Pain on top of the head: 9 causes (and what to do)


Pain on top of the head is usually caused by lack of sleep, drinking cold water quickly, blows or colds, and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, cough and nausea.

Although it is not always a serious problem, when there are other symptoms such as seizures or loss of vision, it can indicate more serious illnesses such as tumors and more serious injuries, which may need to be treated quickly.

If the pain on top of the head is frequent or accompanied by other symptoms, it is recommended to consult a general practitioner for an evaluation, as identifying the cause is important to adapt the treatment.

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What could be the pain in the top of the head?

To find out what may be causing your headache, please answer the following questions:

This tool should only be used to try to identify the possible cause of belly pain. Therefore, it should not replace a consultation with a doctor, who is the professional responsible for confirming the diagnosis and recommending the most appropriate treatment.

9 causes of pain on top of the head:

The main causes of pain in the top of the head are:

1. Bumps and injuries

Pain on top of the head caused by blows and minor injuries usually does not cause symptoms other than pain and minor swelling. Although some people may also experience symptoms such as difficulty concentrating and sleeping in the following days, these symptoms tend to pass within a few days without being considered a problem.

What to do: Pain on top of the head due to blows and minor injuries tends to improve within a few days, however, if the pain persists for more than a week, it is recommended to consult a general practitioner or neurologist.

However, if there are symptoms such as vomiting, seizures or fainting immediately after the blow, they may indicate more serious injuries, and it is important to go to an emergency room for evaluation.

2. Respiratory infections

Respiratory infections, such as the flu or COVID-19, in addition to causing symptoms such as cough, fever and nasal congestion, can also cause pain in the body and on top of the head, which tends to worsen when tilting the head forward. Check out the main symptoms of COVID-19.

What to do: In case of suspected respiratory infections such as flu or COVID-19, it is recommended to consult a general practitioner or infectious disease specialist to confirm the diagnosis and initiate the most appropriate treatment, which may involve medications such as antipyretics and analgesics. See more treatment options for the flu.

3. Sinusitis

Pain above the head caused by sinusitis usually affects the front of the head and causes a feeling of pressure or tightness. Additionally, other symptoms such as yellowish nasal discharge, fever, and stuffy nose often occur as well, and although they are similar to the symptoms of a cold, they tend to be worse and last longer. Understand better what sinusitis is.

What to do: Rinsing your nose with saline can be useful to alleviate symptoms, however it is important to consult a general practitioner if you suspect sinusitis, as appropriate treatment may also involve the use of medications such as antibiotics and nasal decongestants. Check out medications and home remedies to treat sinusitis.

4. Tension headache

Tension headaches can cause pain at the top of the head, causing a feeling of tightness or pressure, and are usually not accompanied by other symptoms. Normally, this type of pain tends to occur in moments of greater anxiety or stress, and can last up to 7 days in the most intense cases.

What to do: Relaxation techniques can help relieve pain in the head caused by anxiety or stress, however, if you suspect a tension headache it is important to consult a general practitioner or neurologist for an evaluation. Discover some alternative relaxation techniques.

Treatment, when indicated, generally involves analgesics, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, and antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, which can help reduce the frequency of pain and its intensity. See how tension headache is treated.

5. Migraine

Migraines are another cause of pain above the head, especially if it affects only one side. Typically, migraine pain is throbbing, accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, intolerance to sound or light and tends to worsen with physical exertion, such as walking or carrying weight. Learn more migraine symptoms.

What to do: Maintaining a physical exercise routine, eating frequently and sleeping at regular times can help alleviate pain and control crises. Additionally, practicing meditation and yoga can also be beneficial.

However, if you suspect a migraine, it is important to consult a general practitioner or neurologist, because appropriate treatment usually involves medication, such as analgesics and anticonvulsants.

6. Drink cold water or food

Pain on top of the head can occur after drinking or eating something cold due to the stimulus caused by the cold, which is known as “brain freeze”. In this case, the pain is usually felt in the front of the head and usually improves within a few minutes after the stimulus.

What to do: To avoid headaches due to the stimulus caused by the cold, it is recommended to consume very cold drinks or foods more slowly or at their natural temperature, or even avoid them.

7. Going without sleep

Poor sleep quality can cause pain that can be intense and feel like a weight or pressure on top of the head. Furthermore, going without sleep is harmful to your health and worsens your memory.

What to do: getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and maintaining good posture even when sitting can be beneficial in avoiding headaches. The recommendation is to sleep 6 to 8 hours a night, preferably in a dark, silent and comfortable environment. Additionally, using an ergonomic chair if you sit for a long time during the day can also help. Check out tips for a good night’s sleep.

However, if the headache is frequent, it is recommended to consult a general practitioner or neurologist for an evaluation.

8. Neuralgia occipital

Occipital neuralgia happens when the nerves that move from the spine to the scalp are damaged, irritated or pinched, which can cause pain in the back of the head, or a stabbing sensation at the top of the head.

Other symptoms such as increased sensitivity in the affected region and sensations such as tingling or burning when touched in the region may also occur.

What to do: applying hot compresses, massage and physiotherapy can alleviate symptoms, however, if occipital neuralgia is suspected, it is recommended to consult a neurologist because medications such as anti-inflammatories and anticonvulsants, or botulinum toxin injection may be indicated. Understand the treatment for neuralgia.

9. Tumors

Brain tumors can cause pain in the top of the head, however, they also tend to cause other symptoms such as seizures, nausea, vomiting and episodes of transient vision loss. Furthermore, the headache tends to be worse in the morning, when lying down, coughing or making intense efforts, such as carrying weights. See other symptoms of brain tumors.

What to do: If you suspect a brain tumor, it is important to consult a general practitioner or neurologist for tests such as computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging. When indicated, tumor treatment may involve surgery and chemotherapy. See the main treatment options for brain tumors.

When to go to the doctor

It is important to see a doctor if:

  • Frequent headache, especially if there is no history of headache;
  • Headache worsens over time;
  • Increased pain when lying down or coughing;
  • Convulsive crisis;
  • Loss of vision, even if temporary;
  • Double vision;
  • Weakness in any part of the body;
  • History of cancer;
  • Waking up at night due to a headache.

In these cases, imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography may be indicated to rule out serious causes of headache, such as brain tumors, and allow the start of the most appropriate treatment.