A headache is a common problem affecting millions around the globe. It not only affects our productivity but can cause severe distress. Headaches have various underlying causes, and it is vital to find out what are the triggering factors for this condition. The factors such as lack of sleep, exertion, emotional turmoil, low sugar level, eyestrain, poor posture, infections are few common reasons accounting for a headache. Over the counter medications, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin and naproxen, can get rid of a headache but care should be taken to use these medicines in moderation as they can cause rebound headaches. Then how to get rid of a headache naturally at home? One of the best effective natural home remedies for headache is a soothing massage with lavender or peppermint oil on the temples. It acts both as aromatherapy and also helps increase blood circulation.
Other headache cures include snack on dark chocolates as most cases of a headache is due to a drop in sugar levels, create a relaxing environment, a warm detox bath with Epsom salts, try to rest and sleep through a headache.
Fatigue and irregular sleep pattern is also a leading cause of a sudden headache. Making a few changes in lifestyle, like saying no to smoking and alcohol, eating a nutrient-rich diet, proper exercise, proper sleep can help you cure headaches.
Let us understand the physiology of a headache, how it originates, what are its type and how to identify it and best home remedies for headache.
What is a headache?
A headache is primarily a symptom of pain anywhere in the region of the head or neck. The pain may be a dull ache, squeezing, sharp, throbbing, constant, intermittent, mild, or intense (1).
The location may be in one part of the skull or may be generalised involving the whole head. The pain originates from the structures that surround the skull or the brain because the brain itself has no nerves that could cause reciprocation of pain sensation.
The layer of tissue that surrounds bones also known as periosteum. The muscle that encases the skull, sinuses, eyes, ears, meninges, arteries, veins and nerves can become inflamed or irritated and cause a headache.
What are the types of a headache?
Head pain can be classified as:
1. Primary headache
Tension headaches or stress headaches are the most common type of a primary headache. These headaches are more common among women than men (2). One in twenty people around the developed world suffers from a daily tension headache.
Tension headaches radiate to eyes, neck, lower back of head and muscles of the shoulder. Throbbing pain characterises it on both sides of the head.
A migraine headache is the second most common type of a primary headache. A migraine headache occurs in both children as well as adults. Boys and girls are affected equally by this type of a headache, but after puberty, women are more affected than men.
Migraine headaches are caused by various trigger factors such as sharp light or sound, low blood sugar level, which varies from person to person.
It is characterised by squeezing and pressure pain mostly affecting the single side of the head and radiating to temples, cheek, ear and mainly forehead.
Cluster headaches are a rare type of a primary headache. It commonly affects men in their early thirties though women and children can also suffer from this type of a headache (3).
It is mostly neurological in origin and occurs around the eyes affecting single side at a time. Cluster headaches are recurrent, and the most severe kind and can accompany swelling around the eye, watering from the eye on the affected side.
A sinus headache is caused by swelling of any of the sinus cavities embedded in the skull present behind the cheeks, nose, and eyes. It mostly occurs in conjunction with flu or sinus infections.
The pain usually feels like an increasing pressure built up sensation over the blocked sinus. The area over the sinus is tender to touch and can be reddened or inflamed.
2. Secondary headache
Secondary headaches are those which occur due to an underlying structural or infectious problem pertaining to head or neck. This can include a majority of factors ranging from dental pain from infected tooth or pain from an infected sinus, bleeding in the brain or severe infections like encephalitis or meningitis (4).
Traumatic headaches, post-concussion headaches are also a type of a secondary headache. This group of headaches also includes those headaches associated with substance abuse. A hangover headache falls into this category.
Excessive use of medications for the treatment of headaches causes overuse headaches which is a type of a secondary headache.
Also called rebound headache is a condition where frequent use of pain medications can lead to persistent head pain.
Cranial neuralgia is the inflammation of one or more cranial nerves coming from the brain which carry sensory signals to and from the head.
Trigeminal neuralgia, which affects the trigeminal cranial nerve, the sensory nerve that supplies the face and can cause intense facial pain when irritated (5).
Why do we get a headache?
As discussed, headache occurs in different individuals for different reasons. The most common causes identified are,
- Physical stress
- Manual labour
- Emotional stress
- Eye strain
- Bad posture
- Sinus infections
- Improper sleep pattern
- Hormonal imbalance
- Alcohol consumption
- Low sugar levels
- Allergies – Gluten foods
- Genetics (6)
Conventional treatment to get rid of a headache
Over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin and naproxen, show symptomatic relief in a tension headache.
Referring the instructions on the medicine would be a good idea. Care should be taken to use this medication in moderation as it can produce dependency or rebound headaches.
You can take the minimum dose on a weekly basis to avoid rebound headaches. In most cases, the dosage is around 2-3 times per week.
How to get rid of a headache naturally at home?
An essential oil is one of the best home remedies for migraine. You can gently massage it on your forehead or temples. Let’s see some of the most popular choices in this category.
This essential oil is widely known for its calming effects on the skin. The active ingredient menthol present in this oil helps to clear the sinus. It also helps in stimulating blood flow to the brain and inhibits muscle contractions (7). Apply it directly on the forehead or inhale it by adding to a steamer.
Lavender oil has a soothing effect which is known to relieve anxiety, depression, stress, and insomnia.The active ingredients linalyl acetate and linalool present in lavender oil get readily absorbed in the system and produce a sound sleep.
Add few drops of lavender oil to the pillow before sleeping or directly massage it on the temples.
Sweet basil has analgesic, antispasmodic and antidepressant benefits. The active ingredient high concentrations of linalool and estragole help alleviating the symptoms accompanying migraine and sinus headaches.
Add few drops to a vaporiser or humidifier. It will provide instant relief from a headache and pain.
Magnesium is an essential nutrient crucial to human health. It helps regulating muscle and nerve function, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and has a profound impact on the brain for the activation of nerve channels.
It is also one of the best home remedies for headache as it can prevent the onset of headaches (8). To reduce the risk of headaches, try and incorporate dark leafy greens, like spinach and kale, avocados, fish like halibut into your diet.
3. Herbal tea
Ginger helps in reducing migraine headache. The active ingredient gingerol helps overcome nausea that accompanies these excruciating headaches. Mildly crush the ginger pieces and add them to simmering water. Strain away the remnants and drink while it’s hot.
Green tea has potent antioxidant properties which help decrease the oxidative stress and removes free radicals from the body. The tannins present in green tea improves blood flow to the brain and stimulates the nervous systems thus giving relief from a headache.
Chamomile tea has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. The active ingredient bisabolol found in this tea is an excellent remedy for migraines and helps alleviate pain symptoms and relaxing your mind.
You can sip chamomile tea preferably during bedtime to have a sound sleep.
Head usually begins to pound when the blood vessels supplying the skull start to expand and put pressure on the nerves, which accompanies every a headache.
Feverfew herb contains active ingredient parthenolide which specifically binds to and inhibits the protein which plays a role in the body’s inflammatory process.
Feverfew relaxes the tension in your blood vessels by constricting them, thus easing the pain accounting for a headache (9). Feverfew is available as capsules, tablets or liquid extracts. The recommended dose for headache relief is 50-100 milligrams.
Butterbur is a herb that reduces the inflammatory effect of chemicals triggering headaches, especially migraines. The active ingredient Petasins promotes healthy neurological function and also aids in regulating the blood flow to the brain.
It is especially useful for those suffering from a migraine and tension headaches (10). Butterbur extract is available in the market as tablets and syrups and can be consumed during an episode of a migraine.
4. Vitamin B complex
Vitamin B have known to offer Migraine relief. Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid can reduce the frequency, severity and disability of migraines. A drop in serotonin levels can create a chemical imbalance leading to a migraine headache.
Vitamin B complex regulates serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters which are necessary for regular nerve cell communication. Adequate dosages of Vitamin B2, riboflavin have been known to reduce the incidence of migraine headaches.
5. Detox bath
Even a regular warm bath or shower can relieve tension from your body muscles. But a detox bath is an expert solution to release toxins from your body.
On a daily basis, we get ourselves exposed to different toxins such as atmospheric pollution, processed foods, etc. A simple detox bath can help you get rid of toxins from your body.
Combine essential oils, such as lavender, peppermint, sandalwood oil and lemongrass, and either of these common household items such as Apple cider vinegar, Epsom salts, baking soda and honey in warm water can result in an effective detox bath.
Essential oils have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, whereas apple cider vinegar, Epsom salts, baking soda and honey can flush out body impurities and toxins. Sometimes, detox bath can provide you instant migraine relief.
6. Stay hydrated
How many of you know that having sufficient water in a day can ease out headache pain and symptoms? Dehydration can make your headache worse. You can also go for fruits and vegetables having higher water content such as orange, grapefruit, cucumber, watermelon, spinach, etc.
7. Rest through a headache
Relaxing is a natural process to rest your mind and ease you from any stress or pressure situation. You can create a peaceful environment around yourself with the help of music, darkness and optimum temperature.
If possible, go to sleep. A sound sleep might bring down your headache. You can also try deep breathing exercises, meditation and yoga.
8. Cold or warm compress
Choice of cold or warm compress depends on the type of a headache. If you have a tension headache, then a warm compress could give you relief from a headache. You can use a heating pad or hot pack and put it on your temple after wrapping it with a towel.
People suffering from migraines can go for the cold compress. You can use an ice pack after wrapping it in a towel.
9. Gluten-free diet
If people, allergic to gluten foods, eat foods containing gluten, then they get a headache or migraines. Also, people suffering from celiac disease are prone to headaches.
A study (11) was carried on 502 subjects comprising of 111 with inflammatory bowel disease, 188 with celiac disease, 25 with gluten sensitivity, and 178 from the control group.
Chronic headaches were reported in 30 percent of people with celiac disease and 56 percent of people having gluten sensitivity. Compared to this, only 14 percent of people in the control group suffered from a severe headache.
10. Avoid foods with nitrates and nitrites
Food preservatives, such as nitrates and nitrites, are added to common food items such as sausages, hot dogs, bacon, cured meats, etc. to prevent bacterial growth and thus allowing to remain fresh for a longer duration.
But foods containing these preservatives can trigger a headache. It is observed that migraines are correlated with higher levels of nitrates and nitrites (12).
You should avoid processed food as much as you can. Try to consume fresh foods or foods free from nitrate.
11. Avoid strong odours
Sometimes, even strong smells generating items, such as perfumes, chemical-based products, smoke, etc., can cause headaches.
A study (13) was conducted on 400 people found that headache or migraines were triggered when subjects were exposed to the strong smell of perfume.
You should avoid strong smells, smoke, chemical-based products, such as a cleaning agent, etc. if you are sensitive to odours.
Acupressure is a traditional Chinese medicine which involves massage therapy over specific trigger points of your body. You do not require special medical know how before treating yourself or someone else (14).
Usually, the massage lasts for 30 seconds to 1 minute. But you can get relief from a headache within 5-10 minutes.
Recipe for massage oil
You can quickly create your version of head massage oil at home. There could be many possibilities, but today I am going to list down one blend which has property to relax your muscles and relieves your tension.
The main ingredients are:
- Roman chamomile essential oil (3-4 drops)
- Bergamot essential oil (1-2 drops)
- Lavender essential oil (9-11 drops)
- Myrrh essential oil (7-8 drops)
- Carrier oil – Grapeseed or Jojoba (Sufficient for 1.75% dilution)
Roman chamomile essential oil has property to relieves inflammation and pain. It also helps in mental relaxation. Bergamot essential oil can lift your mood and relax tensed muscles.
Lavender oil aid in detoxification and promotes skin health. Myrrh essential oil has regenerative effects and fantastic fragrance.
- Mix all essential oil in a bowl.
- Add sufficient carrier oil to create 1.75% dilute solution or 30-40 drops of essential oil in 100 ml of carrier oil. Another measurement example is 30 drops of essential oil per 2 ounces of carrier oil.
- Keep the solution in an airtight dark glass bottle.
- Use this oil to massage your temples for getting instant relief from a headache.
Note: Some people are allergic to essential oils. Perform skin test before trying out this massage recipe.
Over to you on home remedies for headache
Inexpensive and straightforward natural home remedies for headache includes rest, cold compress, stress reduction, massage to the temples. You can prevent a headache by eating healthy foods and avoiding alcohol and cigarettes. Get adequate sleep daily, eat regular meals and stay hydrated.
Going for regular aerobic exercises will help you in maintaining proper blood circulation. Once a week, have a detox bath, add Epsom salt and soak in warm water.
For those with migraine headaches and allergies find the trigger factors and try to avoid any form of interaction to prevent an episode. Incorporate vitamin B supplements to reduce the risk of sudden onset of a headache. Butterbur and feverfew are an excellent herbal remedy to give long-term relief from a headache.
If your headache persists for more than two weeks at a time, consult a physician as it can be a sign of some underlying pathology.