Whether you wake up with a headache or it appears after work, making it stop is likely your top priority. It could be a sharp pain or a dull throb. Maybe you’re forced to sit in the dark because light makes it all worse. Whatever the case, you need a remedy, stat.
Headaches come in all shapes and sizes. From migraines to tension headaches to cluster headaches, each one is individual to you. There are some treatments that are more likely to work better than others, though. Let’s look at some therapies that do their jobs well and others that might be hit-or-miss.
1. Get a Prescription
Every year, millions of Americans get migraines. Women deal with the condition more than men. Anyone who’s ever had one, though, can likely tell you prescription migraine treatment can be highly effective.
In many instances, a medical professional might prescribe a triptan medication. These are drugs, specially designed for migraines, that calm the overactive nerves in your head. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor could also suggest anti-nausea, anti-hypertensive, or certain antidepressant medications.
2. Go the Over-the-Counter Route
Maybe you don’t want to wait for a doctor’s appointment. Or perhaps your headache is a bit less severe. If that’s the case, a trip to the drugstore can help. Over-the-counter pain relievers can do a great job of alleviating your discomfort in as little as 30 minutes. Choose wisely, though.
Even if acetaminophen is your go-to pain medication, it’s not necessarily the best option for ditching a headache. To really punch back on piercing pain, opt for NSAIDs, such as naproxen or ibuprofen. They do a better job of reducing the headache-causing inflammation. Try to take the meds as soon as you feel a headache brewing. Limit your use to three times a week, though. If you need it more often, see your doctor.
3. Chill Out
Relaxation is great for a headache, but we’re talking about putting your headache on ice. Using an ice pack or cold compress is another way to tackle that dreaded inflammation. By cooling down the blood running to your brain, you can reduce the pain and achiness.
Alternating 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off brings your head temperature down. The cold constricts your blood vessels. It also calms the neurotransmitters in your brain that send those annoying pain signals. This strategy is effective for mild-to-migraine headaches.
4. Dim the Lights
Sunlight or well-lit rooms can be great when you feel well. For many people, however, too much light leads to photosensitivity. It’s called photophobia, and it can be a powerful invitation for a headache. In fact, it affects up to 80% of people who get migraines.
If you fall into this group, you’ll likely feel pain and eye strain. It can also disrupt your sleep cycle. When this happens, embrace the dark as much as you can. Close your shades and dim your lights. For severe episodes, find a cool, dark, quiet room to lie down. Your symptoms should start to slip away within 30-45 minutes.
5. Reach for Caffeine
Whether it’s coffee, tea, or another caffeinated beverage, sipping during a headache can ease your symptoms. Once again, it’s all about your blood flow. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor — it narrows your blood vessels, taking heavy blood-flow pressure off the nerves in your brain. It offers another benefit, too. Caffeinated beverages also help your body absorb your NSAID or acetaminophen pain relievers.
Relying on caffeine can be a slippery slope, though. Yes, it works, but your body can become dependent. If that happens, you could get caffeine withdrawal headaches if you don’t get your daily dose. Basically, your blood vessels swell again, triggering the pounding pain you’re trying to avoid.
6. Take a Deep Breath
Many people swear by the power of breathing exercises to reduce their headache symptoms. They’re designed to relax your face and neck muscles, helping to alleviate some tension. How well they work could depend directly on the intensity of your discomfort. If you have a migraine, getting symptom relief could be harder.
Still, if you want to give it a try, find a quiet place to sit or lie down. You’ll need a location where you won’t get distracted. Try breathing in and out slowly over 10 seconds at a time. Be sure to breathe deeply and consciously focus on trying to relax your muscles. Repeat it all for at least a minute at a time.
7. Forgo Food Triggers
Food sensitivities are real. Some munchies trigger allergic reactions. Others, such as foods with lots of preservatives, can potentially bring on head throbbers. There’s limited evidence that avoiding these items helps you sidestep headaches. Some people are willing to give it a shot, though.
Basically, it works like trial and error. Give up one thing for a while and see if your headaches go away. If not, try something else. The downside is that it can take a while to pinpoint the food that is causing the problem. In the meantime, your headaches are still there.
If you get frequent or sporadic headaches, you’re not alone. Finding the right strategies to either stop one in its tracks or alleviate symptoms can be tough. Like many other things, it can require an individualized solution specific to you. By following this list, you’ll know which tactics can give you the best results — and which to save for last.