Medication Information Leaflet

What is headache?

A headache refers to pain at any part of the head. It may be on one or both sides of the head and may be a sharp, pounding pain or a dull ache. Headaches may last for less than an hour to a few days. 

There are several different types of headache and many different causes. Most people get headaches occasionally, but some people often get headaches. A headache can be a symptom of a serious illness. 

What are the possible causes of this condition?

Headaches can be caused by a number of reasons such as

  • Medical conditions like
    • Anxiety or depression
    • Hormone changes (For example during menstruation or pregnancy)
    • Infections and other illnesses
    • Jaw and dental problems
    • Back and neck problems
    • Certain allergies or use of medications
  • Dietary causes like
    • Caffeine withdrawal
    • Eating certain foods and additives
    • Eating very cold food
    • Drinking alcohol
    • Delaying or missing meals and drinks
  • Lifestyle causes like
    • Smoking
    • Having too little or too much sleep
    • Having a poor posture
    • Having too much stress or tension
    • Eye strain
  • Environmental causes like
    • Bright or flickering light
    • Noise
    • Strong smells or fumes
    • Weather, air pressure and altitude changes

What are the symptoms of headache?

The symptoms of headache depend on the type of headache you are having. Some of the types of headache and their symptoms include:

  • Tension-type headache
    • Most common type of headache
    • Pain is usually constant rather than throbbing
    • Pain is usually felt on both sides of the head
    • May feel like a band of heaviness, pressure or tightness around the head and neck
    • May last from 30 minutes to several days
  • Migraine
    • Pain is usually throbbing (pounding) in nature
    • Pain usually occurs only on one side of the head
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Feeling more sensitive to light, noise and smell
    • May last from 4 to 72 hours
  • Sinus headache
    • Pain and tenderness usually around the eyes, cheeks or forehead
    • Pain is usually only on one side of the face
    • Pain is often worse when bending forward or lying down
  • Medicine overuse headache
    • Can be caused by frequent use of pain-relieving medicines for headache and migraines
    • A headache may be a medicine overuse headache if it occurs more than 15 days per month and pain relievers are used on more than 10 days per month for more than 3 months
  • Cluster headache:  
    • A very bad pounding pain that is one-sided and located around or behind the eye 
    • Becomes painful quickly, often within minutes 
    • Usually comes with blocked or runny nose. The eye on the affected side may also become red, teary and swollen.  
    • The cause of cluster headache is unknown, but smoking and alcohol use may trigger it.

What can I do to treat headaches?

Headaches can be treated in the following ways and you can approach your pharmacist to get the following medications. 

  • Paracetamol, Paracetamol with Codeine, Paracetamol with Codeine and Caffeine
  • Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Diclofenac

When do I need to see a doctor?

Although headaches can be treated without a doctor’s consultation, there are times where the condition might be more serious. 

If your condition does not get better in 2 weeks or gets worse, you should see a doctor. You should also see a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Headache that has a ‘thunderclap’ nature or is the worst headache of your life
  • Headache that is not relieved by non-prescription pain relievers
  • Happens on more than 15 days a month
  • Pain relievers are needed for more than 10 days a month for more than 3 months
  • Headaches start after exercise, sex, straining or coughing
  • Headaches that develop:
    • Suddenly or are of a new type
    • While on oral contraceptive pills or hormone replacement therapy
    • After a head injury
  • Headaches that come with stiff neck, feeling confused, numbness, weakness, changes in eyesight or difficulty speaking 
  • Rashes
  • Seizures
  • Visual disturbances
  • Numbness on one side of the body

What else can I do to manage this condition?

Other than using medications to treat the condition, headache can also be managed by the following methods:

  • Keeping a headache diary to identify headache patterns, possible triggers, helpful treatments and how often you use pain relieving medicines
  • Making some lifestyle changes such as
    • Changing your sleep habits to improve your sleep quality
    • Getting more sleep and rest
    • Exercising regularly
    • Having a healthy diet 
  • Using relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing to relax your mind and body
  • Resting in a dark, quiet room
  • Placing a piece of cool cloth on your head

The following are some suggestions to prevent headaches from happening again:

  • Avoid headache triggers if possible.
  • Reduce stress, plan ahead and let others help you.
  • Exercise at moderate level for at least 30 minutes on all or most days of the week.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat regular, healthy meals.
  • Drink enough water every day.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Wear sunglasses to reduce glare.
  • Stretch your neck and shoulder muscles once in a while when reading or using the computer. Keep a good posture when standing or sitting to reduce stress on your muscles. Take regular breaks if you work in the same position all day.


This article is jointly developed by members of the National Medication Information workgroup. The workgroup consists of cluster partners (National Healthcare Group, National University Health System and SingHealth), community pharmacies (Guardian, Unity and Watsons) and Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore. The content does not reflect drug availability and supply information in pharmacies and healthcare institutions. You are advised to check with the respective institutions for such information.

The content above is solely for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or supplement, or adopting any treatment for a health problem.

Last updated on November 2023

Back to Top