“I have a headache, what should I do to get rid of it?” It’s a question I get asked all the time, and my answer is always the same: “It depends.” That’s not very helpful, is it? Well the thing is, it’s complicated. There are many different reasons that you might get a headache and yesterday’s headache may have a different cause than either today’s or last week’s headaches did. So, I’ve gone through and compiled the 10 best home headache remedies. They’re all easy to do and for the most part they’re free. So, go ahead, try one after the other if you’d like. Chances are pretty good, though, that you’ll be able to look at the list and know instinctively which one is most likely to help.
1. Drink a glass of water – Many headaches are caused by some level of dehydration. Just an 8oz. glass of water can be enough to relieve a mild to moderate dehydration headache or to take the edge off a real whopper. If you’re someone who likes to hedge their bets and would prefer to pop a few ibuprofen just to be sure you get rid of it, try this: take your pain reliever with an 8 oz glass of water. If you experience relief within 20 minutes, you had a dehydration headache. If not, your wait’s half over; the meds will kick in about 25 minutes later (approximately 45 minutes after you took them).
2. Eat some carbs – Yes, here’s an excuse to eat some carbs without feeling guilty. Low blood sugar is a common cause of headaches. Now I’m not suggesting that you run to the candy machine the next time you have a headache at work, but… if it’s all that’s available, it’ll certainly do the trick; but so will a more nutrient-rich sandwich or a piece of fresh fruit.
3. Let your hair down – Did you know that every hair on your head is attached to a tiny little muscle? Yep. And when you pull your hair back all day those muscles are also pulled all day. Just like every other muscle, they get fatigued and strained when forced into the same action all day long. So take out that barrette, clip, headband, or pony holder and give yourself a good head rub. Aaahhh… doesn’t that feel better?
4. Dim the lights – Bright lights, especially fluorescent lights, strain the eyes and are huge headache instigators. Whether you’re squinting in bright light or trying to focus through the constant flickering of fluorescent lights (and yes, CFLs have a little bit of flicker too), your eye muscles are getting a major workout. When your eyes get the equivalent of “workout soreness”, you get a headache. When you’re outside and the bright sunlight is giving you a headache, put on some sunglasses or a hat to ease your eye strain (these work better as prevention but… better late than never). If you’re indoors, you can start by turning off overhead fixtures, which usually have multiple bulbs, and turning on a single bulb table or floor lamp. If your headache is particularly bad, you should cover your eyes with a folded washcloth or towel and lie down in a dark room until your headache passes.
5. Apply some peppermint essential oil – Since stress causes the blood flow to certain parts of the brain to be reduced, you can counter that by applying peppermint oil which will increase the blood flow and reduce your pain. It also takes the spasm out of tired, strained muscles which will also ease your suffering. The best places to apply it are: base of the skull, temples, and forehead.
6. Unplug – Computer screens, laptops, tablets, e-readers, ipods, portable dvd players, and TVs all cause eye strain. If you’ve been staring at computer screens and other electronic devices long enough to get a headache, the best remedy is to give your eyes a rest and unplug until your headache is gone.
7. Be cool – Some headaches have a vascular component which causes a throbbing sensation in your head. If your head is throbbing, and especially if it feels warmer or looks redder than usual, put an icepack on your head to ease the pain. If you have a throbbing migraine, try putting the ice on your knees.
8. Turn down the volume – Loud noises not only cause headaches, they also exacerbate existing ones. Whether loud noise caused your headache or not, turning down the volume will help help keep it from getting worse, and best case scenario will relieve it completely.
9. Turn up the heat – Tension headaches are caused when muscles get tight and pull on the head. Putting heat on the tense muscles of the head, neck, and shoulders, causes them to relax which eases your pain.
10. Sex – Sorry ladies, I bet you weren’t you expecting this one, were you? But don’t worry, you’ll still have the old standby if need be, this only works if there’s a vascular component to your headache. Too much blood pounding through your head causes it to hurt. The theory here (and yes, this really does work) is that by diverting that blood flow to… ahem… other areas of the body, the cause of the headache is removed and the pain stops.
My upcoming newsletter addresses the need-to-know aspects of headaches as well as common causes and triggers. Sign up for it here.