How to Treat a Headache? Effective Tips and Remedies

Headaches are a common condition that many people deal with on a daily basis. They can range from uncomfortable to downright unbearable, disrupting one’s day-to-day life. Several types of headaches exist, with tension headaches being the most common, followed by cluster headaches and migraines.1 While many medications can be used to treat headache symptoms, a number of effective natural treatments also exist. This article will explore various ways to naturally treat and manage headache symptoms, including staying hydrated, taking magnesium supplements, limiting alcohol consumption, getting adequate sleep, avoiding histamine-rich foods, using essential oils, B-complex vitamins, cold therapy, and coenzyme Q10. It will also cover trying an elimination diet, specific headache treatment techniques, different headache types and their treatments, and when to seek emergency care.

Key Takeaways

  • Headaches can be caused by a variety of dietary, lifestyle, and underlying health factors.
  • Natural remedies like staying hydrated, taking magnesium supplements, and limiting alcohol can effectively manage headache symptoms.
  • Essential oils, B-complex vitamins, and cold therapy can provide relief for different types of headaches.
  • Identifying and addressing food intolerances through an elimination diet may help prevent certain headaches.
  • Seeking immediate medical attention is crucial for severe, sudden, or worsening headaches.

Understanding Headache Causes

Headaches can be caused by a variety of factors, both dietary/lifestyle-related and underlying health issues.2 About 96% of people will experience a headache at least once in their life, and2 approximately 40% of people worldwide suffer from tension-type headaches.2 Around 10% of the global population experiences migraine headaches.2

Dietary and Lifestyle Factors

Dietary and lifestyle factors that can contribute to headaches include lack of sleep, dehydration, caffeine withdrawal, alcohol use, nutrient deficiencies, and undereating.2 Primary headaches are not caused by an underlying medical condition and can be triggered by these lifestyle factors.2

Underlying Health Issues

Serious injuries and underlying health issues can also cause headaches, such as tumors, blood clots, traumatic brain injury, medication overuse, and central nervous system infections.2 Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying medical condition and can indicate serious or potentially life-threatening issues.2 For example,2 spinal headaches can result from spinal fluid leaks after a spinal tap and may lead to complications like subdural hematoma and seizures if left untreated.

Risk Factors for Headaches

Certain factors also increase the risk of experiencing headaches, including obesity, sleep disorders, smoking, high caffeine intake, and family history of headache disorders.23 There are over 150 types of headaches, with some of the most common types being tension headaches, migraine headaches, cluster headaches, chronic daily headaches, sinus headaches, posttraumatic headaches, exercise headaches, hormone headaches, new daily persistent headaches, rebound headaches, ice pick headaches, spinal headaches, and thunderclap headaches.3

Headache TypeCharacteristicsGender Differences
Tension HeadachesDull, aching sensation all over the head, triggered by stress4Anyone can experience tension headaches4
Cluster HeadachesOne-sided pain around or behind the eye, can occur daily for months34Men are 3-4 times more likely to suffer from cluster headaches3
MigrainesIntense pulsing pain on one side of the head, lasting 4-72 hours4Migraines are 3 times more common in individuals assigned female at birth4
Hemicrania ContinuaAccounts for about 1% of headaches, with symptoms like eye redness, nasal congestion, and forehead sweating4More common in young adults4
Ice Pick HeadachesShort, intense stabbing pains in the head that can occur multiple times a day4No gender differences reported4
Thunderclap HeadachesSevere headaches that reach peak intensity rapidly, may indicate serious conditions24No gender differences reported4

Natural Remedies for Headaches

There are several natural remedies that can be effective in treating and managing headache symptoms. Staying hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day and eating water-rich foods like fruits and vegetables can help prevent dehydration-related headaches.5 Magnesium supplements, in doses of 600 mg or more, have been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines for some people.5 Limiting alcohol consumption, which can trigger migraines, tension, and cluster headaches, is also recommended.5

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is a common cause of headaches, and drinking more water may help reduce the occurrence, duration, and severity of headaches.5 Studies show that staying hydrated by drinking water or consuming foods high in liquid may help prevent headaches or reduce their severity.6

Magnesium Supplementation

Magnesium deficiency is more common in people who get frequent migraine headaches, and supplementing with magnesium has been shown to reduce both the frequency and severity of migraines.5 Low magnesium levels may be associated with regular headaches or migraines, and adding magnesium supplements to the diet could help prevent them.6

Limit Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol can trigger migraines in about one-third of people who experience frequent headaches and is a risk factor for tension headaches and cluster headaches.5 Alcohol consumption, even in moderate amounts, can lead to mild dehydration symptoms or exacerbate headaches.6

Get Adequate Sleep

Poor sleep quality and insomnia are associated with increased headache frequency and severity, while too much sleep can also trigger headaches.5 Sleep problems, including getting too much or too little sleep, can lead to headaches or migraines in some individuals.6

Avoid Histamine-Rich Foods

Consuming histamine-rich foods may cause migraines in sensitive individuals, and cutting them from the diet may help reduce symptoms.5 Food intolerances may play a role in causing headaches, and keeping a food journal to identify triggers may help manage symptoms.6

Essential Oils for Headache Relief

Essential oils, such as peppermint, lavender, and eucalyptus, have been found to be helpful in providing relief for headache symptoms.7 These highly concentrated plant-derived oils can be used topically, by applying a small amount diluted with a carrier oil to the temples or wrists, or diffused in the air.7 Research suggests that the aromatic compounds in these essential oils may have therapeutic benefits for reducing inflammation, slowing nerve conduction, and constricting blood vessels, all of which can help alleviate headache pain.7

The best essential oils for headache relief include peppermint, rosemary, lavender, German blue chamomile, and Australian blue gum eucalyptus.7 Peppermint essential oil contains menthol, which can help relax muscles and ease pain from tension headaches and migraines.7 Rosemary essential oil has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, aiding in stress reduction, pain relief, and improved circulation.7 Lavender essential oil is commonly used for stress relief, relaxation, and for acute management of migraine attacks.7 German blue chamomile essential oil relaxes the body, soothes muscles, and can aid in treating tension headaches, anxiety, and insomnia.7 Australian blue gum eucalyptus essential oil can help relieve sinus headaches by clearing the sinuses and providing muscle relaxation.7

When choosing essential oils, it is important to consider factors such as quality, label information, and brand reputation.7 Risks associated with essential oils include allergic reactions or irritations, so precautions such as dilution and patch tests are recommended.7 It is also advised to consult with a doctor if experiencing frequent headaches or if essential oils do not provide relief.7

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Essential OilBenefitsPricing
LavenderStress relief, relaxation, acute migraine management$8 for 0.51 fl oz
RosemaryAnti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, stress reduction, improved circulation$14 for 2 fl oz
PeppermintMuscle relaxation, tension headache and migraine relief$20 for 4 fl oz
ChamomileBody relaxation, muscle soothing, tension headache, anxiety, and insomnia relief$29 to $87 for 0.17, 0.33, and 1 fl oz

While essential oils show promise in managing headache symptoms, a 2021 review indicated that they may not significantly differ from placebo in treating migraines.89 Additional research is needed to confirm the efficacy of essential oils for various headache types.9 Nevertheless, essential oils, including lavender, peppermint, chamomile, anise, basil, rose, and mixed oils, have been found to reduce migraine intensity and frequency in some studies.9 Herbal medicine, including essential oils, is considered a potential option for enhancing migraine treatment.9

essential oils

The Benefits of B-Complex Vitamins

B vitamins, particularly riboflavin (B2), folate, B12, and pyridoxine (B6), may have a protective effect against headaches and can be effective in naturally treating headache symptoms.10 B-complex supplements, which contain all eight B vitamins, are a safe and cost-effective way to get these beneficial nutrients.11 Studies have shown that B vitamin supplementation can reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of headaches, including migraines.10 The B vitamins play important roles in neurotransmitter synthesis and energy production, which may contribute to their headache-relieving properties.

B VitaminBenefits for Headaches
Riboflavin (B2)Studied to reduce both the frequency and duration of migraines by around 50% after 3 to 6 months in a group of 23 participants.10
Folate (B9)Shown to significantly decrease the frequency of headache attacks and improve migraine disability scores in a 16-week study.12
Vitamin B12 (B12)Supplementation for 12 weeks significantly reduced the use of abortive drugs for migraine relief compared to the placebo group.12
Pyridoxine (B6)Supplementation for 16 weeks led to significant decreases in the frequency of headache attacks compared to the placebo group.12

In addition to these individual B vitamins,12 a 16-week study on vitamin B complex supplementation also showed significant decreases in the frequency of headache attacks and improvements in migraine disability scores compared to the placebo group.11 B vitamins are water-soluble and excess is usually excreted by the body, but very high doses can have adverse effects. It is essential to consult with a doctor before starting any new supplement to ensure it is safe, doesn’t interact with any medications, or affect any pre-existing health conditions.10

Cold Therapy for Headaches

Applying cold or frozen compresses to the head, neck, or temples can be an effective natural remedy for reducing cold therapy for headaches. The cold temperature helps decrease inflammation, slow nerve conduction, and constrict blood vessels, all of which can provide relief.13 Studies suggest that cold therapy may particularly benefit those experiencing headaches caused by certain medications or other underlying conditions.13 To use cold compresses for headaches, one can fill a waterproof bag with ice and wrap it in a soft towel, then apply it to the affected area for 15 minutes at a time.14

A 2013 study showed that applying a frozen neck wrap at the onset of a migraine significantly reduced pain in participants with migraine headaches.14 The study believed that cooling the blood flowing to the carotid artery in the neck helps reduce inflammation in the brain, thereby improving ice packs for headaches.14 Recommended application time of an ice pack for a headache or migraine is 15 to 20 minutes at a time.14

Dr. Alex Tauberg advises putting the ice either over the pain or at the base of your skull, keeping it on for 20 minutes and then off for an hour, alternating until the pain subsides.14 Tauberg suggests that when using an ice pack, one should expect to feel cold, burning, aching, and then numbness in that specific order, removing the pack once numbness is felt to prevent skin damage.14 Ice packs are considered an inexpensive and relatively safe way to reduce discomfort and pain from headaches, providing potentially manageable relief.14

The study on Cold Therapy in Migraine Participants, conducted in 2006, was an open-label, non-controlled, pilot study involving individuals with migraines.15 A study from 2001 compared the pain-relieving effects of intraoral chilling versus oral sumatriptan for acute migraine.15 Cryotherapy for headache was discussed in 1989 and considered as an adjunctive therapy for headaches.15

cold therapy for headaches

Coenzyme Q10 and Migraine Management

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a naturally-occurring substance that plays a role in energy production and functions as a powerful antioxidant. Research has shown that taking CoQ10 supplements can be an effective natural treatment for migraines.16 Studies have found that doses of 30-800 mg per day of CoQ10 can reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of migraine headaches.16 One study in particular demonstrated that 100 mg of CoQ10 per day reduced migraine frequency, severity, and length in 80 people diagnosed with migraines.17 CoQ10 supplements may help manage migraines by promoting healthy energy metabolism and reducing oxidative stress.

17 Participants in the study took 100 mg three times a day of CoQ10 for three months.17 The study involved 42 people who suffered an average of 4.4 migraine attacks per month.17 Approximately 48 percent of those who took CoQ10 had half as many attacks during the three-month study, while17 only about 14 percent of those taking a placebo had a similar reduction in migraine attacks.17 The study found that the only reported side effect of CoQ10 was an allergic skin rash in one patient.

16 Doctors typically recommend somewhere between 100 and 200 mg of Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) per day for migraine and some heart problems.16 The American Academy of Neurology, the American Headache Society, and the Canadian Headache Society all recommend CoQ10 for migraine prevention.16 CoQ10 supplements for migraine prevention should have a dosage of at least 100-150 mg, with no studies showing a benefit to taking more than 300 mg a day.16 CoQ10 is contained in meat, fish, and whole grains, but dietary sources may not be sufficient to significantly increase body levels for migraine relief.

16 Cove Beam, a supplement containing CoQ10, magnesium, and riboflavin, offers clinically-effective doses of these components.16 CoQ10 supplements are generally safe, but it’s advisable to consult with a medical provider before taking them, especially if pregnant, planning pregnancy, or breastfeeding, or taking certain medications like blood thinners, chemotherapy, insulin, or statins.16 Side effects of CoQ10 supplements are uncommon but can include a burning sensation in the mouth, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or nausea.16 CoQ10 is safe to combine with preventive or acute migraine medications and other supplements, but a medical provider should be consulted if concerns arise.16 It may take three to four months for CoQ10 supplements to start showing effects for migraine relief.16 Cove offers additional migraine supplements like Super B, Oasis, essential oil roll-on stick, and magnesium supplements.

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17 CoQ10 is an antioxidant used by cells to produce energy and is found in meat, seafood, and dietary supplements.17 Other energy producers like riboflavin have also been found useful in preventing migraines.17 The American Academy of Neurology has 40,000 members and is dedicated to promoting high-quality patient-centered neurologic care.

Trying an Elimination Diet

Studies suggest that food intolerances can trigger headaches in some people.18 To determine if a certain food is causing frequent headaches, an elimination diet may be helpful. This involves removing potential trigger foods from the diet for a set period of time, then systematically reintroducing them one by one to identify any problematic items.18

Identifying Food Intolerances

Common food culprits that can contribute to headaches include gluten, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, and foods high in tyramine or histamine.19 By pinpointing specific food sensitivities through an elimination diet, individuals can make dietary changes to prevent or reduce headache episodes.

20 The elimination diet may work particularly well in young people, as observed by integrative health practitioners.20 Recommendations suggest following the elimination diet for at least 3 months to assess its effectiveness in reducing headache frequency.20

20 Twelve foods to avoid to reduce headaches include caffeine, chocolate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), processed meats, dairy products, nuts, certain fruits and vegetables, alcohol and vinegar, baked goods, sweeteners, and soy.2019

20 Elimination diets may also benefit other health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, acid reflux, sinusitis, joint pain, abdominal migraines, and menstrual migraines.2018

18 Up to 20% of people worldwide may experience a food intolerance.18 An elimination diet lasts 5-6 weeks and is used to identify foods contributing to symptoms of gut sensitivity, food intolerance, or food allergies.18

18 Nightshade vegetables may potentially cause gastrointestinal reactions in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).18 IBS affects around 11.2% of people worldwide.18

18 In a study, individuals with IBS following an actual elimination diet saw a reduction in symptoms by 10%, with a maximum of 26% symptom reduction among those adhering closely to the diet.18

18 More than 75% of individuals with eosinophilic esophagitis (EE) experienced significant symptom reduction and inflammation improvement through an elimination diet.18 ADHD affects 3-5% of children and adults, and studies suggest that elimination diets may reduce symptoms of ADHD and have shown to help children sensitive to certain foods.18

How to Treat a Headache?

There are several effective techniques that can be used to treat a headache at home. Applying a cold compress to the forehead or neck can help reduce inflammation and constrict blood vessels, while a warm compress on the neck or sinuses may provide relief for tension or sinus headaches.21 Loosening tight hairstyles or accessories can alleviate external compression headaches.21 Reducing exposure to bright or flickering light, which can trigger migraines, and avoiding jaw clenching or teeth grinding can also help.21

Staying hydrated by drinking water, moderating caffeine intake, and using relaxation techniques like meditation or massage can be beneficial.21 Additionally, taking ginger supplements or over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin may help relieve headache symptoms.21

Cold and Hot Compresses

Applying a cold compress to the forehead or neck can help reduce inflammation and constrict blood vessels, while a warm compress on the neck or sinuses may provide relief for tension or sinus headaches.21

Loosening Tight Hairstyles

Loosening tight hairstyles or accessories can alleviate external compression headaches.21

Reducing Light Exposure

Reducing exposure to bright or flickering light, which can trigger migraines, can also help provide relief.21

Avoiding Jaw Clenching

Avoiding jaw clenching or teeth grinding can help alleviate headache symptoms.21

Staying Hydrated

Staying hydrated by drinking water can be beneficial in treating headaches.21

Moderate Caffeine Intake

Moderating caffeine intake can also help in managing headache symptoms.21

Relaxation Techniques

Using relaxation techniques like meditation or massage can aid in headache relief by reducing stress.21

Massaging Pressure Points

Massaging pressure points on the head, neck, or temples may provide some relief for headache pain.

Ginger for Migraine Relief

Recent studies have found that ginger can help ease migraine pain when used alongside regular pain medications.21

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Taking over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin may help relieve headache symptoms.21

Headache Types and Treatments

There are several different types of headaches, each with their own unique symptoms and treatment approaches. Tension-type headaches, the most common variety, typically cause mild to moderate pain on both sides of the head and can be treated with over-the-counter medications or alternative therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy or acupuncture.2

Tension-Type Headaches

Tension-type headaches are the most prevalent type of headache, affecting approximately 40% of people globally.2 They are characterized by a dull, aching pain that is often described as a “tight band” around the head. Stress, muscle tension, and poor posture can all contribute to tension-type headaches. While they are usually not as severe as migraines, tension headaches can still be quite disruptive and may last from 30 minutes to a week.1

Migraine Headaches

Migraines, on the other hand, cause moderate to severe pulsating pain, often on one side of the head, accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and sound.1 Migraines are three times more common in women than men.1 Migraine treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing future attacks, with prescription medications like triptans and preventive drugs like metoprolol or topiramate.1

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are a less common but highly debilitating type of headache. They are characterized by intense, one-sided pain that can be described as a “burning, piercing, or drilling” sensation.1 Cluster headaches occur in groups or “clusters” and are more common in men, occurring three times more frequently in males than in females.4

When to Seek Emergency Care

Seeking immediate medical care is advised for sudden, severe headaches, headaches following a head injury, or headaches accompanied by neurological symptoms like dizziness or confusion, as these may indicate a more serious underlying condition.1 Hypertension headaches, characterized by dangerously high blood pressure greater than 180/120, also signal an emergency and require prompt treatment.4

By understanding the various types of headaches and their unique characteristics, individuals can work with their healthcare providers to develop an effective treatment plan and find the relief they need.

Keeping a Headache Diary

Keeping a detailed headache diary can be helpful in determining the type, frequency, and potential triggers of one’s headaches.22 By recording when headaches occur, the symptoms experienced, and any potential contributing factors like diet, stress, or environmental conditions, individuals can work with their healthcare provider to identify patterns and develop an effective treatment plan.22 A headache diary can provide valuable information to guide the diagnosis and management of different headache types.

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The headache diary should include the date/day of the week and time of day when the headache started to track temporal patterns.23 Record activities or triggers just before the headache, such as eating, physical activity, stress levels, sleep duration, and medication intake, to identify potential causes.23 Document the symptoms experienced during the headache, like changes in sight, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or confusion.23 Rate the intensity of head pain during the headache on a scale of 0-10 to quantify the severity of pain.23

Note the location of the headache using provided pictures to pinpoint specific areas of discomfort.23 Monitor changes in vision before and during the headache, such as flashing lights or blind spots, to understand associated symptoms.23 Keep track of actions taken to alleviate the headache, like medication use, lying down, adjusting lighting, drinking water, or using cold/warm compresses.23 Assess whether headache intensity decreased after trying strategies to reduce pain, using the pain scale to measure improvement.23 Record the date and time when the headache ends to ascertain the duration of the headache episode.23

For children, parents and caregivers should observe changes in behavior before, during, and after headaches and document these observations in the diary for healthcare provider review.23 Encourage children to use the pain scale pictures to express the intensity of their headache, aiding in communication with healthcare professionals.23

Various headache diary formats are available, ranging from printed worksheets to mobile apps, such as Migraine Buddy and Headache Log.22 Regularly reviewing the headache diary with a doctor is recommended for accurate tracking and improving treatment plans.22

Headache Diary FeaturesDescription
Date/TimeRecord the date, day of the week, and time the headache started23
TriggersDocument activities or factors that may have triggered the headache, such as diet, stress, sleep, and medication23
SymptomsDescribe the symptoms experienced during the headache, including changes in vision, nausea, dizziness, and more23
Pain IntensityRate the intensity of the headache pain on a scale of 0-1023
LocationNote the specific area of the head where the headache is located using provided diagrams23
TreatmentRecord any remedies or medications used to alleviate the headache and their effectiveness23
DurationDocument the start and end times of the headache to determine its duration23

By keeping a comprehensive headache diary, individuals can work closely with their healthcare provider to identify patterns, triggers, and effective treatments for their specific headache type.22 This detailed information can guide the diagnosis and management of headaches, leading to improved outcomes and quality of life.

Conclusion

Headaches are a prevalent and often disruptive condition, but there are numerous effective natural remedies and treatment strategies available.24 By understanding the underlying causes and risk factors for headaches, and implementing techniques like staying hydrated, taking supplements, using essential oils, and practicing relaxation methods, individuals can find relief and better manage their headache symptoms.242526 Working closely with a healthcare provider to identify the specific type of headache and any underlying health conditions is also crucial for developing a comprehensive treatment plan.2426 With the right approach, headaches can be effectively prevented and treated without the need for extensive medication.

Headaches are a common problem, with around 90% of people in the US experiencing them during their lifetime.25 Migraines, in particular, are a disabling primary headache disorder that affects 12% of the population and are the second leading cause of years lived with disability globally.2526 By understanding the various types of headaches, their causes, and the different treatment options available, individuals can take proactive steps to manage their headache symptoms and improve their overall quality of life.

In conclusion, by incorporating natural remedies, lifestyle modifications, and working closely with a healthcare provider, individuals can find effective and sustainable solutions for treating their headaches.242526 The key is to explore the diverse range of options, from hydration and supplements to alternative therapies and prescription medications, to determine the best approach for their specific needs. With the right strategy, headaches can be successfully prevented and managed, allowing individuals to reclaim their productivity and wellbeing.

FAQ

What are some natural remedies for treating headaches?

Natural remedies for headaches include staying hydrated, taking magnesium supplements, limiting alcohol consumption, getting adequate sleep, avoiding histamine-rich foods, using essential oils like peppermint, lavender, and eucalyptus, and taking B-complex vitamins.

How can cold therapy help with headaches?

Applying cold or frozen compresses to the head, neck, or temples can help reduce inflammation, slow nerve conduction, and constrict blood vessels, providing relief for headache pain.

What is the role of coenzyme Q10 in managing migraines?

Research has shown that taking coenzyme Q10 supplements, in doses of 30-800 mg per day, can reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of migraine headaches by promoting healthy energy metabolism and reducing oxidative stress.

How can an elimination diet help identify food triggers for headaches?

An elimination diet involves removing potential trigger foods from the diet for a set period of time, then systematically reintroducing them one by one to identify any problematic items that may be contributing to frequent headaches.

What are some effective techniques for treating a headache at home?

Effective home remedies for treating a headache include applying cold or warm compresses, loosening tight hairstyles or accessories, reducing exposure to bright or flickering light, staying hydrated, moderating caffeine intake, and using relaxation techniques like meditation or massage.

What are the different types of headaches and their treatments?

The main types of headaches include tension-type headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. Tension-type headaches can be treated with over-the-counter medications or alternative therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy or acupuncture. Migraine treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing future attacks, while cluster headaches require different medications. Seeking immediate medical care is advised for sudden, severe headaches or headaches accompanied by neurological symptoms.

How can a headache diary be helpful?

Keeping a detailed headache diary can help determine the type, frequency, and potential triggers of one’s headaches. By recording when headaches occur, the symptoms experienced, and any contributing factors, individuals can work with their healthcare provider to identify patterns and develop an effective treatment plan.

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