What Causes A Headache

Headaches are never fun and everyone has their own unique way of describing one – “throbbing, pulsating pain,”  “very sharp,” or “a tight band around my head.”  Many people will also experience extreme sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises or even where movement can trigger the pounding making it worse.

Headaches can be categorized into different types such as cluster, migraine, sinus, and chronic.  The most common type is a tension headache where the pain starts off usually mild to moderate but then can shift into a higher gear of more pressure squeezing around your head. 

There are the usual culprits causing headaches such as stress or anxiety that may lead to a tension headache but there are also other not so well-known triggers setting off a tension headache you may have to deal with for hours. 

Here are 16 things that may be causing those unexpected and unwelcomed tension headaches you have not been aware of. To discover which one might be provoker, the best strategy is to keep a headache diary.  Write down each day foods you have eaten, any stressful events, changes in the weather, and your physical activity.  Once you feel a headache coming on, jot down the time it starts and stops.  Look for patterns so you can avoid whatever your unique trigger is.

1.      Caffeine

If used in moderation, caffeine can help headaches, as many headache medications contain caffeine as one of their ingredients.  However, downing too many caffeinated beverages such as coffee, colas or tea can bring on a headache.  If this is your trigger, reduce caffeine gradually as quitting suddenly can make things worse. 

2.      Smoking

Smoking is a known cause for headaches.  Exposure to secondhand smoke can provokes headaches in nonsmokers since the nicotine causes blood vessels in the brain to narrow.  Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke are the best solutions preventing a headache.

3.      Skipping meals

Also known as “hunger headaches,” skipping a meal can cause blood sugar levels to drop resulting in hypoglycemia inducing a fullblown headache.  The cure is to not skip meals.  If you feel a headache coming on because you skipped a meal, eat a food high in protein and fiber such as apple slices with peanut butter – not a candy – to correct the situation.  Sweets will cause blood sugar to spike to rapidly with a resulting nosedive in blood sugar levels dropping even lower.

4.      Cold cuts

Cold cuts and other processed meats usually contain tyramine and food additives such as nitrites which cause headaches for some people.

5.      Red wine

The substance tyramine is also found in red wine and other alcoholic drinks.  If you continue to drink wine with a headache, the effect will intensify since alcohol boosts blood flow to the brain.  Choose instead sparkling water or another non-alcoholic drink.

6.      Cheese

Once again, tyramine found in aged cheese such as blue cheese, cheddar, parmesan, and Swiss, can be a headache-inducing trigger. 

7.      Poor posture

When we slouch this puts pressure on muscles in the head and neck.  Also using a chair with no lower-back support or staring at a computer monitor set too high or too low for hours causing you to hunch over can soon develop into a tension headache. 

8.      Strong scents

No matter how nice the fragrance may be, for some people strong scents from perfume, cologne, air fresheners, or even candles, can turn into a full-blown headache.  Other scent-related headache triggers can be paint, floor wax, car exhaust, gasoline, and cleaning products.

9.      Weather

Yes, even weather can turn your head into a pounding headache.  Temperature changes such as heat waves or cold snaps are part of the problem.  For some people it is sunny, hot days while for others rain or changes in the barometric pressure can lead to a headache.  Weather can’t be changed but wearing sunglasses on a bright day and keeping hydrated may lessen the effect.

10.  Dehydration

Our brain is composed of about 75% water so being well-hydrated is important for it to function properly.  The average person requires about 6-10 cups of water each day depending on activity level, food intake, age and the weather.

11.  Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is associated with loud snoring with pauses in breathing causing choking or gasping for air.  Waking up with a headache can be a symptom if a person has sleep apnea.  When a person has repeated bouts of breathing pauses during the night, carbon dioxide builds up in the blood, causing headaches.  Meet with a sleep specialist is you wake up with morning headaches to rule out sleep apnea.

12.   Cradling a phone

How many of us have done this to only give us a throbbing headache?  Cradling a phone in the crook of our neck causes muscles to shorten, tighten and become irritated which can lead to a tension headache.  Obvious solutions are to use a hands-free phone or a headset to avoid an unnecessary headache.

13.  Jaw clenching

Another cause of morning headaches could be you are clenching your jaw during the night.  A dentist can evaluate if you are doing this and will usually suggest wearing a mouth guard to help prevent the effects. 

14.  Lugging an overloaded bag

How much does your purse of backpack weigh?  You might be surprised.  An overloaded bag of any kind can affect our posture which creates an imbalance in the muscles of the neck, back and shoulders.  This extra strain and stress can cause not only headache pain but also pain or injury throughout the upper body.  Limit how much weight you carry and regularly switch carrying shoulders. 

15.  Hair accessories

A too tight ponytail, headbands, braids, or hair clips pulling hair taut, puts constant pressure on the connective tissue in the scalp producing a headache.  Avoid pulling hair quite so tight or limit how often you wear hair in these styles.

16.  Incorrect eyeglass prescription

This can be a major headache trigger if an eyeglass prescription, whether for glasses or contacts, is too strong.  This can cause eye strain leading to headaches.  Correcting the lens prescription will make the issue go away.