What to do for headaches?

Originally Published: April 19, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 31, 2012
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Alice,

What do I have to do to get rid of my headache?

—Throbbing

Dear Throbbing,

Headaches can have many causes: tension (the most common), sinus, eyestrain, migraine, vascular (increased blood flow), or a brain tumor in rare cases. In addition, there are many kinds of pain: shooting, throbbing, dull, constant, sharp, etc.

Muscle headaches are often due to emotional or physical stress, such as poor posture. The muscles in the neck, scalp, and jaws tighten, producing a dull, aching sensation, or band of tension, around the head. Vascular headaches, which include the common migraine, are due to a constriction and then dilation of blood vessels in the head. Vascular headaches are usually severe, one-sided throbbing headaches often associated with nausea, vomiting, and visual disturbances (flashing lights or stars). Sinus headaches are caused by blockage of the sinus cavities with resulting pressure and pain in the cheeks, forehead, and upper teeth. These headaches are often associated with nasal congestion. Sometimes a combination of these types of headaches occurs at the same time.

Depending on the frequency and severity of your headaches, the following information may be useful:

Self-Care Tips for Headaches

  • Apply ice packs or heat on your neck and head.
  • Gently massage the muscles of your neck and scalp.
  • Use relaxation exercises.
  • Take aspirin, or an aspirin substitute, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Use a decongestant medication, if you have nasal congestion.
  • Reduce emotional and physical stressors, such as anger, eyestrain, or continuous loud noise.
  • Avoid foods that may trigger headaches, such as aged cheeses, chocolate, nuts, red wine, alcohol, avocados, figs, raisins, or pickled foods.

Hope you find some relief. If none of these work, see a health care provider who can help you determine a cause and manage the pain. S/he might refer you to a headache clinic. If you are a student at Columbia, call x4-2284 or log on to Open Communicator to make an appointment at Medical Services with your primary care provider. Best of luck finding relief.

Alice
P.S.:
Headache Alert

See a Physician Immediately If:

  • You have an unusually severe headache.
  • Your headache is accompanied by fever and a very stiff neck.
  • You have had a recent head injury, and are experiencing slurred speech, visual disturbances, and/or numbness in your face, arms, or legs.
  • Your headaches persist for more than three days, or increase in severity or frequency.

January 6, 2013

521270
Great advice. Just by reading it it made me feel better. Thanks Alice.
Great advice. Just by reading it it made me feel better. Thanks Alice.

August 2, 2002

20443

Alice,

Re: WHAT TO DO FOR HEADACHES ?:

I am not prone to headaches of any kind. When I do get them, I generally know why: dehydration -- for which the fix is...

Alice,

Re: WHAT TO DO FOR HEADACHES ?:

I am not prone to headaches of any kind. When I do get them, I generally know why: dehydration -- for which the fix is simple.