Getting a headache at some point or the other is one of the dismal realities of the human condition. At times they are just a minor annoyance, whereas at other times the pain is so severe that it may cause you to puke and stay bed-ridden until you are free from the symptoms.
Usually headaches can be categorized into the following types:
- Tension Headaches: As the name suggests, these headaches tend to be caused by contraction of neck and scalp muscles as a response to stress. It is also the most common form of headache often experienced after crying or eyestrain. These tend to last from anywhere between 30 minutes to an entire week. Usually a dull and lightly throbbing pain is felt in a band that goes around your entire head, with some aches being felt on your neck, behind your eyes as well. They usually aren’t severe enough to cause nausea and vomiting and will not significantly disrupt your normal schedule.
- Cluster Headaches: This is probably the most severe kind of headache one can possibly suffer from. Usually a sharp and continuous pain will be felt on one side of the head, or behind a particular eye socket or behind the ear. The pain is such that it usually does not allow the sufferer to lay down and they will keep pacing back and forth. They can also be accompanied by watery eyes and nasal congestion. They usually occur between once or thrice a day during a cluster cycle, which can last anywhere between two weeks and three months. After a cycle is over, there is a remission period that lasts anywhere between a few months to a few years. Scientists are at a loss to define a cause behind these headaches, with the best current guess being certain genetic factors.
- Sinus Headaches: When our sinuses are inflamed, they get filled with phlegm or pus, which puts additional pressure on our cheekbones, forehead, or the bridge of our nose. The resulting pain is known as a sinus headache. It is usually accompanied with facial swelling, nasal discharge, fever and a constant pressure against the eardrums. The headache usually disappears after the inflammation is cured.
- Rebound Headaches: These occur when one abuses OTC pain medications. Scientists believe that an increased level of these pain medications takes the brain to an excited state and once the level of these medications goes down in the bloodstream, this headache is manifested as a withdrawal symptom.
- Migraine Headaches: This is another very severe form of headache. People suffering from it complain about an incessant throb, 60% of which is felt on one side of the head and the remaining is felt throughout the rest of the head. Scientists are yet to pin-point the definitive cause of migraines, but the most widely accepted theory (also known as the neurovascular theory) seems to suggest that migraines are caused by abnormal brain activity, which triggers a change in the blood vessels. Others point towards a patients genetics, which state that certain traits passed on from one generation to the other may cause certain abnormalities in the brain, which may trigger an attack. Besides the pain, there are several associated symptoms such as:
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Aversion from regular physical activities.
There is no cure for cluster headaches. All other types of headaches, especially migraines can be brought under control by pain killers, some common home remedies, although antibiotics or antihistamines (depending upon whether the inflammation and congestion is being caused by a viral infection or an allergic reaction) may be prescribed to effectively cure sinus headaches.
Home Remedies to Cure Headache
One of the most common methods of dealing with a headache without meds is to just sleep it off. However, at times the pain can be so insufferable that sleeping or even laying down is almost out of the question. Don’t worry as the following home remedies will help you deal with your symptoms:
Headaches can be triggered from dehydration. So it is always a good idea to have an 8 oz. glass of water as soon as you start getting a headache and to keep taking small sips during the course of the day. It is also a good idea to alternate between water and sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, Lucozade Plus etc.) because the electrolytes present in these drinks helps you hydrate faster and also treat the symptoms of tension headaches. Following are a couple of things that should significantly influence your daily water intake:
- If you are already suffering from a headache, refrain from drinking ice-cold water as it may trigger symptoms of migraine or can exacerbate the current condition. It is best practice to drink water that is already at room temperature.
- There is an age old proverb that says “Prevention is better than cure”. On a similar note, if you stay hydrated, you will significantly reduce the chances of suffering from a headache. The basic rule of thumb is that men should have at least 3 liters (a little over 100 oz. or about 13 glasses) and women should have at least 2.2 liters (almost 75 oz., or about 10 glasses) of water per day to stay hydrated. People who live in tropical climates should consume even more, so should people who are overweight.
You can also use hot water to treat your headache. Following are some suggestions:
- If you soak your extremities (hands and/or feet) in hot water, you draw blood away from your head, thus easing the blood pressure inside the cranium. For best results try soaking your hands or feet for at least ten minutes.
- If you are suffering from a tension headache, you can use hot water to treat that as well. Simply taking a shower or a bath in hot water will help you ease the tension knots in your neck.
- Applying a hot water bag on the neck may help you get rid of tension headaches as well!
Using water to treat your headaches is probably the safest treatment one could ever conceive.
Massaging different parts of you face, forehead, scalp and your neck can provide you with some welcome relief from a wide variety of headaches. Following is how you need to massage different parts of your body:
- Temples and Forehead: The temple is the soft spot between the top of your ear and the corner of your eye. Gentle massages using circular motion that starts from the temple and moves towards the center of the forehead can provide relief from tension, migraine and sinus headaches.
- Nose Bridge: If you gently massage the bridge of your nose (usually with the tip of your index finger) you can possibly get some relief from sinus and migraine headaches.
- Scalp: Gently massaging your scalp can also help ease tension headaches by relaxing your blood vessels and improving the blood circulation in your head. You can do this by gently massaging your scalp while you are shampooing your hair. If you do not feel like taking a shower, you can also massage your hair using coconut, argan, almond or any other hair oil.
- Neck and Shoulders: Massaging the neck and the scalp may help get rid of tension and sinus headaches. Following are a few ideas how:
- Get a couple of racquet or tennis balls and put them in a sock. Place it on the bed and lay on it in such a way so that the topmost ball is flush against the base of your skull. You may feel an additional pressure on your sinus or some other discomfort for the first few minutes, which you need to ignore. If you persevere for about 15 minutes, you should get some relief from your sinus headaches.
- To help ease the symptoms of tension headaches, you need to first sit in an upright position and place your hands on your shoulders, with your fingers pointed towards your shoulder blades. Try to be completely relaxed, allowing your head to fall backwards. Apply pressure on your shoulder blades, massage in circular motions and slowly move your fingers towards the base of your skull. Once you reach the neck, make your head fall forwards, then interlace your fingers and massage the muscles in your neck.
If used carefully, a caffeinated beverage (coffee, black or green tea etc.) can help treat the symptoms of a migraine. This is because migraine increases the level of adenosine in your blood and caffeine helps block the adenosine receptors, hence your nervous system fails to detect any pain. This treatment is so effective that caffeine is included in a large number of the over-the-counter (OTC) headache medications (Excedrin, Tylenol etc.) However, one should not over-indulge on caffeinated beverages as headaches may manifest as a withdrawal symptom as well.
Caffeine is not recommended for those who suffer from two or more migraine attacks per week.
- Herbal Supplements
There are several dietary supplements available over the internet or at your local health food store that can help treat symptoms of migraine or other headaches:
- Butterbur: Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is native to wet, marshy areas in Europe, Asia and North America. Butterbur extract, available in a pill form can help treat a wide variety of ailments such as asthma, allergies, fever, cough and migraine headaches, among others. Scientific analysis has revealed that besides having anti-inflammatory effects, butterbur also contains isopetasin, oxopetasin and petasin, which serves as a muscle relaxant and also relaxes the cerebral blood vessels. Studies conducted in Germany (where Butterbur is sold as a prescription-strength medication for migraine) showed that people who suffer from migraine attacks about three times every month saw a reduction in the recurrence of symptoms by about 61%. The recommended dosage is 25mg, twice a day.
- Feverfew: Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is native to the Balkans, but is now available worldwide. A study conducted in Great Britain during the 1980s showed that 70% of the patients suffering from migraines showed a reduction in the intensity and the frequency of the attacks after taking this herb daily. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends that the recommended dosage is 6.25 mg, three times a day for 16 weeks. However, in certain individuals, feverfew may have some side effects such as canker sores, bloating and nausea. Once you stop taking the medication, you may also display some withdrawal symptoms such as joint pain, headaches and insomnia. Please do not take feverfew, if you are allergic to daisies. Those who are taking blood-thinners or pregnant women need to stay away from this treatment as well.
- Essential Oils
Essential oils are extracted by processing various parts of different plants. You can get some relief from your headaches with the help of the following essential oils:
- Peppermint oil: Peppermint oil can help open-up your sinuses to cure your sinus headache. It also has vaso-constricting and vaso-dilatory properties, which can help ease the blood-flow in your brain, thus providing you with effective relief from tension and migraine headaches as well. You can use peppermint oil the following ways:
- Aromatherapy: Simply take off the cap of a peppermint bottle, hold the open end of the bottle a few inches from your nostrils and take in the minty aroma.
- Massage: If you incorporate peppermint oil while massaging your temples, neck or shoulders, it can provide some immediate relief from tension headaches. Be careful so that none of these oils enters your eyes, as it is going to hurt and may temporarily cause blurred or double-vision. In case of an accident, splash adequate amounts of water for several minutes to get as much of it out of your eyes as possible!
- Tea: Add one drop of peppermint oil into a cup of boiling water. Add one tablespoon of honey, mix thoroughly and enjoy!
- Lavender oil: Aromatherapists have been touting lavender oil as an effective treatment for migraines for several decades. Finally, a scientific study published in the European Journal of Neurology put this hypothesis to the test and results were conclusively in favor! Following are some ideas about how you can use lavender oil to treat your migraine:
- Aromatherapy: Take about two cups of boiling water and add four drops of lavender oil to it. Take deep breaths of the resulting vapor. You may also take the aroma directly, as described in the previous section.
- Massage: You may also choose to massage your temples and your forehead using lavender oil. If you find undiluted lavender oil to be a little too strong, you may dilute it with a bit of olive oil.
Ginger is widely hailed as a highly potent anti-inflammatory and decongestant, making it an ideal remedy for treating sinus headaches. It works wonders to control the symptoms of migraine and tension headaches as well. Scientists are still not fully certain as to what makes ginger so effective against migraines, however, scientific studies and anecdotal evidence tends to show that:
- Ginger helps reduce the symptoms of nausea, which is a symptom that is usually associated with a migraine attack.
- Ginger reduces the production of prostaglandins, which helps reduce the inflammation in the cranial blood vessels, easing the symptoms of migraines in the process.
- It also helps with regulating the flow of blood, thus reducing the pressure on the cranial blood vessels.
There are several ways by which you can use ginger to treat your headaches:
- Take one teaspoon of fresh ginger and mash it a bit using a pestle and mortar. Boil some water and then add the mashed ginger to it and let it steep for about ten minutes. Pour this ginger tea into a cup via a sieve (to take out the ginger bits), add one teaspoon of honey (for added taste) and drink it!
- Adding ginger to your diet will provide you with long-term relief against headaches. As ginger forms the base of most curries, you may consider having Indian food more often. You can also find some ideas to incorporate ginger in western cuisine on the internet.
- If none of the above sounds too appealing, then you can always procure some ginger supplements from your local health food store. They are available over the internet as well!
If you are taking prescription blood thinners, please contact your physician before increasing your ginger intake!
- Muscle Relaxation
Muscle relaxation improves blood flow, which in turn eases the pressure in your cranium and gets rid of the headache. There are several yoga and meditation techniques that can help you achieve that. If you are not familiar with such techniques, then you can try implementing the following steps:
- Lie down in a comfortable position and allow your body to be completely relaxed. Take deep breaths.
- The way muscle relaxation works is that you need to let a particular part of the body become completely tense for about five seconds, then you need to relax the said muscles. While relaxing the muscles you need to focus on the feeling of relaxation.
- Start with the forehead, then to the eyes, face, lips-cheek-jaw, shoulders, hands, back, belly, hips and buttocks, thighs and then finally your feet and toes.
This strategy may be perfected with repeated practice.
- Ice Packs and Cold Compresses
Ice packs or cold compresses can be used to treat migraines or sinus headaches. According to Dr. Carolyn Bernstein, clinical director at Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians Comprehensive Headache Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, ice has natural anti-inflammatory properties, which is really useful against sinus headaches. On the other hand, to get relief from migraines, you need to reduce the flow of blood to the affected area and the extreme cold from the ice packs will constrict the blood vessels, thus reducing the flow.
Following are some ideas that will help you treat your headache with ice packs or cold compresses:
- Take a washcloth and dip it in ice cold water, wring it slightly to get rid of the excess water and then place it on your forehead. The biggest drawback of this method is that you would have to refresh the cloth every 15 minutes.
- To make the washcloth last longer, seal the wet washcloth in a Ziploc (or similar) sandwich bag and put it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Apply it on your forehead without taking the washcloth out of the sandwich bag.
- You can also take a few ice cubes, wrap them in a wash cloth and apply that on your forehead.
- Last but not the least, you can also take a traditional ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables and hold it against your temples as well.
- Vitamin B2
Studies show that people who take a daily 400mg dose of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) show a significant reduction in the frequency of migraines within three months. However, there is no evidence pointing towards the reduction of the intensity of the attacks. Hence, this should be used as a long term solution, but will not be able to provide the sufferer with immediate relief.
- Aerobic Exercise
This is not as much of a cure, but more of a preventive measure. Studies show that people who exercise regularly are less prone to suffer from migraine attacks, compared to those who never exercise. It is highly recommended for people who lead a sedentary lifestyle to take up biking, swimming or brisk walking to help lead a healthy life in general and also to reduce future migraine attacks in particular. A study conducted by Headache magazine showed that migraine sufferers who got enrolled in a 12 week indoor cycling program saw a significant reduction in the intensity and the frequency of the migraine attacks.
This is not a typical home remedy as most of us do not have the necessary knowledge or skill to practice it properly at home. Acupuncture is part of what is considered to be Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where one can re-align the life force or energy (Known as qi in TCM) by entering acu-needles into certain pre-designated points. Whether you choose to believe in this treatment or not, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence where people have effectively reduced the frequency of migraine attacks. Scientists however ascribe the relief felt by the patient to the ‘placebo effect’.
Kindly conduct a professional practitioner, if you would like to try and test the efficacy of this treatment for yourself.