The many common causes of temple headaches range from tension-type headaches to migraines, and even dental problems. Headache pain at the temples can also occur after a concussion. Other serious causes, such as meningitis and tumors, can produce temple headaches, but they tend to produce other symptoms as well.
A tension-type headache is the most common form of headache. The pain is generally located on both sides and is squeezing, pressing and bandlike in nature, sometimes extending to the back of the head. Muscles in the area of the headache feel tender to the touch, but the pain is usually not extreme. There may be blurry vision but no other visual changes. Compared to migraines, tension headaches tend not to worsen with lights, sounds or head movements, and nausea/vomiting is not typical. If the pain is very severe or involves eye redness, tears or pupil changes, it could be a different kind of headache, called a cluster headache.
Migraines affect 6 percent of men and 18 percent of women, according to the American Headache Society. Pounding or throbbing pain is located on one side of the head or temple. Sometimes it's also felt behind the eye. Sensitivity to light, sound and movement is typical, as is nausea and vomiting. Some people have an aura -- a temporary visual disturbance -- before or during their migraine. Auras can include seeing flashing lights or distortions like the visual effect of heat rising from hot pavement. Dizziness, numbness, difficulty speaking or, rarely, difficulty moving may also occur. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical evaluation.
Temple headaches may occur after a concussion, even if there's no serious brain injury, and you can have a concussion without losing consciousness. A blow to the head may produce symptoms like confusion, altered memory or problems with speech, coordination or balance. Temple headaches that occur after a concussion, also called acute post-traumatic headaches, may be similar to tension-type headaches or resemble migraines. They generally respond to the usual treatment for whichever headache type they most closely resemble. Post-concussion headaches often resolve within 3 months.
Temple headaches can be triggered by dental problems, including dysfunction of the jaw joint. A temple headache in someone over 50 might be a sign of giant cell arteritis, which is a type of inflammation of the temporal blood vessels that might progress to vision loss. Giant cell arteritis may also cause pain with chewing, fatigue or weight loss.
Increased pressure inside the brain -- from tumors, for instance -- can cause temple headaches, but these are accompanied by vision changes, nausea/vomiting and trouble with balance. Sudden, severe headache and stiff neck can signal a hemorrhage, while a headache with a fever and stiff neck can signal meningitis.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Seek medical attention immediately if you have a headache that is much more severe than you have experienced before, especially if it is sudden and involves a stiff neck, fever, double vision or changes in balance or walking. Even if your headache is not severe, you should see your doctor if you experience any changes in vision, hearing, balance, speech, sensation or movement; if you have had a recent concussion that has not been evaluated; or if you have any other concerns.
- British Medical Journal: Tension-Type Headache
- Australian Family Physician: Management of Chronic Headache
- American Headache Society: Ten Things About Migraine You and Your Patients Should Know
- American Headache Society: Concussion and Post-Traumatic Headache
- American Association of Neurological Surgeons: Concussion
- American College of Rheumatology: Giant Cell Arteritis
- American Family Physician: Cluster Headache