and usually located around one eye. It may also radiate to other areas of the head and face, as well as the neck and shoulders.
People typically experience frequent headache attacks (clusters) for weeks or months before a period of remission.
Other symptoms of cluster headaches include:
- facial sweating
- pale or flushed skin
- red or watery eyes
- stuffy or runny nose
- swelling around the affected eye
Men tend to experience cluster headaches more often than women. The exact cause is unknown, but smoking, alcohol use, and a family history of cluster headaches may increase risk.
There is no cure for the condition, although treatments can reduce the number and severity of cluster headaches.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, occurring in 75 percent of people.
They usually affect both sides of the head, but some people may have symptoms on one side only.
- dull, aching pain
- scalp tenderness
- tender or tight shoulder and neck muscles
- tightness or pressure across the forehead, sides, or back of the head
Symptoms usually last for a few minutes to a few hours and are mild to moderate in severity.
Occasional tension headaches can be treated with OTC pain relievers or home remedies. People with frequent tension headaches may need to change their lifestyle, identify and avoid triggers, or use prescription medications.
When to see a doctor
Many cases of headache will resolve on their own, without any intervention. People that experience headaches regularly should make an appointment with their doctor to identify the underlying cause.
Anyone who experiences the following symptoms alongside a headache must seek medical attention:
- changes in vision
- head injury
- increased pain during movement
- neck stiffness
- personality or cognitive changes
- sleep disturbances
- slurred speech
People who have headaches that are very severe or get progressively worse should also see a doctor.
Tips for quick relief
Inhaling diffused essential oils may help to relieve headache pain.
Many headaches can be treated quickly and successfully at home by trying the following:
- applying a warm or cold compress to the back of the neck
- avoiding foods that trigger headaches, including alcohol, caffeine, and MSG
- drinking water to address dehydration
- having a nap
- loosening tight hairstyles such as ponytails and braids
- massaging tight muscles in the neck and shoulders
- moving away from bright or flashing lights, loud noises, and strong smells
- stopping slouching, as muscular tension can cause headaches
- taking a warm bath or shower
- taking a break from screens, including computers, tablets, and television
- taking OTC painkillers, but avoiding excessive use of them as they can trigger rebound headaches
- doing breathing exercises to reduce pain and alleviate stress and anxiety
- using aromatherapy, diffusing oils such as eucalyptus, lavender, or peppermint oils for tension headaches
Headaches are a widespread health complaint, affecting the majority of people at least occasionally.
Most headaches are not cause for concern. Usually, symptoms will resolve within minutes to hours and can be eased with OTC medications, lifestyle changes, and home remedies.
See a doctor if headaches are severe, persist, or get progressively worse. Even if a migraine or a cluster headache is responsible for the pain, many treatments are available to manage symptoms and reduce the frequency of the headaches.