Headaches: What Causes Them And What Home Remedies Can Help?

Headaches…are, well, a headache to deal with. Most times headaches are caused by dehydration or not eating enough, but chronic headaches or migraines can be debilitating. A mild headache is a minor inconvenience that can be alleviated with an over-the-counter pain reliever, food, or a short break.

If your headache is severe or abnormal, it might be a sign of a serious underlying condition. It’s good to know when a headache needs urgent attention and how to manage headaches that don't threaten your health. Keep reading to find out more about this condition and how you can alleviate it at home.

What is a Headache?

A headache is pain or discomfort felt in the head, scalp, face or neck. There are several different types of headaches with their own set of symptoms. They typically occur for different reasons and require specific treatments. Once you know what type of headache you have, you and your doctor can find the right treatment to relieve it, or even try to prevent it.

The Most Common Causes And Types Of Headaches

Headaches occur for a variety of reasons. In most cases, they don’t indicate anything serious, but in rare cases they can be caused by serious health problems. Here are the most common causes of headaches, from the harmless to the dangerous.

Non-serious causes

  • Tension: This is the most common type of headache. Tension headaches can be caused by psychological conditions such as depression or anxiety, stress, hitting your  head, or poor posture.
  • Migraine: A migraine is a neurological condition that causes severe headaches. The pain is commonly accompanied by other symptoms such as hypersensitivity to light or sound, or nausea. Migraines can be triggered by certain foods such as chocolate, cheeses, or monosodium glutamate (MSG), or by caffeine withdrawal, stress, alcohol consumption or lack of sleep.
  • Medication use: Headaches can be side effects of some medications. Long-term painkiller use  can cause what’s called  a "rebound" headache.
  • Cluster headache: This type of headache is characterized by short episodes (15 minutes to 3 hours) that occur on a daily or near-daily basis. Their causes are unknown, but scientists think they may be related to a problem in the hypothalamus. They usually go away on their own after a few months.
  • Sinus infection: Sinus headaches are pain felt in the forehead and face. They’re caused by sinus inflammation, the cavities behind the nose, cheeks and eyes.
  • Premenstrual syndrome: Hormone fluctuations experienced before and during menstruation can cause headaches.
  • Other illnesses: Headaches can also be caused by other ailments, such as the flu, colds, or fever.

Causes for concern

  • Temporal arteritis: Also called giant cell arteritis, this condition causes inflammation in the arteries that supply the arms, neck and scalp, preventing proper blood flow to these areas. This disorder can be treated successfully in most cases, but it’s important to treat it right away. Failure to do so could cause serious problems such as permanent vision loss or stroke.
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage: This is bleeding into the space between the brain and the overlying tissue. It’s most common in young, healthy people by car crashes. It can also be caused by using anticoagulants.
  • Brain infections: Headaches can also be caused by infections in the brain such as meningitis, encephalitis and abscesses. 
  • Brain tumors: Brain tumors are masses of cells that grow in the brain. They may originate in the organ itself (primary tumors) or reach it from other parts of the body (metastatic tumors).
  • Hydrocephalus: Another uncommon cause of headaches is hydrocephalus, a condition characterized by excessive accumulation of fluid inside the skull, which can cause an increase in the skull’s internal pressure, directly affecting the brain.
  • Carbon monoxide: Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas produced when any material or fuel is burned. When this gas is concentrated in closed spaces, it can cause intoxication with serious or fatal consequences.
  • Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is a condition where someone breathing stops repeatedly during sleep. It can be caused by a neurological defect whereby the brain does not send the correct signals to the respiratory system or by a blockage in the upper respiratory tract. This condition affects oxygen levels to the brain, which can cause severe headaches.

When Should You See a Doctor?

Headaches are pretty common, and most of them are non life-threatening, but it’s always good to be aware of signs that may indicate a serious problem that requires medical attention. You should seek medical attention for a headache if:

  • The pain is different from pain you've had before.
  • You have symptoms that are uncommon, such as hypersensitivity to light.
  • The pain you’re experiencing is the most severe you’ve ever felt.
  • Your face, arms, or legs feel numb or tingly.
  • You have stiffness in your neck.
  • You have visual disturbances (lights, spots or other abnormalities in what you see.)
  • You have HIV or an autoimmune disease.

11 Home Remedies For Headaches

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Every person responds differently to headache treatments. Some people rarely get headaches and need little or no treatment while others have prolonged episodes that require further treatment or medical supervision. While there are many medications available to treat headache pain, there are several home remedies you can try. Here are 11 options:

1. Apply cold to the affected area

Apply an ice pack to the scalp, forehead, or neck to relieve headache pain. The cold helps reduce the sensitivity of the nerves in the area, which can help reduce pain. If you don't have ice on hand, you can also use a cloth soaked in cold water as an alternative.

2. Drink coffee

Coffee and some other foods contain caffeine, which can be useful for relieving some headaches. In fact, some commercial migraine pills contain caffeine, but be careful: consuming caffeine in moderation is fine, but excessive consumption can cause fatigue or increase the chances of getting more headaches.

3. Exercise

Exercising on a regular basis can help prevent headaches. When you exercise regularly, your body releases endorphins that help fight pain. Exercising daily also helps you sleep better and keeps your stress levels under control.

4. Practice yoga

If you can't do conventional exercise because of physical limitations, yoga is an excellent choice because of its smooth, flowing movements. The meditative state that yoga induces has been shown to reduce stress, which is one of the most common causes of headaches.

5. Increase your magnesium intake

This mineral is generally found in abundance in dark green vegetables such as spinach, kale, watercress, and avocado. Nuts and whole grains (including whole wheat bread) are also high in this substance with properties that can reduce headache pain.

6. Get a good night's sleep

Maintaining a proper sleep schedule is one of the best home remedies for headaches. A person's sleep patterns are closely related to developing various types of headaches, so sleeping properly can be an excellent solution to this problem.

7. Drink peppermint tea

Peppermint soothes nerves and helps improve circulation. You can buy bags of dried mint or use fresh leaves of this plant to make the infusion. 

8. Drink an infusion of willow bark

Willow bark contains the compound salicin, which has been a known analgesic for thousands of years. It’s known as nature’s Aspirin since this famous drug (acetylsalicylic acid) was derived from studying  willow bark. Willow bark infusion can be an excellent alternative to this synthetic drug.

9. Give yourself a massage

A head massage will improve circulation to the area, and the experience can be very relaxing. Ask someone to give you a relaxing massage or do it yourself if it’s easier.

10. Take a hot bath

Taking a hot bath or shower has two positive effects on headache relief: it relaxes the muscles and dilates your blood vessels, increasing blood circulation. This might seem contrary to the first remedy, applying a sort of cold compress to the affected area, but you have to remember that there are many causes of headache pain. There are some people who get relief with heat and others who feel better using cold. Some find that taking a hot bath with a cold compress on their neck is the best solution to a headache! Try the different options, and you'll find one that works for you.

11. Get out of the house

Sometimes a breath of fresh air is the best remedy for a headache. Spending a few minutes outdoors can have a relaxing effect that might help you fight that pain. It requires little effort and no money, so it doesn't hurt to give it a try!

Remember that SABEResPODER is here to help you.

Headache pain is a common problem that almost all of us face at some point. If you need medical attention to treat this or any other ailment, consider PODERsalud, the program we developed to provide health services to the Hispanic community in our language and at affordable prices.

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