Headaches are common and can stem from many different factors. Tension headaches, migraines, sinus headaches and ice cream headaches (also known as “brain freeze”) all have different causes and factors that influence their severity.

Most of the time, having a headache doesn’t indicate a serious problem and can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve).

However, because there are a wide variety of reasons that you might have a headache, it’s important to know when you should get professional help. Depending on your symptoms, you might need to visit your doctor or even the emergency room.

Here’s when you should call the doctor:

  • You have headaches three or more times per week

  • Your headaches are getting worse

  • Your headaches prevent you from sleeping, eating or doing normal activities

  • Your headaches don’t improve with appropriate use of over-the counter medications 

However, some symptoms simply can’t wait until your next doctor’s appointment. Go to the emergency room or call 911 if your headache comes on suddenly or severely with the following symptoms:

  • Blurred vision, blind spots or double vision

  • High fever, shortness of breath or fainting

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Confusion or trouble understanding speech

  • Headache occurs after an accident or a head injury

  • Stiff neck, numbness or weakness on one side of your body

All of these symptoms could indicate a stroke or similarly dire illness. If you or someone you know experiences any of these, seek emergency help immediately.

Concerned about frequent headaches? Talk to a neurologist near you.