Headaches are a common ailment that affect nearly everyone from time to time. While some headaches are only mildly annoying, others can be downright debilitating.
Many over-the-counter and prescription medications exist for targeting headache symptoms, but some medicines can have undesirable side effects if used too often. Taking pain medication more than three days a week can lead to rebound headaches. Overuse of acetaminophen is associated with liver damage while taking too much ibuprofen or aspirin can damage the kidneys and irritate the stomach.
Continue reading to learn about the different types of headaches that can occur and how to prevent and treat them naturally.
Types of Headaches
Not all headaches are the same. Because causes and treatments for different headaches vary, identifying the types of headaches you suffer from will help you to develop a proper prevention strategy.
The most common type of headaches are tension headaches. Tension headaches occur when muscles in the neck and scalp contract or become tense. They’re often described as feeling like a tight band is squeezing the head. Tension headaches can have many different causes, including stress, anxiety, dehydration, poor sleep, and poor posture. They may also be related to alcohol use, caffeine intake, eye strain, and exhaustion.
Cluster headaches usually occur on one side of the head or around one eye. The pain can be intense. The headaches may be brief but may recur several times per day. They may also occur during the night, causing people to wake up. Cluster headaches may be accompanied by other symptoms on the same side of the head, such as a red eye, runny nose, or facial flushing. The exact cause of cluster headaches is unknown, although there may be a genetic component. Cluster headaches may also be triggered by certain foods, such as those containing nitrates, certain preservatives, or monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Sinus headaches are caused by sinus congestion and are characterized by pain behind the brow bone or cheekbones. Sinus headaches may be a symptom of sinusitis, or an infection of the sinuses.
Migraines are a type of recurring headache that can be moderate to severe. They are often accompanied by nausea or vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light and sound. The pain can last for hours or even days; people with migraines often have to lie down in a dark, quiet room until the pain subsides. Migraines can be triggered by certain foods, strong smells, alcohol use, stress, changes in sleep patterns, changes in barometric pressure, and hormonal changes. Women experiencing fluctuations in estrogen, such as before or during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause, may suffer from hormonal migraines.
How to Prevent Headaches
If you suffer from frequent headaches, take the following steps to reduce the risk of headaches naturally.
1. Drink Plenty of Water
Research shows that dehydration can trigger both migraines and tension headaches. Dehydration can also cause symptoms such as anxiety and fatigue, which can make headaches feel even worse.
It’s easy to become dehydrated without realizing it. Make an effort to drink 78 to 100 ounces of water every day. If you find it difficult to stay hydrated, check out these tips for increasing your water intake.
2. Take a Magnesium Supplement
Magnesium is an important mineral that helps with muscle and nerve function. Magnesium deficiencies have been linked to muscle spasms and cramps, as well as migraines. To get more magnesium from your diet, eat foods such as leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds. To increase your magnesium intake even more, try taking a supplement. Be aware that magnesium supplements can cause digestive effects (including diarrhea) for some people, so start with a small dose.
3. Get Enough Sleep
The quality of your sleep can impact your health in several ways. Sleep deprivation is associated with an impaired immune system, depression, weight gain, impaired brain function, and even heart disease. Poor sleep is also linked to headaches. One study found that people who regularly got less than six hours of sleep per night experienced more frequent headaches.
If you have difficulty sleeping, take steps to improve your sleep hygiene now. If necessary, talk to a doctor about medications that can help treat insomnia.
4. Avoid Certain Food Additives
Certain food additives have been shown to trigger headaches for some people. Among these are nitrates and nitrites, preservatives that are commonly used in processed meats such as hot dogs, cold cuts, and bacon. If you’re buying processed meat, check labels for ingredients such as sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, potassium nitrate, or potassium nitrite.
Other food additives that have been linked to migraines include MSG and aspartame. Get in the habit of reading ingredient labels so you can avoid foods that may trigger headaches.
5. Limit Alcohol Intake
Alcohol has been identified as a migraine trigger in one-third of people who suffer from migraines. It’s also been linked to tension headaches and cluster headaches.
The type of alcohol you consume can also increase your headache risk. For example, red wine is the most common alcoholic drink associated with tension headaches and cluster headaches. If you experience headaches after drinking red wine, consider switching to white wine or a different drink.
How To Identify Your Headache Triggers
Because of the many different factors involved in headaches, it can be difficult to identify your personal headache triggers. It may be helpful to keep a headache diary, in which you keep track of factors such as diet, stress level, sleep (quality and quantity), alcohol intake, exercise, and other potential headache triggers. See if you notice any patterns, and adjust your lifestyle as needed.
For some people, medications may be needed to control migraines or cluster headaches. If your insurance does not cover your medication, you can use a prescription discount card to get the lowest prescription price at a pharmacy near you.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.