We’ve all felt the symptoms of a headache at some point in our lives. Usually, they’re a minor annoyance that can be relieved using over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication.
But what if your headaches are constant, occurring almost every day?
Chronic daily headaches are when you have a headache for 15 days or more per month during a 3-month period. Both adults and children can have chronic, or constant, headaches. They can become debilitating and can interfere with your day-to-day activities.
The term “chronic daily headache” is rather broad and includes several different types of headaches that can occur on a daily basis:
- tension headache, which feels like a tightening band has been placed around your head
- migraine attacks, which feel like a very intense throbbing headache that can occur on one or both sides of your head and may sometimes be preceded by a collection of symptoms called aura
- cluster headache, which can occur on and off over a period of weeks or months and can cause severe pain on one side of your head, often in the area around or behind an eye
- hemicrania continua, which is a constant, or daily, headache that occurs on one side of your head and may feel similar to migraine
- new daily persistent headache, which involves headache pain that comes on suddenly and continues to occur daily, lasting for months without easing
Read on to learn more about constant headaches, what may cause them, and how you can manage them.
The symptoms of a constant headache can vary depending on the type of headache you’re experiencing. They include head pain that can:
- involve one or both sides of your head
- feel like a pulsing, throbbing, or tightening feeling
- vary in intensity from mild to severe
Other symptoms can include:
- nausea or vomiting
- sensitivity to lights, sounds, or smells
- a stuffy or runny nose
- redness or tearing up of the eyes
- feeling restless or agitated
Doctors still don’t know what exactly causes daily headache symptoms. Some possible causes include one or a combination of the following:
- Trigeminal nerve activation. The trigeminal nerve is a major nerve that’s found in your head and face. One of its functions is sending sensory information from the various structures and tissues in these areas to the brain. Activation of this nerve can lead to the symptoms of many types of headache.
- Muscle tension. Tightening of the muscles of the head and neck can create tension and lead to headache pain.
- Hormones. Changes in the levels of certain hormones, such as estrogen, are associated with the onset of some types of headache. For example, naturally occurring changes in estrogen levels likely play a role in the increased prevalence of migraine in women.
- Genetics. Although more research is needed, experts believe that genetics can influence your susceptibility to certain types of headache, particularly migraine.
Regardless of the exact mechanism, it’s known that headaches are often triggered by lifestyle or environmental factors. A few examples include:
- lack of sleep
- skipped meals
- physical exertion
- changes in weather
- caffeine or alcohol use
- feelings of anxiety or depression
- certain types of medications
While pain medication is often used to ease headache pain, overuse can also cause a constant headache. This is called a medication overuse headache or a rebound headache. You’re at risk for this type of headache if you take OTC or prescription pain medication more than 3 days per week, according to the
Experts currently believe that constant, or chronic, headaches result when an episodic headache disorder transforms into a chronic one. While the mechanisms behind this change are poorly understood, some risk factors for the transition from episodic to chronic headache include:
- overuse of pain medication
- disrupted sleep
- high caffeine intake
- persistently high stress levels
There are many possible treatments for constant headaches. A doctor will work with you to determine which treatment will be best for you. Your treatment will depend on the type of headache you’re experiencing.
Treatments for constant headache include:
Medications can be used to prevent or treat constant headaches. If overuse of OTC or prescription pain medication is contributing to constant headache, your doctor will likely recommend that you discontinue this medication to help break the headache cycle.
Often, the treatment of constant headaches aims to prevent headaches from happening. This can decrease the need for the use of pain medications. Some examples of medications that may help to prevent constant headaches include:
- antidepressants called tricyclics, such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline, which can prevent headaches and may also help manage the anxiety or depression that can occur with constant headaches
- antiseizure medications like gabapentin (Neurontin) and topiramate (Topamax)
- beta-blockers like propranolol (Inderal) and metoprolol (Lopressor)
- monoclonal antibodies to calcitonin gene-related peptide like erenumab (Aimovig), fremanezumab (Ajovy), eptinezumab (Vyepti), atogepant (Qulipta), and rimegepant (Nurtec), which work to prevent migraine attacks, and galcanezumab (Emgality), which can prevent migraine attacks and cluster headaches
- medications like the calcium channel blocker verapamil (Verelan) or the mood stabilizer lithium, which can help prevent cluster headache
- Botox injection, which is an injection of a neurotoxin made from the bacteria that causes botulism (Botox can also be an option for people who aren’t tolerating daily medication)
When headaches do happen, you may treat them with medications like:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve)
- triptans like sumatriptan (Imitrex) and rizatriptan (Maxalt)
- ergot derivatives like dihydroergotamine
Generally, however, use pain medications sparingly where possible. This is because they can lead to medication overuse or rebound headaches.
Your doctor may recommend other therapies as well, possibly in combination with medications. Non-medication therapies include:
- Therapy. You can receive therapy from a mental health professional either alone or in a group. Therapy can help you understand the mental effects of your headaches and discuss ways to cope.
- Biofeedback. Biofeedback uses monitoring devices to help you understand and learn to control body functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension.
- Nerve stimulation. This approach involves delivering electrical impulses to stimulate certain nerves. Occipital nerve stimulation may help with migraine, while vagus nerve stimulation can help to treat cluster headache.
- Acupuncture. This treatment involves inserting tiny hair-thin needles into specific places on the body.
- Massage. Massage may help with relaxation and reduce tension in muscles.
- Supplements. Options such as butterbur or feverfew may help to lower the frequency of migraine attacks.
A doctor may suggest making some lifestyle changes in order to help manage your headaches. These can include things like:
- avoiding things that can trigger your headaches
- making sure that you get enough sleep
- trying to eat meals more regularly
- managing weight if you have overweight or obesity
- exploring ways to lower your stress levels
- getting regular exercise
- limiting or avoiding caffeine or alcohol use
- quitting smoking
You can visit a primary care doctor to discuss your constant headaches. They may also refer you to a neurologist, which is a type of doctor who specializes in conditions that affect the nervous system.
To reach a diagnosis, a doctor will first take your medical history. They may ask questions like:
- How often do you get headaches?
- How long do your headaches last?
- Where is the pain located and what does it feel like?
- Do your headaches occur at a certain time or after a specific activity?
- Do you have any additional symptoms with your headaches?
- Do you have a family history of some types of headache, such as migraine?
- What medications are you taking?
A doctor will then perform a physical examination. Laboratory testing typically isn’t necessary unless you have symptoms of an infection or other illness.
During an examination, a doctor will work to rule out any possible secondary causes of headache, which can include:
- infections, such as meningitis or encephalitis
- obstructive sleep apnea
- traumatic brain injury
- brain tumor
- exposure to toxic chemicals or substances
A doctor may also use imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI, to help diagnose the cause of your headache.
In order to receive the most effective treatment for your constant headaches, visit a doctor to receive a diagnosis. The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if you don’t already have a doctor.
Make an appointment with a doctor to discuss your symptoms if:
- You’re experiencing two or more headaches in a week.
- Your headaches get worse or don’t improve when you use OTC pain medication.
- You use an OTC pain medication almost every day to control your headaches.
- You notice that things like physical exertion or strenuous activities trigger your headaches.
- Your headaches begin to interfere with your day-to-day activities, such as sleep, work, or school.
Sometimes a headache may be a symptom of a more serious problem, such as a stroke or meningitis. Go to the nearest emergency room if you experience:
- a severe headache that comes on suddenly
- a headache that includes symptoms of infection, such as high fever, stiff neck, nausea, or vomiting
- a headache that includes other neurological symptoms, such as confusion, numbness, or problems with coordination, walking, or speaking
- a headache that occurs after a head injury
It’s possible that you may have a few additional questions about headaches. We’ll address some of these below.
What kind of headaches does COVID-19 cause?
Headache is a potential symptom of COVID-19, the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2. Early estimates from the
However, these estimates vary greatly based on the group that’s being observed. For example, some studies have reported headache in
- typically affected both sides of the head
- could be felt as a variety of different sensations, including pulsing, pressing, or stabbing
- lasted a long time, sometimes over 72 hours
- were more resistant to pain relieving medications
- often occurred along with other COVID-19 symptoms like loss of taste and smell or digestive symptoms
- felt different from their typical headaches (in those with a history of headaches)
Headache can also be a symptom of post COVID-19 condition, or long COVID. An
Is it common to have headaches every day?
Chronic daily headaches aren’t that common. According to a 2017 review, the estimated worldwide prevalence ranges between 3 and 5 percent. It’s believed that most of these people have chronic migraine.
When should you be concerned about a headache?
There are some red flags that indicate that you should be concerned about a headache. These include a headache that:
- happens two or more times per week
- recurs or is persistent
- gradually worsens over several days
- is different from your typical headache patterns or symptoms
- is very severe and comes on suddenly
- develops after you’ve had a head injury
You might also be concerned about a headache that happens with any of the following symptoms:
- nausea and vomiting not related to another known illness
- high fever
- stiff neck
- shortness of breath
- blurry vision
- loss of consciousness
Headaches are also concerning when they’re new and happen in:
- older people
- those who are living with HIV
- people with a history of cancer or a weakened immune system
If you have a headache that falls into any of these categories, it’s important to visit a doctor promptly. They can help to evaluate your condition and determine what may be causing your headache.
Constant or chronic daily headaches happen when you have a headache for 15 days or more out of a month. Many types of headaches can become constant, including tension headaches and migraine.
A variety of treatment options are available for managing constant headaches. Speak with a doctor about your symptoms to receive a proper diagnosis and the most effective treatment for you.