Temple Headache: What Causes It and How to Get Rid of It

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

A headache is a feeling of discomfort or pain in the head, face, or neck. Almost everyone will experience a headache at some point in their life. More than 50 percent of adults have at least one episode of headache every year. Headaches vary in intensity, some being sharp, dull, or pulsating. Because of how often we experience regular headaches, we often dismiss them as inconsequential. We pay more attention to unusual patterns, like when the pain is persistent or localized to one part of the head.

Continue reading to find out what causes a headache on one side of your head and how to ease it.

What is a temple headache?

A temple headache is a type of throbbing pain in the temple region, usually on just one side of your head. It is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea and dizziness. People often experience temple headaches as part of primary headache disorders like tension and migraine headaches.

More rarely, headaches on one side of the head can also signify other health issues like brain tumors, stroke, or infection.

Headaches affect everyone regardless of age, race, or gender. The World Health Organization estimates that 50 to 75 percent of adults aged 18 to 64 had a headache in the past year. Temple headaches present with varying characteristics ranging from a painless feeling of pressure to disabling, throbbing pain.

Is it normal to have a headache on one side of your head?

It is fairly normal to experience headaches on one side of the head from time to time. Most temple headaches result from muscle tension due to stress, dehydration, or anxiety. Visual problems might also occasionally produce serious pain in your temples, usually from prolonged straining.

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Tension headaches, occurring in about 75 percent of adults worldwide, can also be isolated to one or both sides of the head. These kinds of headaches are usually relieved by rest and over-the-counter pain medications. However, if these do not work, then you may need to see an expert.

What’s causing a headache on the right or the left side of your head?

A feeling of pressure or tightness in either side of the head may be caused by boredom, dehydration, eye strain, or the stress of normal, day-to-day activities. These types of headaches usually resolve with rest. A persistent headache on the left or right side of your head may point to more serious underlying problems, like an internal bleed within the brain, an eye problem like glaucoma, or a tumor. The following are some of the most frequent forms of headaches and their potential causes.

Tension headache

These usually manifest as dull, non-throbbing pain, resulting in constant aches that you can feel throughout the head.

The pain often begins in the forehead, temples, or behind the eyes. Sometimes you may experience tenderness around your head, scalp, face, neck, or shoulders, accompanied by an uncomfortable sensation of tightness or pressure that resembles the tightening of a belt around your head.

A woman with a temple headache sitting in front of a laptop

Tension headaches can be anywhere from mild to severe. Most last between half an hour to several hours. In some rare cases, tension headaches may persist for days.

Tension headaches can be caused by the following:

  • Tension in the muscles of the neck and jaw
  • Stress
  • Skipping a meal
  • Insufficient or irregular sleep
  • Dehydration

You can experience tension headaches when you are anxious, depressed, or experiencing other intense emotional states.

Stress, tiredness, poor posture, and problems in the neck can also cause you to have a tension headache.

The go-to treatment for most people with tension headaches is analgesic medications like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Aside from drugs, getting some sleep, correcting bad posture, and relaxing can help relieve many episodes of tension headaches.

Migraine headache

Migraine headaches are often so severe that they interfere with the daily activities of the affected individuals. For many people, migraine headaches are usually preceded by warning symptoms referred to as an aura. These aura symptoms range from visual disturbances, nausea, and vomiting to difficulty speaking.

Although migraine symptoms vary from person to person, migraine headaches are often said to begin in the temple. Some of the symptoms of migraine headaches include the following:

  • Moderate to severe headache pain that is one-sided, stabbing, or pulsating
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Fatigue
  • Visual disturbances, such as flashing lights, zigzags, or total loss of sight
  • Restlessness
  • Pulsating pain that usually occurs on only one side of the head but may also occur simultaneously on both sides of the head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Watery, runny, or stuffy nose

Migraine attacks may last from four to 72 hours and usually affect only one side of the head. The treatment for migraines varies depending on the symptoms and frequency of pain. If you have migraine symptoms, see your physician to find the best course of treatment for you. They may prescribe medication that can prevent a migraine attack but that may not be easily accessible over the counter.

Download WeatherWell to track your symptoms every day and better understand your headache triggers.

Temporal arteritis

Temporal arteritis is a condition causing inflammation or swelling in one of the two temporal arteries on the sides of your head. It is also called giant cell arteritis, and it usually affects older individuals over 50 years of age.

This condition disrupts blood flow in the affected region and can cause the following:

  • Jaw pain when talking or chewing
  • Throbbing headache on one side or back of the head
  • Pain when touching the temple or scalp
  • Muscle pain in the arms
  • Stiffness and pain in the neck, shoulders, and hips
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Fever
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Visual disturbances, which may lead to blindness if left untreated

Temporal arteritis requires medical attention.

A woman massaging her head to get rid of a temple headache

How to relieve a temple headache

You can temporarily relieve your temple headache by following some of these steps:

  • Gently apply an ice pack to the sides of your head. You can also use a washcloth dipped in cool water.
  • Avoid any known headache triggers, such as stressful situations, caffeinated drinks, and sugary foods.
  • Gently massage the sides of your head in circles.
  • Slowly stretch your neck to the sides.
  • Turn down the lights and noise in your surroundings.
  • Rehydrate by drinking a lot of cool water.
  • Take a warm bath and apply warm compresses to your temples.
  • Lie back and relieve your head of the pressure using a soft pillow.
  • Take pain-relief medication.

However, if you experience multiple recurrences of headaches in your temples within a short period, you may require urgent medical attention. You may also need to see a doctor if the pain worsens over time or is not relieved by simple remedies.

You should seek immediate medical care if any of the following has occurred:

  • Head injury
  • Confusion, speech difficulty, or dizziness
  • Worsening of symptoms even after using regular medications
  • The headache is interfering with your daily activities
  • The headache is associated with other symptoms such as fever, seizures, muscle weakness, etc.
January 3, 2023