8 Things You Should Do When You Have A Headache
A splitting headache can leave you distracted, uncomfortable, and worn out. Our expert explains the types of headache, their symptoms and some smart-easy tips to find relief. From activating a few pressure points to applying ice-packs, these can turn out to be effective.
According to The Journal of Headache and Pain, about 64% of the Indian population suffer from any kind of headache with females being more prone. Headache pain is usually described as a throbbing, squeezing, pressing, or dull ache. It may occur at one side or at both sides of the head. The pain could be localised or widespread to different regions. Headache can start suddenly and can worsen very quickly. The dull aching pain felt in a headache may last from a few hours to up to three days. Headaches are categorised on the type of pain they present and the symptoms they cause. “Different types of headaches are caused by traction or inflammation of the pain-sensitive nerves in your head,” explains Dr Rajib Paul, MD, Senior Consultant Physician and Intensivist, Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad. These are migraine, tension, cluster and sinus headaches.
Different Headache Types
- Migraine headache: “Migraine headaches are mostly felt as a one-sided throbbing pain and may be preceded by visual symptoms like seeing black dots, flashes of light,” adds Dr Paul. Sometimes there may be a nonvisual aura like a heavy feeling in your arms and legs, ringing in your ears, altered smell and taste. “Generally, such an attack starts as a dull pain and then
- changes to throbbing nature affecting mainly one side of the head but may also radiate to other parts.” The symptoms may aggravate eye pain, sensitivity to light or sound and cause nausea, vomiting and fainting sensation.”
- What causes migraines is not exactly known but some of the trigger factors include stress, alcohol, food additives like monosodium glutamate (soups, frozen meals, seasoning blends) and fluctuating hormones
- Tension headache: These are more common than migraines. They may be present with a dull, mild to moderate pain or pressure on both sides of the head and sometimes at the back of head. These may be episodic or chronic–lasting for two weeks or more. There is no associated light or sound sensitivity and nausea or vomiting which makes it easier to differentiate from migraine headache. “The cause of tension headache is not known, however, stress is the mos important triggering factor,” explains the doctor.
- Cluster headache: Cluster headaches fortunately are less common but can be understood as episodic pains coming in groups or clusters. Pain is more severe in this case. The ache is generally felt above or behind one eye. Cluster headaches are associated with redness, eye watering and stuffy nostrils. The pain is intense with a burning sensation, so much that most people cannot fall asleep with this kind of pain. “There is no associated nausea or vomiting,” says Dr Paul.
- Sinus headache: Contrary to popular belief, sinus headaches are uncommon. This kind of headache is seen in a minority of patients, finds an Expert Review Of Neurotherapeutics. It further says that only patients who have acute frontal sinusitis, acute bacterial infection or sphenoiditis (inflammation of one or more of the paranasal sinuses) are prone to sinus headaches.”
Changes in weather, increased stress, reduced sleep, loud noise, bright light, strong smells can all trigger a headache. “Headaches during periods are a result of hormonal changes. Ovulation or use of contraceptive pills can also cause headaches,” explains Dr Paul.
In some cases, there’s a genetic predisposition to headache. Besides, people with unhealthy lifestyles such as poorly managed stress habits, overeating, lack of any exercise, low body fluids are more prone to headaches.
When should you contact a medical professional?
- When you undergo a new change in your general headache pattern
- When you experience a neck stiffness or numbness in hands or feet
- When you experience difficulty in speaking
- When you feel drowsy or sleepy or have a fever along with a headache
- When you have frequent headaches during pregnancy or after delivery
- Unexplained dull continuous headache after minor trauma in elderly
Home Remedies For Headache
Stay away from persistent headache medications as these can cause a rebound headache. There are a few proven home remedies for headaches that can provide relief. There are a few proven headache relief techniques you can do at home.
1. Relax: One of the best home remedies for headache is to meditate and relax using deep breathing techniques. Find a calm place and practice Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques such as yoga, biofeedback or music therapy. These help you focus on the present moment by potentially deconditioning the habitual reaction patterns—thereby possibly resolving some reasons of a headache such as stress, anxiety and worries.
2. Get adequate exercise and sleep: Another effective way to attain headache relief is to choose a form of exercise that suits you—be it a run, jog, walk or others. Doing 20 minutes of exercise in a day releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones and natural painkillers of the body. This can help reduce frequency and intensity of headache. Also, exercise helps people to get a good night’s sleep—which is proven to reduce headaches at night (hypnic headache).
3. Have mindful amounts of caffeinated coffee or tea: Sip a little coffee or tea. Flavours such as chamomile, ginger or peppermint tea are effective owing to its inflammation-reducing properties. Having coffee one or two servings per day can help with migraine for certain sections of the population. These beverages help constrict the blood vessels and enhance the mood—reducing headache. Make note to avoid over-addiction or dependency on these beverages.
4. Use peppermint oil: Ready for another home remedy for headache? Just dab a couple drops of peppermint oil and massage your temples, the back-neck, and shoulders. Doing this can relieve you from tension headaches that are often caused by muscle contractions in these parts of the body.
5. Apply an Ice-pack: The coldness of the ice constricts the blood vessels to relieve you of headache. Studies find that it can mainly help ease a migraine. So, get your cooling pack ready!
6. Activate your pressure points: Start by pinching your union valley (place between your thumb and index finger) gently for 10 seconds. Other pressure points to manage headache include the third eye point (area between two eye-brows) and the edges of the shoulder. Do it yourself or ask your family/friend to help you.
7. Stay away from a few dietary triggers: Chocolate, citrus fruits, nuts, ice cream, tomatoes, onions, dairy products, alcoholic beverages, monosodium glutamate (MSG) can trigger migraine attacks, notes a study in Nutrients, 2020.
8. Lifestyle modification: Limiting screen time and a consistent sleep pattern can help prevent headaches. Steam inhalation, proper hydration, avoiding frequent smoking and alcohol, and timely eating are few other practices to manage headache at home.