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Home remedies for headaches

Some headache pain can be prevented and treated with simple strategies.

When you have a headache, it may seem natural to reach for the medicine cabinet.

However, medication is not the only option for headaches. Home remedies may also help you ease headache pain. And lifestyle changes may help keep headaches away.

Ease the pain

The National Headache Foundation and other health experts suggest trying one of these treatments to relieve headache pain:

Apply cold or heat. Cold helps ease pain by constricting swollen blood vessels and reducing sensitivity in the nerve endings. Heat increases blood flow to head and neck muscles, helping the muscles relax and reducing tension.

Most people with migraines prefer cold packs, while those with tension-type or muscle-contraction headaches may prefer heat.

With cold packs or ice, use them for 15 minutes and then take a 15-minute break.

When using heat, make sure to keep the temperature moderate. Too much heat can cause muscle spasms or burns.

Get a massage. Massage can relieve headache pain and muscle tightness. Massage may also help prevent headaches by reducing stress and tension. You can get a massage from a licensed therapist, or you can have a friend or loved one learn the trigger points and how to massage them.

Try biofeedback. Biofeedback is a relaxation technique that teaches you to control certain body functions and ease tension, which can help you have fewer headaches. Talk to your doctor for more information.

Keep headaches away

A few simple lifestyle changes can help head off future headaches:

Watch what you eat. Certain foods can trigger headaches, including:

  • Aged cheese, such as cheddar, Stilton and Brie.
  • Chocolate.
  • Certain types of meats, such as processed, smoked or aged meats.
  • Fermented, pickled or marinated foods.

The following substances can also cause headaches:

  • Caffeine.
  • Alcohol.
  • Cigarette and cigar smoke.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a seasoning used in many foods.

Keeping a headache diary can help you learn if certain foods trigger your headaches.

Eat regular meals. Skipping meals can cause low blood sugar and lead to headaches, so try to eat regular meals. It may also help to eat smaller, more frequent meals rather than the standard three meals a day.

Assess your stress. Though some stress is a normal part of life, being overly stressed can trigger headaches. So when you feel tension building, take a break. Go for a walk or take slow, deep breaths to calm yourself.

Sleep well. Too much or too little sleep and even napping can leave you with an aching head. That's why it's important to maintain regular sleep patterns. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.

Be active. Regular physical activity can help prevent headaches, so try to be active for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week.

Finally, be sure to talk with your doctor if treatments don't seem to help, or if your headaches are frequent or severe.

Reviewed 3/4/2022

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