How to Help a Headache

by | Nov 8, 2022

how to help a headache

Headaches are a common malady. There are different types of headaches which can be caused by a number of factors and differ in severity, but all of them are consistently uncomfortable, painful, and distracting. 

It’s important to note that migraines are not headaches. The biggest difference is that headaches have causes that are easily traceable, where migraines have common triggers but no clear root cause. Headaches are usually easily managed and go away shortly, but migraines are often lifelong neurological disorders. 

There are many causes for headaches. These include but aren’t limited to:

  • Dehydration
  • Poor nutrition
  • Lack of sleep
  • Staring at a screen for too long
  • Caffeine withdrawal 
  • Alcohol intake
  • Undereating 

Headaches can be treated with medicine, natural remedies, and physical solutions, but finding the right solution for a specific person will depend on them, the cause of the headache, and its severity. 

Here are some ways to help a headache. 

1. Drink water

One of the most common causes of headaches is dehydration. When you haven’t drank enough water, your body becomes dehydrated. This causes tissues in your body to shrink, including your brain. As your brain shrinks it pulls away from your skull and puts pressure on certain nerves in your head, causing pain. 

Drinking enough water can fix your headache almost immediately, and it’s just good for you in general.

2. Limit alcohol

Alcohol can increase your chances of tension headaches and cluster headaches, which are some of the nastiest types of headaches. It’s unclear exactly how it does so, but these are some possible explanations:

  • Encouraging inflammation
  • Contributing to dehydration
  • Activating certain neuronal pathways
  • Widening blood vessels

If you do have alcohol, ensure that you’re drinking enough water as well to combat its nastier side effects and protect yourself from a headache. 

3. Use essential oils

Essential oils are very concentrated oils made from plants that are thought to have certain beneficial properties. They are mostly used topically, but some can also be ingested. Make sure to check the specific bottle that you are purchasing so that you know how it should be taken. 

Research shows that the most helpful essential oils for a headache are eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint

You can rub them onto your temples or wrists, diffuse them in the room you’re sitting in, or even drink them with warm tea or water (if they are safe to ingest). 

4. Use a cold compress

Cold compresses decrease inflammation, constrict blood vessels, and slow nerve conduction which can all reduce the pain you’re feeling from your headache.

You can make a cold compress by filling a waterproof bag with ice and wrapping it in a towel or by filling a towel with ice. Then simply place the compress on the back of your neck, temples, or head. 

5. Drink some tea or coffee (with caffeine)

Caffeine constricts blood vessels, improves mood, and increases alertness which can alleviate headache symptoms noticeably. It also increases how effective common headache medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are. 

Caffeine withdrawal in people who regularly have large amounts of caffeine and stop suddenly will also cause headaches, so be wary of your caffeine consumption. 

6. Avoid strong sensory stimulants

Certain strong sensory stimulants (lights, sounds, smells) can bring on headaches in some individuals, but it’s a good idea to avoid strong sensory stimulants in general if you already have a headache. They can worsen your symptoms and discomfort as well as prolong your suffering. 

Instead, try to relax in a dim or dark room that’s quiet and doesn’t have any strong smells. If you want to diffuse essential oils, this is a great time to do so. 

7. Give herbal remedies a shot

There are many herbal remedies that may reduce headache severity and duration. These include chamomile, curcumin, and butterbur. Some common ways to use these remedies are by ingesting them in capsules or drinking them in tea.

It’s important to note that while most herbs are safe to use, you must exercise caution when supplementing with them as they can interact with other (common and uncommon) medications, be unsafe for pregnancy or breastfeeding, or dangerous for people with certain health conditions. 

Always do your research before taking herbal remedies. 

8. Take ginger

Ginger root contains many antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances and can reduce nausea and vomiting, which are symptoms that can arise alongside or because of a headache. 

There are many ginger capsules or tablets available on the market as well as ginger teas. Both can provide headache relief. 

9. Move your body

Engaging in physical activity is an excellent way to reduce not only headache severity but frequency as well. This is because exercise suppresses inflammatory modulators in the body such as cytokines and stress hormones, but over time it also helps you to have better control over and a stronger connection to your body and mind. 

Exercising is a great way to improve your headache and also work on your physical fitness. 

10. Try some yoga

Studies have shown that yoga can decrease headache frequency and intensity in people with chronic migraines. Yoga can help you to relieve stress, decrease physical pain, and increase your flexibility and overall quality of life. As such, it can really help aid your headache, especially if traditional aerobic forms of exercise like running, cycling, and hiking aren’t for you. 

When to see a healthcare professional

There are many ways to alleviate headaches, and while medication is sometimes necessary, know that natural and physical options are available too. It’s important to find a treatment that works for you. 

The occasional headache is nothing to worry about, especially if you know what caused it. However, if you experience long-lasting headaches frequently and/or you don’t know what’s causing them, it’s definitely time to seek medical care. 

There may be a possibility that you actually have migraines or other more serious medical issues such as a blood clot or tumor. A doctor will be able to help you rule out what could be causing your headaches and help to come up with a care plan that suits you. 

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