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How to Manage Headaches

Home Remedies for Headaches

For over 40 years, I have experienced almost every kind of headache you can think of: migraine, sinus, tension, head congestion, eye strain, and now, cluster headaches. I will begin with cluster headaches, because they are the worst by far, and they occur without any warning at all. And they are the reason I'm late for this week's health post. I started this on Monday, and I wasn't able to finish it until today, after the headaches subsided.

Help Your Headaches
Image courtesy of Robina Weermeijer via Unsplash

Cluster Headaches

Probably a couple of years ago, I started getting minor headaches in a small section of my head (usually the back or side) with sharp pain every few seconds. Until a week ago, the experience lasted for maybe a day and went away. Within the last week, I've had 2 of these cluster headaches that have lasted for at least 3 days each with only a couple of days of rest between the 2. From my own research, these are called cluster headaches. And the fact that they last for days, weeks, or even months is not uncommon at all. They are related to migraines (also gathered from my research), which makes sense, because prior to menopause, I used to have frequent migraines. 

I refer to these cluster headaches as brain pain, because they are much worse and much different than any headache I have ever experienced. I feel like I've been hit with a hammer in one small section of my head. I say that because the area of pain feels like it's about the size of a hammer head. The constant pain is dull, but the pain swells. The swelling pain reminds me of labor contractions the way they come and go every few seconds during an attack. These 'contractions' may be slightly sharper and bearable or extremely intense and extremely unbearable. The intense ones are quite debilitating, making it difficult to concentrate and sleep. The bearable ones usually will become unbearable by the time the sequence of headaches is over. With that said, though, there are a few home remedies that I have tried that will get rid of them for at least a few hours during an attack. So, when I say these are ongoing, I mean that you can get relief, but they may recur later in the day once the remedy wears off. Also, according to my research, you can almost set your clock by the time they recur throughout each day, and that is very true with my experience.

Mayo Clinic and others say that this pain is mostly in the eye or behind the eye (this is just one site copying information from another site), but they can also occur in other parts of the brain according to another site that I found. Mine are typically in other parts of the brain/head. The first one I had about a week ago was in the top, left quadrant (back side) of the brain. A couple of days later, I had a cluster headache that was in the lower, left quadrant of the brain (behind my ear). I'm just recovering from the last one. That's why this post is a few days later than I had hoped to post it. 

Cause of Cluster Headaches

First, let's talk about possible causes based on my research and lifestyle. When my first cluster headache started, I had just gotten a transcribing job. I had listened to a board meeting most of the day, gathering the list of speakers before I started transcribing. 

When I do this:

  • I don't regularly hydrate
  • My breathing is shallow
  • Tension builds in my neck and shoulders
  • My eyes get tired
We're also in a seasonal transition (fall to winter) where there may be extreme highs or lows, and we're in the major holiday season (always a certain amount of stress). I have also reduced the amount of caffeine I'm drinking in a day. Any of these things can trigger a cluster headache. Although, here are other reasons that don't apply to me such as excessive alcohol intake and smoking and a multitude of other things. Bright light, loud noises, or strong smells (especially perfume or cologne) also may trigger, re-trigger, or worsen these types of headaches in my case. The same goes for sudden head movement, laughing, coughing, sneezing, yawning, shaking your head yes or no. No joke. As I mentioned, these are different from any other headache I've ever experienced.

Treatments for Cluster Headaches

Prescribed medication and pure oxygen are some of the recommended treatments. But we all know that all these treatments have side effects that will cause other problems and likely create reasons for more medications. And these treatments are just as temporary as the home remedies. No, thank you. I prefer my methods, which are swift and cost less. Of course, if my home remedies don't work as well for you as they have for me, you should seek immediate medical assistance for your headaches.

My home remedies are as follows:

  • Take acetaminophen as directed on the label. Pain medicine is slow to work on these cluster headaches but will be effective at keeping it at bay after you succeed at getting rid of it with the other methods I mention here. 
  • Next, I immediately  use a cold compress on the area of pain. After 15 or 20 minutes of a cold compress, the pain subsides. 
  • I then use a heating pad for another 15 to 20 minutes on the headache area and on my shoulders (as I usually have tension in my shoulders during these headaches). 
  • Relaxation methods such as meditation and breathing exercises can be helpful.
  • Stay away from bright lights, loud noises, and strong, offending smells until the headache subsides or when the next cluster begins.
  • Because we dehydrate while we sleep, start hydrating as soon as you get up in the mornings and continue to hydrate well throughout the day.
  • Drink a little bit of caffeine.
  • Neck stretches. Slowly bend your head forward, sideways, and back to relieve some of the tension.
  • Lightly rub the tense areas and the head. But be very careful in the pain area of the head to not put too much pressure there as that may intensify the pain.

That along with the Tylenol keeps the headache away for the next several hours so I can get some work accomplished. If the headaches recur through the day, I'll simply use the cold compress and heat again. The 30 to 40 minutes of time it takes to do these 2 things gives me several hours of relief so my entire day isn't lost due to these headaches. 

Also, pay attention to all the signs. If you feel tension, do the neck exercises. If you get thirsty, get a drink. If your eyes are strained, get off the device you're working on. Take a walk in the fresh air and breathe it in. Web MD offers headache advice as well that I may or may not have mentioned in my own home remedies above. 

Migraine Headaches

Migraines occur more in my eyes and one side of my face. As I mentioned in the previous section, I don't get these as often now and they aren't as extreme as they used to be before menopause. Thirst is the first thing that happens before a migraine headache takes hold. So, I start hydrating more regularly. Sometimes, this will prevent the headache, if I start the extra hydrating in time.

Strained eyes are another sign that a migraine headache is coming on. So, I start avoiding bright lights, especially computer, phone, and tablet screens. 

I was able to tell right away that the cluster headaches were related to the migraines, because all the triggers and telling symptoms are the same, with the exception of the sharp pain and the fact that migraines run their course in a few hours versus days on end. 

Some of the remedies differ slightly with a migraine:

  • Complete darkness may be necessary with a migraine.
  • Complete quiet may be helpful.
  • Minimalize scents if you suffer from migraines. Even the slight scent from the dryer sheet you used on the shirt that you washed a week ago can trigger a migraine headache. 
  • Deep breathing is often helpful to reduce or remove migraine pain altogether within about 10 minutes. 
  • As strange as this may sound, using Afrin sinus spray (only as directed on the label) simultaneously with your favorite headache medicine will reduce the headache pain rather quickly. But the Afrin may also cause your nose to become stuffy within 24 hours of using it. 
  • Sterile eye drops.
  • See cluster headache remedy list above. 
  • Do NOT use heat on a migraine. Use cold only.

There are other symptoms of a migraine such as halos. Our son actually had what was called an atypical migraine attack once (according to ER and other testing). He said that he experienced bright halos with the headaches, but he experienced a dark halo with the one atypical migraine which also caused him to collapse twice within a couple of minutes. He never lost consciousness, but him falling straight to the floor twice was enough for an ER visit. That was also the end of his migraines, oddly enough. He has actually had only 1 headache in the last 10 years. That was from a recent virus we had a couple of months ago. He didn't even have a headache when we had Covid in August 2022, when a constant, throbbing headache was the first symptom for both my husband and me.


Congestion, Sinus, and Allergy Headaches


Weather and pollen, maybe even air pollutants, play a big role in sinus and allergy headaches. Your head feels heavy, and there's lots of pressure behind the front section of your face. Sometimes, they may trigger the other 2 types of headaches I discussed earlier in this post because of the stress they cause.  

So, here are some things you can do to ease the congestion:
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • OTC meds for your symptoms 
  • Apply heat to the sinus region. Be careful not to burn yourself.
  • Breathe in steam. Again, be careful not to burn yourself.

Again, medical help may be required if any headache isn't alleviated by any of these treatments or if you have other symptoms such as an earache (possibly an ear infection) or chest pain/bad cough (indicative of pneumonia), high fever (likely a severe infection), rash, labored breathing, change in vision or hearing, or any other symptom that makes you feel uneasy or uncomfortable not seeing a doctor.

Eye Strain and Tension Headaches

Eye strain headaches are just that - caused by eye strain. Give your eyes frequent breaks by leaving the computer or putting down the book or craft. Focus on something in the distance.

Tension headaches can be caused by sitting too long, worrying too much, trying to please too many people, exercise, not enough sleep, or any number of other things. The pain radiates to the base of the head from the neck and shoulders. When these occur, practice tension release therapy such as meditation, breathing exercises, gently rolling your neck, taking a nature walk, rolling your shoulders, lying back and closing your eyes, gently massaging your neck and shoulders and base of the head.

Other Headaches

Of course, there are many other types of headaches. I've touched on only the ones I'm familiar with. I hope my home remedies help you. If not, don't wait to go see a doctor. Actually, go right away. 

I hope this post has helped you in some way. Take care of yourself. Until my next post, may God bless you and heal your headache.

Patricia




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