Stopping headaches before they happen

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Stopping headaches before they happen

Headaches can disrupt your best laid plans.  Whether you experience the dull pain, tightness and pressure of a tension headache or the sharp, throbbing ache of a migraine, headaches are no fun and can ruin the best of days. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could prevent them from happening in the first place?

Worldwide, headaches are among the most common health problems experienced by individuals.  The World Health Organization estimates that up to 4% of all adults are affected by a headache on 15 or more days of each month.  For anyone who has them, you know the feeling all too well – you begin to feel lightheaded, maybe even dizzy and before you know it, a full blown headache is pounding its way letting you know its arrived.  While there are no definitive answers as to the causes of headaches, there are certain factors that can elicit the likelihood of them occurring.  According to the National Headache Foundation, certain triggers can bring on headaches that can be avoided.  By avoiding these triggers, you can dodge a pulsating headache ruining your day.

There are three categories that can be prompts for the beginning of a throbbing headache lasting for hours.  They are avoiding certain foods, staying hydrated and reducing stress. 

Avoiding certain foods

We’ve all experienced an “ice cream” headache when we eat this frozen dairy treat too fast.  Luckily, ice cream headaches don’t last long at all but they do remind us to slow down when having this dessert.  For some people, cheese can be another culprit, particularly aged cheeses.  Avoid cheeses that have passed their sell-by dates, especially blue cheese, Swiss, cheddar, gouda, and parmesan.

Going too long without eating (more than 5 hours) or skipping meals is another headache generator.  This can bring about drops in blood sugar resulting in a pounding headache that could last for hours.  Keeping a regular mealtime schedule composed of balanced meals is the best option for avoiding this type of headache.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration is often a headache trigger for many people and for those who are experiencing more frequent headaches than usual, this could be the reason.  As little as only a 1-2% drop of body water content can result in a headache and with up to 75% of Americans chronically dehydrated, this could be a major source of the pain.

Causes of dehydration can be a general lack of water or fluid intake, vigorous exercise or strenuous activity causing excessive sweating, alcohol consumption, long airline flights with dry cabin air or sun exposure. 

Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water (at least 6-8 cups a day) and eating plenty of high-water content foods such as fruits and vegetables.  Coffee and alcohol can be dehydrating along with too much fruit juice which can cause diarrhea, also a trigger for dehydration.  If you know you will be more active than usual or out in the sun for a longer period of time, begin drinking extra fluids to avoid dehydration fending off a headache. 

Reduce stress

Stress is a major cause of headaches with frequent headaches being a principal sign of stress.   There is no way we can completely eliminate stress but we can become better at effectively managing stressful situations.  Some ways to do this is to change the source of stress or distance yourself from it.  Finding healthy ways of dealing with stress is important for maintaining stress-relieving endorphin hormones.  Some ways to deal with stress include increasing physical activity, avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, get more sleep, try relaxation techniques, talk with someone about your stress, keep a stress diary, and learn to say “no” to reduce your level of stress. 

Additional headache prevention strategies

Here are other easy steps to take that can help you avoid many common headache triggers:

·      Maintain good posture and move around during the day – Check your posture throughout the day making sure your neck is not getting stiff when doing desk work.  When at the computer, take your eyes off of it every so often to avoid eyestrain.  Every 30 minutes, try to get up and move around for at least a couple of minutes to avoid prolonged sitting.

·      Use supportive pillows at night – Use a pillow providing good support for your head and neck.

·      Get a good night’s sleep – Either too much or too little shuteye can leave your head pounding – aim for about 8 hours of sleep each night.

·      Eat a healthy diet and stick to an exercise routine – Healthy foods and regular exercise help ward off headaches.  Never skip meals and make exercise a priority most if not all days of the week.

·      Pace yourself at happy hour – Space out your adult beverages and/or eat high-fat foods so the absorption of alcohol is delayed and the effects of the hangover are blunted. And never drink on an empty stomach.

·      Be proactive when traveling – Traveling can be a hassle not to mention any jet lag involved. Aim to keep headaches at bay by not skipping meals, keeping hydrated, pack snacks, and rest when you can.

·      Choose odor free cleaning agents – Strong fumes are often a trigger for headaches. Choose odorless, fragrance-free and “green” products when doing household chores.

·      Limit screen time – Count up the number of hours you spend either watching TV, being on the computer, checking your cellphone, and before you know it, you’ve spent half your day looking at a screen. This can lead to major eye-strain which can be the beginnings of a headache.  Limit your hours of screen time by turning off devices and getting outdoors.

·      Wear sunglasses – Bright sunlight can trigger headaches for some people.  By wearing sunglasses, seeking shade or staying in air conditioning, you can prevent from getting overheated.