Pain from chronic headaches can keep you from doing the things you enjoy. Find relief from headaches with lifestyle changes, relaxation, and safe use of medications.

Types of headaches

Your treatment may depend on the type of headache you have:

General headaches
Cluster headaches
Sinus headaches (sinusitis)
Tension headaches

woman with headacheCall your doctor if you have any of these signs of a serious condition:

  • a sudden, severe headache
  • a blow to your head
  • a headache with a stiff neck, fever, confusion, vomiting, loss of consciousness (blackout), or pain in your eye or ear.  

Track your triggers

There are many possible causes or "triggers" of headaches.

Some common headache triggers include:

  • alcohol
  • caffeine (coffee, tea, colas, energy drinks)
  • change in weather
  • food additives such as nitrates and MSG (found in many packaged or processed foods)
  • hormonal changes
  • hunger or thirst
  • lack of sleep
  • medication
  • stress

Write down what you were doing just before the headache started so you can identify possible triggers. Use a pain journal to help track your symptoms.

What you can do to manage headaches

Avoid headaches before they start with these pain-management tools:

  • Relaxation methods help reduce everyday stress in your life.
  • Classes at your local facility may teach you news ways to cope with headaches.
  • Care for Pain is an online program to help you manage your pain, your way.

When you feel a headache coming on, try these pain-relief ideas:

  • Sit or lay in a dark room if you are sensitive to light.
  • Drink plenty of water. Many headaches are caused by dehydration.
  • Eat a small, healthy snack such as whole-wheat toast with peanut butter or a piece of fruit. Your headache might be a sign of hunger.
  • If you take medicine for frequent headaches, take it as soon as you feel a headache starting. Don't wait for the headache to get worse.
  • Listen to guided imagery podcasts and use your mind to ease your pain.

Find out about common pain medications and alternative therapies.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Reviewed by: Benjamin Balderson, MD, January 2019

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