Throbbing head, or feel like your skull is in a vise? You’re certainly not alone.
According to the World Health Organization, about half the general population has headaches during some point in any given year, and more than 90 percent report a headache at some point in their lifetimes.
That doesn’t mean you have to put up with them, though.
The first choice of pain relief tends to be over-the-counter choices like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, which are easy to obtain and can knock out some headaches quickly, says Maria Vila, D.O., a physician at Atlantic Health System’s Chambers Center for Well Being. That’s because they block an enzyme in the body connected to the production of prostaglandins—molecules involved in pain and inflammatory responses.
But you don’t want to pop them like candy. Taking NSAIDs like Advil too frequently can lead to stomach issues, like stomach upset or even gastrointestinal bleeding. Plus, OTC headache meds can lose their effectiveness over time, leading to a “rebound headache” that prompts you to take more and more of the meds to get the same relief. That can create a vicious cycle.
So you might want to try a more natural route to ease your head pain instead. Try these natural headache remedies instead.
Get rid of a headache by drinking water
Dehydration is a very common cause for headaches, Dr. Vila says.
When you don’t have enough fluids in your body, your blood volume decreases overall. Not only does that lower the amount of oxygen-rich blood flowing into your brain, but it can also cause the brain to contract a bit temporarily.
That tightness, as well as the decreased oxygen, can cause pain. So if you keep your hydration level up to par, that could ward off the pain-causing lack of blood flow.
Get rid of a headache by going herbal
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One herb that has been connected to headache relief is feverfew, Dr. Vila says, and it’s considered a safe, natural alternative to OTC meds.
The Migraine Trust, a nonprofit in the U.K., notes that many people take feverfew if they have recurring migraines, and some have found that it can help prevent headaches from occurring. In fact, a 2005 study found that migraine sufferers who took feverfew cut their number of headaches per month from nearly five to just under two.
But, like any herbal remedy, it’s not advisable to combine treatments—for example, don’t pop a few ibuprofen and feverfew tablets at the same time. That’s because both can act as blood thinners, so it can increase your risk of bleeding.
Get rid of a headache by switching up your food
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Food sensitivities can trigger headaches—especially migraines, says Dr. Vila. With allergies or intolerances, you could create an inflammatory response as your immune system works to handle the “invader.” That can cause some inflammation in the brain as well, leading to a headache.
The most common foods that are associated with migraines, according to Dr. Vila, are red wine, chocolate, dark beer, deli meat, and aged cheeses. (Basically, everything you love.)
Removing these from your diet for a few weeks and then re-introducing them one by one might give you some insight about whether they’re a factor. For instance, if the headaches persist even after eliminating the food for a few weeks, then you know it’s not the culprit and you can keep it in your diet.
Get rid of a headache by sleeping better
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Pain researchers from Missouri State University found that rats deprived of deep sleep showed changes in key proteins that suppress chronic pain.
Although the study was done on animals, the findings fall in line with other research that’s shown a connection between poor sleep and headaches in people, too, says Dr. Vila.
That’s not surprising, considering your brain does a ton of work while you’re conked out, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Sleep is essential for numerous brain functions, including removal of toxins and maintenance of communication pathways and nerve cells. Poor sleep can not only cause headaches, but also increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity, the NIH notes. So make sure you’re getting the recommended seven to nine hours per night.
Get rid of a headache by adopting the 20-20-20 rule
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You check your phone, turn back to your laptop, check your phone again, all the while with your tablet right within reach. Digital eye strain, a.k.a. computer vision syndrome (CVS), is a common cause of headaches — and over half of Americans suffer from it, nearly a third of them with headaches, according to a report from The Vision Council.
What’s the headache-device link? In short, we’re demanding way more from our eyes when using tech. Words on your iPad, for example, have far less contrast and definition than words on a printed page, making them harder to read. Add to that glare and reflections and the awkward angle between you and your laptop and you’ve got a crappy combo for dry eyes, eye strain, neck pain, and headaches, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA).
You’re an all-day laptop user, you say? To give your eyes a rest and alleviate the strain, every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away (about the length of a car and a half). Then, every two hours, take 15 minutes to rest your eyes, the AOA recommends.
Get rid of a headache by taking time to chill
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Drowning in stress? You could be priming yourself for a headache. Stress is a huge trigger for tension headaches, the most common kind headaches, which are characterized by dull pain and tightness, a study in Neurology finds. You can’t make traffic stand still or control your micro-manage-y boss, but you can commit 10 minutes of your day to chilling out. Quiet time, even if it’s just a walk down the street or playtime with your pup, can help stave off stress, and in turn, those nagging cymbals banging in your head.
Get rid of your headache with acupuncture
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Can strategically-placed tiny needles actually kill a throbbing headache? They might: The 2,000-year-old practice shows promise when it comes to reducing the frequency of migraines, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. In the study, people who received acupuncture had migraines less often and with less intensity than those who received “fake” acupuncture or no treatment.
Want to try it out? Try at least six treatment sessions to get the most bang for your buck, the American Migraine Association suggests.
Get rid of your headache by sweating your butt off
While jarring your head around probably sounds like a terrible idea when you’re in pain (and exercise itself can sometimes cause headaches), exercise quiets on a handful of key headache triggers: It reduces stress, wears you out so you can get some quality sleep at night, and gets your endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers, pumping, says the American Migraine Foundation.
One study of people suffering from tension headaches, neck pain, and migraines found that 45 minutes of exercise three times a week significantly reduced all symptoms. People had migraines less often, and when they did have them, they were less painful and didn’t last as long. Go ahead, dust off the running sneaks.
When to see a doctor about your headaches
If natural remedies and OTC pain relievers aren’t doing the trick, it may be time to make an appointment, says Dr. Vila.
“If you’ve never gotten headaches before and now they’re frequent, I would get that checked out,” she says.
Ditto for changes to your usual headache type. For example, you may have always had those tight, tension headaches that come and go, but now they’re not going away. Or you’re having other symptoms, like “floaters” in your eyes, which is often a sign of a migraine.
If you have a stiff neck or fever as well as a headache, that could be a sign of infection, Dr. Vila notes, including both run-of-the-mill types and something more serious, like meningitis.
Worst case scenario? Your headache may actually be signaling a mini-stroke, if it’s accompanied by confusion, fuzzy vision, weakness, or a bit of memory loss.
But in general, headaches are very common, and most likely, you’re just dealing with something minor like stress, poor sleep, dehydration, or food sensitivities. Whatever you’re grappling with, trying to get to the root of the issue—the why of your headache—can help prevent them from creeping back in.
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