When you have a headache in your temples, figuring out what type of headache you have is a good step toward relief. A few different types of headaches can cause pain in your temples.
The most common type of headache, tension headaches usually cause a dull, non-throbbing pain. You might feel:
Pain in your forehead
Pain in your neck or the back of your head (tension headaches are rooted in the neck muscles at the base of your skull)
A feeling of your head being pressed or squeezed
In most cases the pain goes away when you take an over-the-counter pain reliever.
Some people get tension headaches once in a while when they’re under stress or tired. These are called episodic tension headaches. Other people get chronic tension headaches, which means they happen multiple times a week — or even all the time.
You likely can treat your tension headache yourself. Try taking an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Panadol, Tylenol), aspirin (Bayer, Buffrin), or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin). Sometimes a nap will do the trick, too.
If you take medicine daily and your headaches aren’t going away, tell your doctor. They may be able to give you a prescription or a referral to a headache specialist.
While migraine symptoms vary from person to person, a common place for migraine pain to start is in your temples. The pulsating pain may spread to both temples but often stays on just one side of your head.
Other symptoms of a migraine can include:
Fatigue, depression, or irritability before the pain starts
Nausea or vomiting
Sensitivity to light or sound
Seeing auras such as halos or flashing lights
Watery eyes, runny nose, or congestion
Without treatment, a migraine can last anywhere from 4 to 24 hours. The treatment for migraines varies depending on the symptoms and amount of pain.
If you feel a migraine coming on, consider a nonprescription pain reliever such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. Caffeine can help, too, so try sipping a cup of coffee or tea. Some people use ice packs.
If that doesn’t help, you may need to see your doctor for a stronger treatment plan. They may prescribe nausea medication or a triptan drug such as almotriptan (Axert), eletriptan (Relpex), frovatriptan (Frova), imigran (Imitrex, Onzetra Xsail, Sumavel, Zembrace), naratriptan (Amerge, Naramig), rizatriptan, sumatriptan, or zolmitriptan (Zomig). Triptans stimulate serotonin in your brain and usually stop the migraine in 2 hours. It can be taken as a tablet, nasal spray, or injection. Other prescription strength medicines that are available to treat a migraine are ditans such as lasmiditan (Reyvow) which are similar to triptans, and gepants like rimegepant (Nurtec) and ubrogepant (Ubrelvy) that block the calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP).
Temporal arteritis may feel like a migraine at first, as it starts with throbbing in the temple on one side of your head. But unlike a migraine, temporal arteritis makes your temples tender to the touch. And the throbbing may be constant. This is a condition that needs medical help right away.
Other symptoms of temporal arteritis can include:
Loss of appetite
Pain in the jaw while chewing
Temporal arteritis is when the temporal arteries on the sides of your head are swollen, which reduces blood flow. (It’s sometimes called giant cell arteritis.) These arteries deliver blood to your eyes, brain, and more. In severe cases, the artery could become completely blocked. If that happens, you may be at risk for vision problems or even a stroke.
To diagnose the condition, doctors will test your blood for its sedimentation rate. Basically, that means how quickly your red blood cells sink to the bottom of a test tube. A faster rate means there may be inflammation in your arteries.
Your doctor may recommend taking a biopsy of the artery to confirm the diagnosis. For temporal arteritis, your doctor may prescribe a steroid to reduce inflammation in your arteries.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders
Another cause of temple pain is TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorders. TMJ causes pain in the muscles and joints in your jaw. Other symptoms include:
Pain in your temples
Pain in any part of your head that involves chewing, such as the jaw or neck
Clicking or popping sounds in your jaw
Your teeth fit together differently
Your doctor or dentist can diagnose TMJ. Sometimes it goes away without treatment. Sometimes stopping a bad habit, such as grinding your teeth or chewing your fingernails, will help.
But if the pain continues, then your doctor may recommend:
Over-the-counter pain medication