Headache sufferers know: the pain has the power to derail your day. And some cases it’s so intense your only option is to shut yourself off from the world until the throbbing subsides.
Between work responsibilities, lack of sleep, and meeting the demands of both aging parents and kids, headaches are commonplace (stress is a known trigger!). In fact, according to Hina Syed, M.D., family medicine physician at Henry Ford Health, pinpointing the cause of the headache — whether it’s a migraine, tension headache or a cluster headache — dictates the best treatment.
While most of us find relief with an occasional over-the-counter fix, for a subset of sufferers such pills come with unwelcome side effects. In fact, studies suggest that medication overuse, and the resulting rebound headaches, is among the most common cause of ongoing head pain.
The good news: researchers are investigating new and creative solutions to squelch head pain. Here, some of the more notable strategies gaining ground in the headache world:
- Botox. While this potent toxin is probably best known for minimizing the appearance of lines and wrinkles, it can also be an effective therapy for headaches. Because Botox actually paralyzes muscles, it can bring relief for headaches caused by muscle tension. Doctors may inject the toxin in up to 31 sites on the forehead, the sides of the head, the back of the head and even some shoulder muscles.
- Headbands. Not the fashion accessory, of course. New, high-powered headbands contain electrodes that deliver pulsing vibrations that may prevent headaches from developing. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved one such device, called Cefaly. Other headband varieties work almost like a medication patch, releasing a dose at regular intervals.
- Essential oils. Many people swear by essential oils such as peppermint, lavender and eucalyptus to soothe head pain. In addition to releasing a pleasant aroma, essential oils can help improve circulation and reduce stress (both common headache triggers).
- Magnesium. A low level of the mineral magnesium in the blood may be responsible for a subset of migraine headaches. If you’re deficient in magnesium, headache relief may be as simple as supplementing your intake of it. The feel-good brain chemical called serotonin regulates blood vessels in the brain, but the chemical also relies on magnesium. Without enough magnesium, serotonin flows unchecked, constricting blood vessels and causing a headache.
- Tinted glasses. Some headache sufferers, particularly those with migraine, are sensitive to light. Dim the brightness with tinted lenses, and you may be able to suppress some of the visual stress — and reduce headaches to boot.
Before you rush to these remedies, Syed recommends keeping a headache diary or log to help track the frequency of your headaches and what preceded them (hunger, stress, bright lights). “The log not only helps identify potential triggers, it can also offer insight about whether you’re improving with a particular treatment,” says Syed.
If you’re having more than two headaches each week, or you’re taking over-the-counter medication to relieve headaches more than a few times a week, it’s best to get checked out by a physician. Even if you’ve been suffering from migraine headaches for decades, if you experience a change in how the headache behaves, consult your physician. Memory lapses, blurring vision, or a headache that doesn’t go away could indicate an underlying medical issue.
To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Hina Syed is a family medicine doctor, caring for patients of all ages at Henry Ford Medical Center - Plymouth