You have a greater chance of winning the lottery while accepting an Oscar for best cinematographer than you do getting through life without experiencing your fair share of headaches. No one likes headaches, yet pretty much every human gets them. In fact, headache disorders are among the most common disorders of the nervous system.
Despite certain regional differences, headaches are a worldwide health problem that affect people of all ages, races, income levels and geographical locations. In fact, globally it is estimated that half to three quarters of adults aged 18-65 have had at least one headache in the last year and of those, 10% have reported having a migraine. If you suffer from headaches for 15 or more days each month, take heart, you’re not alone: 1.7 – 4% of the world’s population literally feels your pain. But headaches can often be more than just a pain. Headaches cause many people to have trouble concentrating because they can focus on little else than the throbbing and pounding happening inside their head.
Listed below are the most common types of headaches and their potential causes:
A Headache Behind the Eyes
Many people experience mild headaches behind both of their eyes and this type of headache is generally caused by tension. It could be that your vision is worse than you’d like to admit and you’re squinting. Or perhaps you’re staring at a computer screen all day.
When the pain resides just behind one eye and is a bit more severe, it is generally considered a cluster headache (also characterized by redness and/or tearing of the eye) or a migraine.
And speaking of the dreaded migraine…
Migraines are headaches that are typically moderate to severe in intensity, are located on one side of the head, and are associated with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light. Did you know that migraines are far more likely to happen after a stressful event? This is most likely because under stress, the body produces a lot of cortisol, a hormone released in response to our “fight or flight” mechanism, which wreaks all kinds of havoc inside your body.
An “Overtired” Headache
Cluster headaches and migraines can also happen at night in relation to the quality and amount of sleep we get. Cluster headaches actually have the ability to awaken someone out of their sleep and typically happen during the first cycle of rapid eye movement sleep. These cluster headaches are generally very severe and can last anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 hours.
Another type of headache associated with sleep disruption and exhaustion is called a hypnic headache. These headaches usually occur in older people and are moderate in their level of intensity. They can last up to a couple of hours but have no associated symptoms.
When most people get even the slightest sign of a headache, they reach for an over-the-counter pain reliever and toss back a few tablets. But are aspirin, Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen the best choices for pain relief?
Aspirin is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, and has been around for over 100 years. It is estimated that over 40,000 metric tons is consumed annually. That’s a lot of headaches. Actually, aspirin is also used to lower a fever and fight inflammation, as well as prevent clot formation, heart attacks and strokes. But, as with most things in life, taking too much aspirin, or taking it for too long, can have negative side effects.
Aspirin interferes with the stomach’s protective lining and, over time, can cause digestive irritation and discomfort. Long-term aspirin use can cause inflammation in your stomach and bleeding ulcers. Because of these nasty side effects, some types of aspirin have a coating to help prevent stomach upset. Another negative side effect is, though great at reducing blood clotting, aspirin can then also lead to increased bleeding(not a good thing with bleeding ulcers or other injuries).
Ibuprofen AKA Advil
Advil is another member of the NSAID family and works by reducing hormones that cause pain and inflammation in the body. Like aspirin, Advil may also be used to reduce fever as well.
But, also like aspirin, taking Advil for long periods of time can lead to serious complications such as increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke, and also causing stomach or intestinal bleeding, all which can be fatal. Those people with a history of strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, ulcers, bleeding ulcers, asthma or liver or kidney disease should consult with their doctor before taking Advil for headache pain.
Acetaminophen AKA Tylenol
Tylenol is another common over-the-counter pain reliever and fever reducer used to treat everything from headaches, arthritis pain, toothaches, colds and fevers. When used correctly, acetaminophen does not pose a danger to the users. But when the recommended dosage has been exceeded in a 24 hour period, or when taking over an extended period of time, as many people who experience daily headaches are apt to do, negative side effects may occur.
Heavy or extended use of Tylenol has been linked to bleeding in the digestive tract, kidney disease, heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.
If reading about these nasty side effects has given you a headache, fear not, here are 5 natural alternatives to headache relief:
Magnesium has been shown to reduce the frequency of migraines when taken daily. It does this by calming nerves, which tend to get overexcited during a migraine – can you blame them? There have been studies that have shown migraine sufferers tend to be deficient in this mineral. Want to up your magnesium intake? Start eating more dark green vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard.
Get a Little Nutty
You can either toss back a few aspirin when you get a headache, or toss back a handful of almonds. Almonds can work wonders on the pain caused by everyday tension headaches because they contain something called salicin, which is the exact same agent used in popular over-the-counter pain killers.
Note: If you suffer from migraines you may find that almonds are a trigger food
Studies have concluded that fish oil can help reduce headache pain thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids which fight inflammation and lower blood pressure.
Did you know dabbing a little peppermint oil onto various places on your body could help you eliminate the pain of a headache? This oil is totally soothing and can begin working remarkably fast. Just rub a little peppermint oil into your temples or forehead and you will feel the nice cooling sensation and quick pain relief.
Stretch and Relax
Oftentimes the pain of a tension headache can be alleviated by stretching and relaxing our knotted-up muscles. When we become tense, our neck, shoulders and back muscles constrict and this causes pain to radiate into other areas of our body like our heads.
If you do yoga, you may want to try doing some moves and stretches the next time a headache comes on. Yoga is gentle so won’t cause any additional throbbing pain. It gets your blood flowing into your muscles while you stretch them nice and easy to release that tension.
If you don’t practice yoga, no worries, just try to gently stretch the major muscle groups in your body, preferably in a warm room, to relieve the tension.
Deep breathing is also key to alleviating headache pain. Most of us are shallow breathers to begin with, but when pain sets in, our breathing becomes even shallower. Taking slow, deep breaths instantly has a relaxing effect and gets oxygen moving into our tight muscles.
Unless you live in a magical kingdom where unicorns exist but car payment don’t, you’re most likely going to experience the occasional headache now and then, or worse, experience them far too often. Instead of reaching for over-the-counter
“solutions” which come with some nasty side effects, reach for one of these natural alternatives instead.