Help for YOUR Headache
June is Headache and Migraine Awareness Month, so what better time to post about headaches...and headache REMEDIES, right?! But in all seriousness (even though I'm 100% serious that it really is migraine and headache awareness month), headaches and migraines are horrible, and, at times, completely debilitating. In this post I'm going to address the different kinds of headaches, and what usually causes that specific headache type, as well as provide some helpful hints, remedies for relief, and quick tricks for YOUR specific headache type. And don't worry--I'll keep this post short. Why? Well as ironic as it is, I actually have a headache right now...
There's a lot of information out there about headaches, including charts and diagrams that tell you "If your head hurts here and in this way, this is what kind of headache it is" (see below for what I mean). And while this type of thing can be helpful, it's not that simple, or that truly helpful overall. Headaches can be caused from just about anything (with some exceptions and depending on the individual person affected), so as nice as it would be to have a go-to chart like that where you could pinpoint the pain and know exactly what the cause is, it's not ALWAYS that simple. Notice I said not ALWAYS. These charts are, in fact, accurate...but only about the TYPE of headache you're having. The ting is, multiple things can cause each type of headache. Confused? Keep reading.
For example, you can be experiencing a sinus headache, but without any congestion, any sneezing or recent rise in pollen counts, and without having spent time outdoors. What gives? This is where it gets fun, er, frustrating, I mean. Sinus headaches can actually be caused by an individual having an allergic response to any number of nasal allergens--think perfume, fragrance, body spray, even air freshener. Basically, sinus headaches are simply the result of inflammation in the sinus cavities, as the chart above demonstrates. Relieve the inflammation, relieve the pain. And with some rare exceptions (think brain tumor, which we will not discuss in this post), that's usually how all headaches are. Relieve the inflammation, and relieve the pain. Like with tension headaches (which also covers anxiety headaches, in reality)--a tight muscle usually leads to an inflamed muscle. And while you might be thinking, "Oh! So I'll just take turmeric or sniff lavender or, heck, pop some ibuprofen regardless of what type of headache I'm having," I can do you one better.
This is an amazing chart that tells you which homeopathic remedy to use, depending on the type of headache you're having. Pretty neat, huh? But keep in mind that these remedies won't always work. Why? To answer this question, we have to consider what all can cause headaches.
Causes of Headaches and Migraines
Before I list the defendants (ha), I want to make sure you understand that any one of these things can, in reality, cause any one of the types of headaches. Some people tend to have headaches in one certain area (for example, when I get a headache, it's ALWAYS in my eye sockets, regardless of what's causing it). So keep this in mind as you're reading what may be the culprit behind your aching (or pulsing, or throbbing, or shooting...) head.
-Lack of sleep
-Compromised body system (i.e. sluggish gallbladder would result in a headache after a fatty meal, potentially)
-Overwork (yes, not taking breaks can cause a headache...as can using your brain too much without proper rest and rejuvenation!)
-Brain pathology (brain tumor, aneurysm, etc.)
After reading over this list, it's easy to see why the homeopathic remedies above won't always work. Think about it: if your headache is caused by dehydration, a remedy isn't going to hydrate you and take the headache away. That's why your primary goal with headache treatment should ALWAYS be figuring out WHY you have the headache, and WHAT is causing it. Oftentimes, if you find what's causing the headache or migraine, you find out how to get rid of it. For instance:
-Dehydration headache? Hydrate Headaches are a BIG sign of dehydration...so naturally, the only way to fix a dehydration headache is to HYDRATE!(See last week's blog post for hydration tips!)
-Lack of sleep? Get some zzz's...right now. (NOTE: sometimes insomnia can cause headaches. Lack of sleep for whatever reason whatsoever can cause headaches. If your headache is from lack of sleep caused by insomnia, taking 3-6 mg of melatonin may be helpful, as it's been shown to not only aid in promoting natural sleep cycles, but also been shown to aid in headache treatment!)
-Stressed? Chill out. This is WAY easier said than done, trust me, I know. However, take time to ask yourself what you're stressing or worrying about. Oftentimes we can't even identify one particular thing...we just feel "anxious." We've all been there at one time or another...some of us more frequently than others (Generalized Anxiety Disorder is extremely common among those with chronic illnesses. Please seek professional help if you ever have thoughts or feelings about self-harming). However, Christ tells us not to worry...again, easier said than done. Until we really dive into WHY He tells us not to worry. Check out THIS blog post for more info.
-Allergic reaction? Figure out what caused the reaction, and avoid it in the future (I realize this isn't really a "treatment," more of a prevention recommendation. So, in the mean time, if your headache is unbearable, I'm not against using pain relievers to get through the day--just don't pop them like candy, or take them without first asking yourself "What could be causing my headache?")
-Compromised body system? Support yoself! Compromised or "weak" organs or body systems are often referred to as "sub-clinical," or in layman's terms, not severe enough to show up on medical test results, blood work, imaging, etc...and not severe enough to warrant a diagnosis, true attention, and help from your doctor, much of the time. This is where natural remedies come in major handy! A couple posts back I explained how the optimal approach to patient care is one that combines allopathic and natural medicines, varying the ration of how much of either is used based on the individual patient's needs. This is where you can see that playing out! Natural remedies are a God-send for sub-clinical conditions (think a "sluggish" gallbladder, low stomach acid, fluctuating blood sugars, etc.). Headaches can be a sign that something isn't being processed properly within your body. If that's due to a slow gallbladder, some ox bile could be helpful. If it's due to lactose intolerance, you could try eliminating dairy to see if that helps, OR you could experiment with taking a lactase enzyme when you consume milk products. Whatever support your body needs, it can be found, oftentimes through natural remedies.
-Injury? Get the proper medical attention (and the proper rest) I think this one's pretty self-explanatory, isn't it?
-Eye Strain? Take breaks--OUTSIDE! One of the biggest causes of eye strain is too much time spent looking at things that are close-up: think phones, computer screens, televisions, etc. Our eyes have different muscles that control their movements depending on whether we are looking at something close-up or far away, and if too much of our time is spent looking only at things close-up, well, those muscles become "fatigued," while the other ones can become "lazy" (this is actually a real problem in our culture today--the increasing prevalence of near-sightedness, or the condition in which far-away images appear blurry. Eye muscles are becoming fatigued--a trait which is being genetically passed down, resulting in a new upcoming culture of near-sighted individuals! Scary, huh?!). The cure for this is simple: get outside. Enjoy nature. Take a walk--without bringing your phone or iPod.
-Overwork? Lighten your load. It's true: emotional baggage can be as crippling as physical baggage if we've been carrying it too long. Or maybe you've just been going at top speed for too long at work, not taking enough time to let your brain just "be." Believe it or not, using our brains too much can, indeed, cause a headache. Our brain is an organ, too...and it needs rest, too! Resting our brains doesn't have to mean sleeping (if you're really getting technical, we could argue that our brains NEVER really get to rest, since even when we're sleeping we're dreaming...ok, I'll stop now...). Resting your brain can mean simply doing something out of your normal routine, reading a book you enjoy, watching a movie, or meditating. Whatever it is, make sure it doesn't feel like a chore, or like work--that's what determines if the activity or action will be restful to your brain or not.
-Caffeine withdrawal? Caffeinate...or don't. We've all heard it at least once (or a hundred times): caffeine is a drug...and the most commonly used and abused drug in the world, at that. Caffeine, in moderation, is not a bad thing. It may give your adrenals a bit of a shock, but again--in moderation, it's fine. It's when it results in dependence that you're getting into murky water. If your headache is from caffeine withdrawal, you have two choices: get coffee STAT, or, well, don't. Suffer through it until, eventually, your body readapts to a caffeine-free life. Neither one is better than the other, it just depends on your own personal desires, choices, and goals.
-Chemical exposure? Try a detox. Even though I'm a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, I'm VERY wary of recommending "detoxes" to my patients and clients. Why? Because more often than not, they're a marketing scheme (aka SCAM) and are totally ineffective. But not always. When I recommend my patients and clients to detox, I don't direct them to a pre-made, 7-day kit or protocol provided by a brand or company...we go hardcore. Fresh herbs, homemade tonics and tinctures, and a strict cleansing nutrition plan for a set amount of time. Detoxes are NOT diets, should NOT be used as a weightless agent, and are NOT sustainable long-term. They are helpful for addressing chemical exposure when used properly, though, and when under the direct supervision of a trained natural health care provider.
-Brain pathology? See your doctor. Again, self-explanatory. If you think you have some sort of brain pathology, don't mess around...please. See your doctor as neuropathologies can quickly manifest into something beyond what can be treated or survived.
If you've addressed your headache cause and are still suffering, then try the homeopathic remedies listed in the chart above. If still no luck, like I said, see your doctor. Headaches always indicate something is not right, and although it's generally easily fixable, you don't want to drag your feet if you've tried everything to no avail.
I hope this is helpful and informative. If you have any questions or concerns, or if you'd like to suggest any Wellness Wednesday post topics for me to cover, feel free to shoot me an email. Until next time, stay happy and healthy.
Dr. Anna Johnson, ND/CNS