How to Prevent Headaches

woman with head down pain

Headaches are a common condition; some more than others suffer from them. What causes a headache? Chemical activity and inherited genes for primary headaches. For secondary headaches, causes could be injuries and underlying conditions, like meningitis.

And depending on the type of pain, from a throbbing headache (migraine attacks) to a constant pain on both sides of the head (daily, persistent headaches), you could be out of commission for days.

Even pain that tends to wane in hours could still be unbearable for some. But learning how to stop getting headaches isn’t as simple as popping over-the-counter medications. The first step to prevent headaches is to know what type you have and to practice avoiding triggers.

Headache Prevention

Headaches vs. Migraine Attacks

How do you know you’re experiencing a headache and not a migraine? The severity and duration of the pain will tell you:

  • Migraines are intense and comes with other symptoms, like vomiting and muscle aches; they last for days, sometimes more. You’ll feel a pulsating sensation or throbbing pain on one side of your head.
  • Headaches can be unpleasant to severe, causing pressure and pain; they last for 30 minutes to a few hours

It’s important to tell the difference because it’s how you know what treatment options to use. Otherwise, you may not be able to prevent migraines or manage a headache.

To avoid the usual, everyday headaches:

Avoid headache triggers

A good way to find out what sets off is to do a headache diary that chronicles whether certain food items lead to pain on either side of your head. Some triggers include drinking alcohol, lack of sleep and stress.

Exercise routinely

Good physical health promotes good mental wellbeing, which allows you to manage stress. This exercise routine could be as simple as a daily walk or something more involved as a circuit training.

Cut down on medication

When you take too much over-the-counter medicine, the severity of your headache could increase.

Other Natural Ways to Stop Getting a Headache

Hydrate with water

Dehydration is one of the most common triggers for headache. It’s a common cause of tension headaches, which are also responsive to over-the-counter medicine.

Try essential oils

Lavender oil is said to reduce the pain of a headache when applied lightly to the upper lip and inhaled. Another essential oil, peppermint oil has also shown efficacy when applied to your temples.

Do a cold compress

A cold compress reduces inflammation, constricts blood vessels and diminishes nerve conduction. These will help decrease the pain of a headache.

Migraine Preventive Medications

B vitamins

Sometimes, a deficiency in B vitamins could bring on a headache. B2 vitamin (riboflavin) is reportedly effective against migraine attacks. People who suffer from migraine headaches have a metabolism issue, which B2 addresses.

Prescription pain medicine

Prescription medicines like sumatriptan and rizatriptan block pain pathways as treatment for migraine attacks. Delivery systems for migraine prevention include nasal sprays and shots.

Botox injections

Turns out, botulinum toxin may be used as treatment for migraine attacks. In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the neuromodulating drug for migraine treatment. It’s probably one of the better options since you could manage migraines and reduce wrinkles at the same time.

But getting Botox for severe headaches isn’t applicable for everyone. Your doctor will determine whether your frequent migraines meet the standard for using this treatment: it’s f0r adults 18 years and over who experience more than 15 migraines per month.

Blood Pressure Medications

Beta blockers like propranolol and metoprolol tartrate may be useful in treating chronic migraine whereas calcium channel blockers, such as verapamil, may offer relief for migraine patients with aura.

Other Treatment Options to the Prevent Migraines

ginger tea with honey on table
Photo by Hilary Hahn on Unsplash

Although medications are ideal for treating migraine symptoms, sometimes natural may be better for some people. Natural treatment options may also be easier on your budget since they typically include items you’ll find in your pantry or require only certain lifestyle changes.

Sleep at regular hours

A poor night’s sleep can trigger headaches or migraines. Try to create a room that makes it easy for you to fall asleep and sleep through the night. Keep digital devices away from the bed. Turn of the lights. Read a book instead of watching TV. And try a warm bath on cold evenings. When you sleep better, you’ll wake up refreshed and without a throbbing, pulsating pain on one side of your head.

Take ginger

Ginger is one of the top-selling herbal supplements in the US, and for good reason. It provides several health benefits beyond treating a cold, not the least of which is migraine and headache relief. But why does it work? It contains gingerols and shogaols, compounds with anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects.

How should you take it?

  • Tea
  • Essential oil
  • Powder
  • Gels
  • Beverages

The Food to Avoid for Migraine Attacks

Certain food products trigger headaches and migraine attacks. Some people may be more susceptible than others, but not all types of food have a similar effect. In general, the following may trigger migraines:

  • Chocolates
  • Cured meats
  • Aged cheese
  • Red wine and beer
  • Products with preservatives, e.g., nitrites, nitrates and MSG; processed foods

Some fruits may also trigger migraine attacks since they contain compounds that release histamine, which induces the severe type of headache.

  • Grapefruits
  • Raspberry
  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Plum

Other types of food to avoid to prevent or at the least, reduce migraine frequency:

  • Flavored or seasoned chips
  • Flavored popcorn
  • Marinated meats
  • Smoked fish
  • Chicken or beef livers
  • Pre-packaged dips
  • Bottled salad dressings
  • Dried fruits with sulfite
  • Onions
  • Instant mashed potatoes

Learn Your Headache and Migraine Triggers

concert with bright lights
Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

How do you determine which food products trigger severe migraine attacks? Do a food journal.

Documenting your reaction to certain foods will allow you to keep track of what to avoid. The journal would also be helpful in reminding you whether you’ve consumed too much caffeine for the day. Caffeine consumption has a triggering effect on headaches.

Your reaction to a certain food may be immediate or it could take a day. If a drink or food triggers a migraine attack, remove it from your diet. Then write your observations after removing it; maybe that drink or food has a triggering effect alongside another drink or food.

So adjust your diet according to what you’ve gleaned from your migraine diary.

Other than food and drinks that trigger frequent headaches, watch for routines and behavior that could do the same.

Some things that could lead to migraine pain are:

  • Intense exercise
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Missing a meal
  • Excessive sensory stimulation (e.g., repetitive noise, bright lights, potent smells)
  • Hormonal changes
  • Atmospheric changes (e.g., sudden drop in pressure, seasonal changes)

Follow Healthy Habits for Headache and Migraine Prevention

Some migraines may be reduced or managed through healthy habits. In some cases, you may only need to relax and not worry too much to head off a migraine attack. Stress can be a powerful trigger to different conditions. And it is something you may be able to control, given the right tools.

For headaches and migraines that seem to happen too frequently and severely, it is best to check with a doctor or specialist. Get a proper check up to ensure that the throbbing, pulsating pain you’re feeling isn’t a symptom of a larger health issue.

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