What to Do About Persistent Headaches
by Ashley Grano
For anyone who suffers from regular headaches, they are nevertheless both a literal and figurative pain. Even a nagging dull ache can severely impact productivity and well-being, while more serious throbbing common with migraines can lead to time spent forcibly in bed with the curtains drawn. Fortunately, there are many underlying causes of frequent headaches that are often relatively easily remedied.
How are frequent headaches defined?
According to the Mayo Clinic, to be classified as chronic, headaches must occur 15 days or more a month with a duration of 3 months or longer. Even if headaches aren’t as frequent to be medically defined as “chronic”, increased incidences should be monitored.
Common causes of frequent headaches & how to address them
While there are many varieties of headaches, most fall under one of the three primary types, including migraine, tension, and cluster, says Healthline. Some common causes of these headaches may include:
Changes in stress levels & sleep
Stress and headaches often go hand-in-hand, with lack of sleep often a compounding result. Ongoing tension and poor sleep patterns may become a vicious cycle, says Healthline. While stress may not always be preventable, finding ways to manage it is vital in helping prevent headaches. Exercise and meditation are two proven ways to help reduce stress safely and effectively.
About 18 million adults suffer from allergic rhinitis (aka hay fever), with headaches a typical symptom. It is a common misperception that all allergies are developed only in childhood and adolescence. The onset of allergies can occur at any age, according to WebMD. Hay fever is actually not unusual for adults to experience onset in in their 30s and 40s, or 50s and 60s, and beyond. This condition is triggered by seasonal changes and its corresponding allergens, including increased pollens, weeds, grasses, and molds.
While medication may be necessary for some, lifestyle modifications may be enough to handle short-term seasonal allergies. For example, keeping doors and windows closed during high pollen times, removing shoes upon entering the house, and taking a shower after being outdoors may keep headaches at bay.
Allergies can also develop from other environmental factors such as dust mites, pets, changes in laundry detergent, perfume, new carpeting and rugs, and other indoor household triggers. As a result, these allergic reactions commonly lead to headaches. It is best to identify possible headache triggers by eliminating each new possible allergen one at a time.
While many of us try to consume enough water regularly, during busy days it can be easy to forget to drink. However, dehydration can lead to uncomfortable headaches, according to Healthline. For very active people who sweat a lot, consuming plenty of water to avoid dehydration headaches is especially important.
Be sure to monitor urine color throughout the day (clear to light yellow is ideal), and pay attention to dry mouth. Besides increasing water intake, other ways to stay hydrated throughout the day include eating more foods high in water content, like celery and tomatoes.
Food sensitivities & triggers
While certain foods are known to trigger headaches (especially for migraine sufferers), diet overall is important for everyone to consider if regular headaches are becoming problematic. Fasting and skipping meals can lead to headaches in some people, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Common foods and beverages that may trigger headaches include aged cheeses (like blue cheese, cheddar, feta, and others), red wine, chocolate, processed meats (such as deli meat, bacon, and ham), in addition to foods containing the additive monosodium glutamate (MSG), a popular flavor enhancer in soups and Asian dishes. Some headaches may also be triggered by nuts and nut butters, breads and gluten products, and cultured dairy (like yogurt and milk). Caffeine is even a possible cause – so try cutting back to 1 to 2 servings a day, max.
Regular headaches related to diet can be difficult to pinpoint, as so many different foods are potential triggers. Trial and error with an elimination diet is often necessary.
Menstruation in women can be a common headache trigger, though is usually limited to certain days during the month. Pregnant and post-partum women may however experience frequent headaches, as a result of hormonal changes. Perimenopause, or the period leading up to menopause, can also be a potential ongoing headache trigger. The duration of this phase varies greatly, with most women beginning to experience symptoms in their 40s. However, perimenopause can begin for some women as early as their 30s.
When to see a doctor
If headaches persist despite making lifestyle changes and eliminating potential triggers, or they are accompanied by other unexplainable symptoms, consult with a healthcare physician. In rare cases, headaches can be indicative of a serious health condition.