Occasional headaches can be a nuisance and really put a damper on your day. As I tell my patients, headaches can come on for a number of reasons (see below). Migraine headaches, are a little more complicated, and can be painful to the point that they are debilitating. Unlike regular headaches, migraines usually have more specific triggers that are peculiar to the person getting them, i.e., specific hormone changes or even allergies.
However, did you know that you don’t need to run to the drugstore to treat either of these types of headaches? That’s right. There are several home remedies that you can try first and I’d like to tell you about them. Let’s talk first about what might be causing your headaches.
What Causes a Headache?
Knowing the variety of things that can trigger a headache, regular or migraine, can help you avoid them and help get rid of them when they occur. They include the following:
- Fatigue – not getting enough sleep can cause headaches as well as brain fog and clumsiness. Fatigue triggers inflammation in nerve pathways that leads to headaches.
- Dehydration – very hot and very cold temperatures can trigger headaches due to dehydration. Your brain is 85% water that needs to be maintained to prevent spasms.
- Stress/tension – eliminate whatever is causing you stress or tension and/or find a way to stop events from bothering you to the point they cause painful tension headaches.
- Temperature changes – (see also dehydration above) drops in barometric pressure that occurs just before it rains, and/or sinus pressure buildup can trigger a headache.
- Chemical smells – soaps and cleaners in our homes or the detergent aisle of a grocery store, perfumes, can trigger headaches. Also, strong outdoor smells like smoke, tar, gasoline, chlorine, sewage, etc, can trigger headaches, especially migraines.
- Allergies – seasonal allergies from flower/plant pollens in the spring and mold spores from wet leaves in the fall can trigger headaches. Also, food allergies may be the culprit.
- Tight neck muscles – from slumping over at your desk, cradling a phone between your shoulder and ear, wearing tight ponytails, or head gear, can tense up the muscles along the base of your head and those of your neck and shoulders.
- Exertion – some people get a headache after working out strenuously or even after sex from the pressure that builds up in blood vessels.
- Foods – migraine headaches are especially sensitive to foods, like cheese and red wine that contain tyramine. Sulfites in wine and other foods, as well as sodium nitrite found in cold cut meats, may also trigger migraines in some people. Caffeine can both help relieve a headache and bring one on in different people. Abrupt caffeine withdrawal can trigger a bad headache, so taper off use gradually.
Banish That Headache Naturally
If you get headaches only on a rare basis then you may just want to go for symptomatic relief at the moment they occur. However, if you get headaches, or migraines, on a fairly regular basis, you will want to try some of these recommendations:
1. Keep a headache diary – this is important in identifying, and avoiding, important triggers such as those things listed above that can bring on your headache. Document what you were doing, eating, drinking, exposed to, etc just before your headache began and try to avoid it.
2. Massage/Physical Therapy – when a headache occurs get a neck/shoulders massage from a friend or a professional. Neck and back of head muscles get very tight when a headache occurs. Releasing this tension can almost always release the headache as well.
3. Decompress – getting some exercise will relieve stress induced muscle tension and a tension-based headache. Swimming leisurely in a cooler pool will unkink your tense muscles and almost always relieve a tension headache quickly. Walking or swinging your arms, loosens stiff neck muscles and helps stop a headache.
4. Eat – low blood sugar headaches and brain fog can occur from not eating regularly throughout the day. Eat carbohydrates and a protein, like milk and bread, or nuts and fruit, to raise your blood sugar back up, keep it stable, and knock out your headache. .
5. Natural Pain Relievers – White willow bark works similarly to aspirin without the side effects. In fact, it is the precursor herb that aspirin is made from. Found in health food stores.
6. Ice/cold, or heat compresses – either, applied to the back of the neck/head muscles can help unkink tense muscles that are causing the headache.
7. Soak your feet – the warm water moves blood from your head to your feet and helps relieve the vascular congestion in your head that may be causing the headache.
8. Magnesium – frequent migraine headaches caused by muscle tension may indicate a magnesium deficiency. Try taking 400 mg of magnesium with a glass of milk and lie down. Ask your doctor for specific lab tests to see if you are deficient in magnesium.
9. Valerian – a natural relaxant, a few drops in warm water can help relax and de-tense you, and end a headache quicker.
10. Potassium – Like magnesium, potassium can help knock out a migraine, especially if you are deficient in it. It is often the ingredient in some prescription migraine drugs. Found in potatoes, bananas, milk, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, and nuts. If you have kidney disease, or take ACE inhibitors or antibiotics like trimethoprim sulfa, however, ask your doctor how much potassium is safe for you to consume.
Headaches can be a real pain in the neck and interfere with our daily activities. As I always stress to my patients, with headaches, however, a little prevention can go a long way in helping assure that they do not unduly interfere in your life. When a headache strikes, I hope you’ll try some of the natural remedies detailed above first before turning to over-the-counter pain relievers!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Headache and Migraines, http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/slideshow-surprising-headache-triggers
Natural Headache Remedies, http://www.farmersalmanac.com/health/2006/10/20/natural-headache-remedies/
photo credit: health.com