Headaches are truly the worst, especially when they're being extremely stubborn and just won't go away. From hormonal shifts during menstruation to lack of sleep, hunger, stress, and certain dietary habits, there's a whole host of things that cause and exacerbate headaches. To complicate things further, each of the aforementioned triggers is associated with a different type of headache, and all require a specific treatment to heal.
The good news is that if you know your triggers and what signs to look out for when an episode is looming, then you'll be more prepared to fend off a headache with the appropriate remedy. We hope this breakdown of migraines, tension headaches, sinus headaches, and cluster headaches is a helpful reference guide. Scroll through to find out what your symptoms may mean, and then try the life-changing natural remedies.
It's a migraine if…
The Pain Point: During a migraine, you may see flickering lights, faint lines, and crosshatches; feel irritable; or have droopy eyelids, a stiff neck, eyestrain, dizziness, tingling, and sensitivity to light. It's also marked by pulsating pain behind the eye and on both sides of the face or neck, which can radiate throughout your head. If your migraine worsens, it can also lead to an upset stomach and vomiting. Some triggers can be a lack of restful sleep, too much physical exertion, certain allergies or hormonal changes, stress, and skipping meals (because of blood sugar drops), and changes in air pressure.
While the main reason is unknown, doctors believe migraines are genetic and hormone-related, like increased estrogen levels.
The Remedy: Bright lights and a lot of physical activity can intensify the pain, so go to a quiet, dark room when you can lie still. Elevate your neck with a towel, and then use your fingers to apply gentle, subtle pressure to your head to alleviate the tension buildup in your head by stimulating more blood flow throughout your body. Applying temperatures to your body can also help, and what works varies from person to person. Warm compresses can relax the muscles to alleviate pain while cold compresses can numb the pain.
It's a tension headache if…
The Pain Point: With tension headaches, which are also the most common type, you'll usually feel the pain smack-dab in the middle of the forehead as well as the top of your head. It may feel like a rubber band wrapped tightly around your head, sort of similar to when a ponytail is too tight. You may notice some sensory sensitivity, strained eyes, and a dull pressure building up around your head as well as sore muscles around your neck, shoulders, and scalp.
The Remedy: Close your eyes and apply a light pressure to your lids for a few moments. Focus on your breathing and try to relax as much as possible, as stress or anxiety can be one of the main reasons for a headache. This guided meditation to get rid of a headache may help. Then try this mind trick to distract yourself from the pain:
Step 1: Close your eyes and ask yourself where your headache is the most painful, what color it is, and what shape is it.
Step 2: Say your answers out loud.
Step 3: Repeat four times.
Make sure to drink plenty of water, too, as dehydration can be one of the main causes.
It's a sinus headache if…
The Pain Point: If you have plugged ears, nasal congestion, achy teeth, and other flu-like symptoms along with head pain, it's probably a sinus headache. Like with a migraine, you may experience pain behind your eyes as well at the cheeks and bridges of your nose. They can be caused by an infection or allergic reaction, which is why medical professionals refer to them as a secondary type of a headache (hangovers fall into this category as well).
The Remedy: Because these headaches are usually caused by other issues like an infection or allergy, the best way to treat them is by figuring out if you have a virus and getting the right medication to treat that. But in the meantime, try similar techniques used to reduce the pain of a tension headache. Keeping a humidifier nearby can also help prevent sinus headaches.
It's a cluster headache if…
The Pain Point: Cluster headaches happen on one spot on your head, usually unilaterally. It's a stabbing, piercing pain. These attacks come in clusters at a time throughout the day, hence the name. Some warning signs that an attack is nigh are watery or red eyes and nasal congestion on one side.
The Remedy: Unlike other types of headaches, you shouldn't lie down, as that can increase the pain. Cluster headaches happen all of a sudden and intensify quickly but typically only last about five to 10 minutes. You may feel restless during a cluster attack because the sharp pain is so excruciating. It's sort of like when you stub a toe and just want to shake it out more rather than letting it be still. Incorporating more anti-inflammatories into your diet is a great idea since this relieves the pressure buildup in your brain.
Magnesium also helps. Rub peppermint oil on the back of your neck and temples to relieve muscle tension.
Which natural remedies did you find the most useful? Sound off in the comments below and feel free to share your own advice as well.
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This post was originally published on May 27, 2017, and has since been updated.