6. Tooth or face discomfort
If your pain seems to be in your face and feels at times like an electric shock, you may have a nerve problem known as trigeminal neuralgia. The pain may be triggered by chewing, washing your face or brushing your teeth. While the condition can be treated with medication, it sometimes takes a while to get diagnosed, Mays says. “At first, the pain may seem like it’s in a tooth, so patients often go to the dentist. Sometimes, patients undergo root canals that are unnecessary.”
7. Vision problems
Tell a doctor if you have headaches
Even if you have no red-flag symptoms with your headaches, it's still a good idea to talk to a health care provider about them, says Mary Ann Mays, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic. “Self-treating can sometimes lead to more harm,” she adds. For example, taking ibuprofen regularly can have a negative effect on your kidneys.
Don't assume you have to live with your headaches if they are affecting your quality of life, Mays says. “Some patients may have given up trying to treat their headaches years ago, but there are a lot of new treatments that have a good safety profile.”
An ache that feels like it’s in or around one eye — especially if accompanied by vision problems — can signal acute glaucoma (also called closed-angle glaucoma). Unlike open-angle glaucoma, which progresses slowly and without symptoms, acute glaucoma is a sudden buildup of pressure or fluid in the eye that damages the optic nerve. It’s an emergency that can lead to complete vision loss within 48 hours, so it’s important to get to a hospital quickly.
8. Pain when you wake up
The most common diagnosis in older people who wake up with a headache is sleep apnea, Carver says. Sleep apnea typically causes a morning headache that gets better as the day goes on. You may also feel tired during the day. It’s important to be evaluated if you think you may have sleep apnea because if it’s not controlled, you are at greater risk of stroke and heart attack.
Morning headaches can be a sign of other problems, including a brain tumor, neck arthritis or medication withdrawal. If you have a history of cancer, a morning headache may indicate a neoplasm in the brain.
9. Headache shared by others in the house
Carbon monoxide poisoning could be the culprit if others in your household are also complaining of headaches, Mays says. If your headache goes away when you leave the house, that’s another clue there could be carbon monoxide in your home. Headache is the most commonly reported symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning. Other signs include dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless gas that can be deadly if you breathe in enough of it.
You should have a battery-operated or battery-backup CO detector in your home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends replacing the battery when you change the time on your clocks each fall and spring.
10. Additional neurological issues
It probably goes without saying that if along with your headache you have any confusion, memory problems, seizures, muscle weakness, numbness or trouble talking, that is a reason for concern, Carver says. Those are all neurological symptoms that indicate something is going on inside your brain, whether it’s inflammation, infection or a tumor. Your health care provider can order a scan and other tests to make a definitive diagnosis.
Editor's Note: This article, originally published on August 25, 2021, has been updated to reflect new information.