How many times have you suffered a headache, be it mildly irritating or earth-shatteringly painful, and just popped a few aspirin or ibuprofen to cure the problem? It may not seem like a big deal, but those pills add up over the course of time. Apart from the numerous health risks associated with regular “pill-popping,” aspirin, ibuprofen and the like can get costly. According to The Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies, Americans alone spend $4 billion dollars annually on aspirin and headache relief medications. With a figure like that, it seems that Americans have deemed aspirin a necessity in the home.
What if that wasn’t the case? What if there were other, natural and potentially free methods, not only effective for the treatment of headaches but also for the prevention of headaches altogether. It turns out, my friends, that there are many of these methods. I have scoured many sources and come up with as many headache relief/prevention techniques as I could to save on the purchase of potentially unnecessary drugs.
Types of Headaches
When treating a headache, it may be helpful to know what kind of headache you’re suffering from. The Complete Guide to Headaches offers a multitude of information about the different types of headaches and some easy ways to distinguish between them. Here are the majority of the different types of headaches we can suffer from.
- Tension-Type: this is the most common type of headache. These may be the result of stress or fatigue, but they can also be attributed to physical problems, psychological issues, or depression. Women seem to have greater instances of these types of headaches, and they generally begin between ages 20 and 40.You’ll experience a tightness around your neck and feel a soreness or a “vice-like” ache around your head. The pain is typically continuous, but not throbbing. The actual head-aching occurs in your forehead, temples or the back of your head/neck.
- Migraine: 29.5 million people in the US suffer from migraines. Women are three times more likely to experience them – perhaps due to hormonal influences.
There are several types of migraine, all share basic features, and each person will suffer this headache in a unique way. Generally, however, migraine often begins as a dull ache and then develops into a constant, throbbing and pulsating pain that you may feel at the temples, as well as the front or back of one side of the head. The pain is usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise.
- Cluster: pain arrives without much warning and severe pain lasts for about 30 to 45 minutes. These cluster headaches are known to reoccur and relocate a few times during the day. Clusters are often associated with allergies. More men suffer from cluster headaches than women.
You might feel the pain begin around one eye, “like a nail or knife stabbing or piercing” your eye, or as if someone “were pulling out” your eye; it may be accompanied by a tearing or bloodshot eye and a runny nose on the side of the headache. It can radiate from the eye to the forehead, temple and cheek on the same side. The pain of a cluster headache has been described as piercing, burning, throbbing, pulsating, and so excruciating that most victims cannot sit still and feel compelled to rock in a chair, walk back and forth, or bang their heads against something.
- Hormone: these headaches are associated with menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.
- Hangovers: did you have a rough night? The cause of these headaches is pretty straightforward. We can knock this one of the way immediately. Unfortunately, the only way to truly prevent a hangover headache (apart from remaining hydrated and hoping for the best) is to not drink. The only true cure? Time.
Headache prevention is all about reducing stress and controlling your diet. Here are some preventative measures you can take in your day to day life to avoid suffering from pounding headaches later.
- Give your face a workout head here for some great facial workout techniques.
- Exercise: exercising releases stress and is a great preventative measure for warding off headaches. Regular exercise relaxes your body’s muscles and increases levels of beta-endorphin, which is one of the body’s natural stress relievers.
- Don’t Nap Often: while napping can cure you of an existing headache, napping when you don’t have a headache can cause migraines.
- Watch your caffeine intake: if you are a daily coffee drinker, a lack of coffee or caffeine during a day can make your blood vessels dilate, causing a headache. Too much caffeine can also cause a headache, so if you are a coffee fiend, try and limit yourself to two cups a day.
- Eat on Time: skipping meals can cause muscle tension. Also, your sugar drops from lack of food causing blood vessels in your brain to tighten. Eating expands these vessels, which can lead to a headache. Make sure you eat at normal intervals to avoid this.
- Don’t Smoke and Drive: you shouldn’t smoke at all, but if you do, make sure not to smoke with all of the windows rolled down in heavy traffic. This action gives you a “double dip” of carbon monoxide, which affects the blood flow to your brain.
- Have a sense of humor: laugh a lot, and often. Uptight people are more stressed, and therefore more likely to suffer from tension-type headaches.
- Avoid MSG: this flavor enhancer, most commonly known for being added to Chinese food, has the potential to cause headache pain.
- Avoid Chewing Gum: the repetitive chewing motion can tighten muscles in your head and cause a tension headache.
- Avoid excess estrogen: From About.com:
Estrogen is the main female hormone and a potent trigger for migraines. If you are on an estrogen supplement or estrogen-containing medication (like oral contraceptive pills), discuss reducing the dosage or replacing the medication with your physician.
So What Do You Do in the Heat of a Headache?
Your attempts at prevention have failed. Your head is pounding. You can’t see straight. You feel like you want to rip your own head off. What do you do now? Since the time for prevention is over, here are some of the best natural remedies around. Try some of these tactics before you resort to pill-popping.
- Go Cold or Heat Up: either of these options may work for you. Try a cold compress on your head if you feel hot. Some people prefer to try a hot shower or putting a heating pad on their necks.
- Breathe Deeply: deep breathing is a great way to relieve stress. Check out this quick article about how deep breathing can help subdue a migraine.
- Use Your Hands: self-massage and acupressure can help relieve a headache. Squeeze the web between your forefinger and thumb until you feel a bit of pain. Also try applying pressure to the ridges at the back of your neck. Use both thumbs when trying this technique.
- Use a Pencil: put a pencil between your teeth but don’t bite down. This act requires relaxation of the facial muscles.
- Wear a Headband: a tight headband will decrease blood flow to the scalp and help lessen the throbbing feeling you have.
- Drink Tea: clinical studies have shown that drinking ginger tea can be an effective method of relief for headaches. It works by relaxing the blood vessels in the head and diminishing swelling. Other teas, especially those made with chamomile, lemon balm and linden, can act as a sedative for nervous tension and headaches. Linden especially helps improve circulation.
- Use Lavender: Try this special homemade lavender lemonade for some great relief. You can also try diffusing some lavender essential oil and breathing in deeply.
Though many of these measures can be taken in your own home to prevent or cure headaches, make yourself aware of when there is a serious problem requiring medical attention. If you have any of the following symptoms (procured by The Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies), you should consult a doctor.
- You are over 40 and never had recurring headaches before.
- The headaches have changed locations.
- The headaches are getting stronger.
- The headaches are coming more frequently.
- The headaches do not fit a recognizable pattern; that is, there seems to be nothing in particular that triggers them.
- Headaches have begun to disrupt your life; you’ve missed work on several occasions.
- The headaches are accompanied by neurological symptoms, such as numbness, dizziness, blurred vision, or memory loss.
- The headaches coincide with other medical problems or pain.
What are some of your favorite headache cures? Would you rather use natural methods or just pop few aspirin. Let us know what you think in the comments!
Special thanks to the following sources!
- The Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies by the editors of Prevention Magazine Health Books
- The Complete Guide to Headaches
Photo credit: Migraine Chick