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How to get rid of a headache

woman with headache

Figuring out how to get rid of a headache can be complicated if over-the-counter pain relievers don’t get the job done. 

Those pills and capsules on the shelves of the neighborhood pharmacy are one-size-fits-all approaches that don’t fit everybody. Sometimes, you need other ways to get rid of a headache. 

Before you rush off in search of natural or alternative headache remedies, invest some time learning why your head hurts. Usually, it’s because of factors like stress, diet, alcohol intake, lack of sleep and fluctuating hormones. 

To find new ways to make a headache go away, you need answers to a few questions: 

  • Where is my headache coming from? 

  • Is my headache related to vision or eyesight? 

  • How can I prevent a headache? 

  • What are some scientifically proven headache cures? 

Let’s work our way through some quick answers to these questions:

What’s the location of your headache? 

A headache does not always start inside your skull. Headaches typically happen when swelling or inflammation in the nerves, muscles and blood vessels of the skull trigger pain signals. These pains feel like they’re coming deep inside your brain, but the source of pain often is somewhere else.

Tension headaches, for instance, occur when muscles and nerves in the neck pull tight, creating pressure or pain in your neck, forehead, temples and around your eyes. 

Some of the most painful headaches feel like they are centered behind the eyes. These usually come in these categories: 

  • Migraines – These headaches are so severe they can disable people. A true migraine can last up to 72 hours, creating throbbing pain beyond the eyes and on one side or both sides of the head. Some people experience a migraine aura, which looks like a halo around light sources.  

  • Cluster headaches – These trigger short bursts of excruciating pain that starts behind the eyes and radiates throughout the face, head and neck. They can stick around for months and then fade away for years.  

  • Sinus infections – Your skull has a bunch of air-filled spaces called sinuses behind your nose, forehead and cheeks. The pain kicks in when the tissues of the sinuses become infected. 

Sometimes the vision system — eyes, optic nerves and the brain — causes problems that lead to pain. This raises the next question in your quest to get rid of headaches.

Is there a vision problem related to your headache? 

Your eyes are an extension of your central nervous system, which is centered in your brain and your skull. Therefore, it’s only natural for headaches to accompany vision problems. These are some of the most common vision issues related to headaches, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

Eye-related headaches crop up while people are experiencing eye pain, floaters, double vision and blurred vision. Headaches also may be warning signs of serious threats to eyesight like glaucoma and retinal detachment

Thus, a visit to an eye doctor may be in your future if you’re trying to get rid of headaches. There are, however, many other paths to headache pain relief.  

SEE RELATED: Can being nearsighted cause headaches?

What are some ways to prevent a headache? 

If you prevent a headache, you don’t have to worry about getting rid of it. Try out these headache prevention tips:

Use the 20-20-20 rule to combat computer vision syndrome  

Staring into your computer screen for long stretches can lead to computer vision syndrome (CVS), which often causes sore, tired eyes and blurry vision. Headaches are among the top symptoms of CVS.

A popular tactic to ease eye stress is to use the 20-20-20 rule. This means: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and turn away from your screen to look at something 20 feet away. You may be able to find apps for your computer or your smartphone to remind you to take these breaks. 

You can also ask your eye doctor about computer glasses and lenses for blue light

Lay off the alcohol 

Drinking too much beer, wine or hard liquor on Saturday night often causes a headache on Sunday morning. The best hangover cure is to avoid alcohol altogether, of course, but the next-best cure is to limit your alcohol intake. 

Alcohol is a diuretic that increases your output of urine, which is mostly water. The more you pee, the less water you leave for the rest of your body. This creates dehydration, one of the main causes of a hangover.   

Get your diet and lifestyle in balance  

Some foods and beverages trigger migraines and other kinds of headaches. Lack of sleep and too much stress also can bring on a headache. Getting plenty of exercise also helps. 

These diet and lifestyle changes are easier said than done. You may have to work with a nutritionist, a trainer and a mental health counselor to figure it all out. These people devote their lives to helping people; go ahead and let them help you, too.

What are some scientifically proven headache cures? 

If you have migraines, your doctor can prescribe any number of medications designed specifically for these kinds of headaches. It’s a good idea to keep a journal documenting what you’re doing before a migraine starts. This can help you and your doctor find the best prescription. 

Over-the-counter pain relievers help with many everyday headaches — but they aren’t for everybody. Some have side effects or don’t play nice with other medications. These are some techniques that can help with tension headaches that crop up occasionally, according to the experts at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: 

  • Biofeedback

  • Relaxation training

  • Meditation

  • Stress management with cognitive-behavioral therapy

  • Hot showers or moist heat applied to the back of the neck

  • Physical therapy

  • Massage

  • Gentle exercise

When should I see a doctor?

Some headaches arise on their own, while others are caused by a disease like glaucoma. If your vision system is causing headaches, your eye doctor, with the help of an eye exam, can help you figure it all out. 

Ultimately, it’s crucial to understand what’s causing your headaches. Migraines and cluster headaches require different treatments than tension headaches and sinus infections. If over-the-counter products like aspirin or ibuprofen aren’t working, then you definitely need to consult a doctor.  

READ MORE: Can glaucoma cause headaches?

Top 7 reasons you have a headache. Harvard Health Online. April 2020.

Headache pain: What to do when your head hurts. News in Health, National Institutes of Health. March 2014.

What is a headache? American Academy of Ophthalmology. May 2021.

Headache. American Academy of Ophthalmology. November 2019.

Headaches and eye problems. American Academy of Ophthalmology. May 2021.

Hangover headache. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health. Accessed April 2021.

Tension headaches. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health. Accessed June 2021.

Headache: Hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. December 2019.

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