Ugh, headaches. For something so universal, we know frustratingly little about them. But, researchers do know what works to ease the pain, and they're finding better treatments all the time. Below, we've rounded up the latest on how you can get rid of your horrible headache.
So, the pain isn't necessarily indicating where the trigger is. In that way, headaches can be sort of enigmatic. Here's how to tell what's up with your particular brand of headache, and how you can get help.
"Too much caffeine at one time could easily trigger a headache," says Dawn Buse, PhD, of the Montefiore Headache Center. "Or, you could develop a headache because the body's expecting it and has basically been thrown off balance."
Caffeine is also a common ingredient in many headache medications, such as Excedrin, because it helps the body absorb the other ingredients. But, if those medications are used with any type of frequency (even just more than once a week), Dr. Buse says the body can become dependent on them, leading to more caffeine-related headaches.
So, if you somehow went without your regular caffinated beverage, the short-term solution is to just drink the coffee. But, Dr. Buse says you should ideally wean yourself off of caffeine to prevent these headaches in the long-term.
However, Sheena Aurora, MD, of the Headache Clinic At Stanford Health Care, says there isn't necessarily anything wrong with having caffeine — in moderation (sigh). So, she suggests stepping down from coffee to tea, or capping yourself at one caffeinated beverage per day, since it can be easy to lose track of how much you're actually having.
Tension headaches are the most common type, affecting more than 38% of us in a year. Colloquially, we call them "stress headaches" because stress is a common trigger, says Dr. Buse. Other culprits include clenching your jaw, not getting enough sleep, and being dehydrated. These headaches usually come with mild-to-moderate pain felt on both sides of the head. They may cause a feeling of pressure in the neck and shoulders, too.
Yikes — cluster headaches are notoriously painful, usually around one eye, and tend to come in waves (or "clusters"). "These are very intense, very severe headaches," says Dr. Buse, "and someone can have several attacks in one day."
But, they are also somewhat predictable. Dr. Buse says they may be related to the time of day or even the time of year. They're also "linked to the circadian rhythm," says Dr. Aurora. Current research suggests cluster headaches may be due to a dysfunction in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that plays a huge role in our hormonal sleep-wake cycle.
If you're in the middle of an attack, Dr. Aurora says that inhaling oxygen is actually the treatment of choice due to its vasoconstrictive effects. Other options include a class of medications introduced in the '90s called triptans, which cause vasoconstriction by working on serotonin receptors in the brain.
But, obviously, being able to avoid the attacks in the first place is ideal. There's some research to suggest that blocking the brain's occipital nerve or the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) could help prevent attacks, but trials are still underway. And, there's other research to suggest that our old friend melatonin could also be effective.