Job & Financial Stress
Stress is one of the most commonly reported headache triggers. And some of the most common sources of stress in the US include job and financial worries. Wherever your stress comes from, relieving it could make a dramatic improvement in your headache frequency.
One survey of people with ongoing headaches found that stress was the most reliable touchstone for headaches, triggering headaches about 75% of the time. Another report found that more than four out of five headache patients treated at one Greek hospital named stress as a headache trigger. This report also found that women are much more likely than men to name stress as a headache trigger. But for both, stress was the trigger most frequently named.
Weather Changes and Conditions
Changes in the weather can cause migraine symptoms in some people. To prove this, scientists compared the year-long headache diaries of 100 German people to weather charts. They found that migraine cases are influenced by the weather about 13% of the time, which they thought was an underestimate. Some of these people experienced migraine more often when atmospheric pressure fell, others when it rose. Yet another study found that headache patients in Taiwan reported more migraine headaches during winter cold fronts.
Sometimes powerful smells trigger headaches. In a survey of migraine patients, more than 90% reported odors as triggers. Of those, 9 in 10 named perfume specifically.
Dehydration is one of the most commonly reported headache triggers. And it can be easy to slip into sometimes. Make sure to drink mostly water, and to drink anytime you feel thirsty. If you often go without water for long periods, try taking a break every two hours to ask yourself if you feel thirsty.
Bright Lights and Busy Patterns
Bright lights and certain striped patterns can provoke migraine in some people. Lights are well known to lead to various types of headaches. Studies show that people with migraine report discomfort in dimmer light than others.
Sometimes patterns emerge within view that can trigger headaches. Scientists have studied patterns with tightly grouped lines, and found that these may provoke migraine in some people. Other studies have suggested that wearing lightly tinted glasses can ease this discomfort, which may be provoked by staring at lines of text, for instance.
Skimping on Sleep
Quality sleep matters, especially for people who get headaches. Cluster headaches have been found in 80% of people with sleep apnea in some studies. Other studies find that poor sleep quality impacts people with migraine and others with more rare headache types. Headaches can disrupt sleep, too. This can lead to a vicious cycle. You may want to discuss your options with a sleep specialist.
This one is common. In a poll of 300 people who get regular headaches, respondents said they tended to get computer overuse headaches 50% of the time. Remember to take short breaks every hour when you are on a computer. During that time, you can stretch and let your eyes relax by focusing them on a distant object for a few minutes.
Car Exhaust and Air Pollution
In several studies, city air pollution has been compared to hospital records for headache patients. These studies have shown that hospital visits for headaches increase as pollution gets worse. Try to avoid being outside on days with poor air quality.
Hair Tie Headaches
If you wear a ponytail, you have a good chance of experiencing ponytail headaches. These headaches may only be felt at the tie, or they may radiate further across your head and neck. Most people report pain relief 30 minutes after removing the hair tie.
Exercise can induce headaches in some people. In fact, this is considered relatively common. But exercise can also relieve many people's headaches, particularly migraine and chronic tension-type headaches. If you have exercise-induced headaches, talk to your doctor about treatment options.
Slouched, slumping shoulders can give you a headache, along with hunching your head forward as you sit. These can lead to tension-type headaches, which some therapists have corrected using biofeedback.
Cheese is often cited as a headache trigger. But there is no scientific evidence to support the notion. So, you can enjoy cheese as often as you like without triggering headaches.
This is a classic migraine trigger with some evidence behind it. Researchers have been able to provoke migraine attacks by feeding some people with red wine. Other wines can induce headache too, but red wine seems to be the more likely trigger.
Eating meats preserved with nitrates can trigger headaches in some people. These include many cold cuts, deli meats, and hot dogs. Unfortunately, labels like "no nitrates added" or "uncured" may be less helpful than they seem. These labels indicate that nitrates are not added in the curing process. But these labels have been criticized following lab tests that showed cured and uncured meats contained essentially the same amount of nitrates.
Missing a meal is one of the most reliable ways of triggering a headache, according to one survey of headache patients. About 30% of patients who have migraine with aura reported this as a trigger. Fasting seems to make things worse, with more than 55% of male migraine patients and 65% of women reporting that this can trigger headaches. In this study it was the most commonly-cited trigger.
Cigarette smoke is irritating to many people. For some of us, that sour smoke can also incite headaches. People who get cigarette smoke headaches report having them about five times a month.
Too Much Caffeine
Although coffee has been shown to reduce headaches, too much caffeine can have the opposite effect. One study studied people with migraine for a little over a month. They asked some to stop consuming caffeine. The ones who abstained completely showed better treatment results after 34 days.
Map Your Triggers
Headaches are common enough that most people have one now and then. But if yours have become distracting, start charting when you get them. Make a calendar that includes what time of day your headache starts, what you had to eat over the previous 24 hours, how often you ate, how well you slept, your stress level, and the weather. This can help you pinpoint your most common triggers. It can also give your doctor useful information when making a diagnosis.
By some measures, stress is the No. 1 headache trigger. So, anything that relieves your stress could help. Some people work off their stress with a favorite sport such as golf or tennis. Others find that quiet meditation and deep breathing soothes them. Whatever healthy stress reliever you prefer, try getting more of it in your life, and see if that eases your headaches.
Take a Walk
Although exercise can set off headaches in some, many people find the opposite. Regular exercise can relieve many types of headaches. If you do get exercise headaches, you still need to stay in shape for good health. Talk to your doctor, because these headaches are often treatable.
Going hungry is frequently named as a headache trigger. Stopping this one might take some planning ahead. Keep a few healthy snacks in your car and workplace for times when you need to skip a meal. Nuts and Greek yogurt are two great choices.
Consider Massage and PT (Physical Therapy)
Many headaches originate as other pains in places like your neck and shoulders. A physical therapist or massage therapist can both help in different ways. Physical therapists (PT) can show you movements and postures, as well as strengthening exercises, all to help you defeat your body pain over time. A masseuse can help relieve cramped and painful muscles for short-term relief. Keep in mind that some forms of massage are not suitable for all people.
When they have a headache, the first medicines people usually reach for are over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. These are effective against many headaches types. But people with frequent or severe headaches should be cautious not to use these excessively, as overusing them can cause health problems. If your headaches are frequent or severe, your doctor can recommend medicines that are safer for long-term use.
When to See Your Doctor
If your headaches suddenly change to become more frequent or severe, make an appointment with your doctor. This is when a headache chart can be especially helpful if you have one prepared. Your doctor will discuss your medical history and your recent headaches. It can be helpful to bring notes and questions to get the most out of your visit.
Some headaches qualify as emergencies. If you have a sudden, especially severe headache, call 9-1-1, whether it comes out of the blue or follows an accident. That's also true if your headache comes with other symptoms, such as vision problems, difficulty speaking, neck stiffness, fever, or a seizure. Call 9-1-1 when any of these symptoms accompany a headache.