Home Remedies for Headaches


©2007 Publications International, Ltd. An estimated 45 million Americans get chronic, recurring headaches.

The day starts with screaming kids, continues slowly onward with stop 'n' go traffic, and ends on a sour note with an angry boss. By this point, you are ready to chop your head off in order to relieve the pounding pain.

You can take a little comfort in knowing that almost everyone has had such a day...and such a headache. Yet some people fare worse than others do. An estimated 45 million Americans get chronic, recurring headaches, while as many as 18 million of those suffer from painful, debilitating migraines.

The Three Kinds of Headaches

Although there are nearly two dozen types of headaches, they all fall into three basic categories: tension, vascular, and organic.

Tension headaches, the most common of the trio, cause a dull, nonthrobbing pain, usually accompanied by tightness in the scalp or neck. Triggers range from depression to everyday stresses such as screaming kids and traffic jams.

Vascular headaches are more intense, severe, throbbing, and piercing: They take first prize for pain. Cluster and migraine headaches fall into this category. Triggers for cluster headaches are unknown, although excessive smoking and alcohol consumption can ignite them. Migraines are thought to be caused by heredity, diet, stress, menstruation, and environmental factors such as cigarette smoke.

Less common are organic headaches, in which pain becomes increasingly worse and is accompanied by other symptoms, such as vomiting, coordination problems, visual disturbances, or speech or personality changes. Triggers include tumors, infections, or diseases of the brain, eyes, ears, and nose.

If you are prone to the usual tension headache, keep reading to learn about home remedies that can help you feel a lot better -- fast.

To learn more about headaches and their many causes, visit these links:

  • To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
  • Headaches, whether a dull or pain or full-blown migraine, can be treated with some simple herbal preparations. Herbal Remedies for Headaches can show you how.
  • Sinusitis, an infection of the sinus cavities, can cause heacaches and other uncomfortable symptoms. Learn more in Home Remedies for Sinusitis.
  • In Home Remedies for Hangovers, learn how to bounce back when an excess of alcohol strikes you down.
  • Learn about the science behind that throbbing head pain in Headaches Explained.

Home Remedy Treatments for Headaches

© 2007 Publications International, Ltd.
© 2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Monitoring your body tension can help stop a headache before it starts.

Try the following tips for your occasional headache pain. If you're headaches are frequent or severe, be sure to discuss them with a medical professional.

Try -- but don't overdo -- pain pills. A dose of an over-the-counter (OTC) analgesic, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen, is often enough to alleviate the occasional headache. But if you take more than two doses a day frequently or for more than four or five days in a row to relieve headache pain, contact your doctor. Taking pain relievers too often can actually worsen your headache pain. For a list of precautions to take when using over-the-counter analgesics, click here

Lie down. Lying down and closing your eyes for half an hour or more may be one of the best treatments for a bad headache. For some types of headaches, such as migraines, sleep is the only thing that seems to interrupt the pain cycle. Recognizing the early signs of a headache can keep the pain from getting out of control, since doctors say the sooner you get to bed or lie on a sofa, the sooner a headache will fade.

Don't let the sun shine in. Especially if your symptoms resemble those of a migraine (such as severe pain on one side of the head, nausea, blurred vision, and extreme sensitivity to light), resting in a darkened room may alleviate the pain, experts agree. Bright light may also cause headaches. Even staring at a glowing computer screen may be enough to trigger pain on the brain. Wearing tinted glasses or using other means to filter bright light and minimize glare may help prevent headaches.

Use a cold compress. A washcloth dipped in ice-cold water and placed over the eyes or an ice pack placed on the site of the pain are other good ways of relieving a headache. You might also see if your pharmacy sells special ice packs that surround the whole head (known as "headache hats") or frozen gel-packs that can be inserted into pillows. Whatever you use, keep in mind that speed is critical: Using ice as soon as possible after the onset of the headache will relieve the pain within 20 minutes for most people.

Try heat. If ice feels uncomfortable to you, or if it doesn't help your headache, try placing a warm washcloth over your eyes or on the site of the pain. Leave the compress on for half an hour, rewarming it as necessary.

Think pleasant thoughts. Many headaches are brought on or worsened by stress and tension. Learning to handle life's difficulties by tuning out unpleasant thoughts may keep the volume down on a bad headache. When you feel your body shifting into crisis mode after you have a serious disagreement with a spouse or coworker, for example -- force yourself to think pleasant thoughts. Relaxing your mind will help you figure out a way to resolve the problem, which can help ward off headache-causing tension.

Check for tension. Along with the preceding tip, stop periodically during the day and check your body for tension. Are you clenching your jaw or wrinkling your brow? Are your hands balled-up into fists? If you discover these signs of tension, stop, relax, and take a deep breath or two (don't go beyond a couple of deep breaths, though, otherwise you may begin to hyperventilate). Occasional body checks like this could nip a headache in the bud.

Quit smoking. Smoking may bring on or worsen a headache, especially if you suffer from cluster headaches -- extremely painful headaches that last from 5 to 20 minutes and come in groups.

Don't drink. Drinking more alcohol than you're used to often causes a notorious morning-after effect -- a pounding headache. But even a single serving of some alcoholic beverages can trigger headaches, including the migraine and cluster varieties, in certain people. For example, dark alcoholic beverages such as red wines, sherry, brandy, scotch, vermouth, and beer contain large amounts of tyramine, an amino acid that can spark headaches in people who are sensitive to it. And some people appear to be sensitive to the histamine in beer and wine. So if you're struggling with headaches, abstaining may be your best choice.

Start a program of regular exercise. Regular exercise helps release the physical and emotional tension that may lead to headaches. Walking, jogging, and other aerobic activities help boost the body's production of endorphins (natural pain-relieving substances).

Cut down on caffeine. The same chemical in coffee and tea that perks you up in the morning can also make your muscles tense and send your anxiety level through the roof. Consuming too much caffeine can also cause insomnia, which can trigger headaches. Another problem is that many people drink several cups of coffee a day during their work week but cut their consumption on Saturdays and Sundays. This pattern can lead to weekend caffeine-withdrawal headaches.

If caffeine is giving you a headache, wean yourself off the stimulating stuff by cutting your intake slowly. Start by eliminating the equivalent of one-half cup coffee per week until you are only drinking one cup of caffeinated coffee (or its equivalent) per day. One five-ounce cup of drip coffee contains about 150 milligrams of caffeine. A five-ounce cup of tea brewed for three to five minutes may contain 20 to 50 milligrams of caffeine. And cola drinks contain about 35 to 45 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounce serving. Look out for stealth sources of caffeine, too, particularly in the OTC drugs in your medicine cabinet.

Fight the nausea first. Some headaches may be accompanied by nausea, which can make you feel even worse. What's more, the gastric juices produced by stomach upset may hinder the absorption of certain prescription and OTC analgesics, which may make these drugs less effective at relieving the pain of your headache. So by first taking care of the nausea, the pain of the headache may be easier to treat. Many patients find that drinking peach juice, apricot nectar, or flat cola helps alleviate nausea. OTC antinauseants such as Emetrol and Dramamine may also be useful.

Rise and retire at the same time every day. Oversleeping can create changes in body chemistry that set off migraines and other headaches. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day -- including weekends -- keeps your body in a stable rhythm.

Keep a headache diary. If you get frequent headaches, try to tease out the factors that seem to be responsible. Get a notebook and keep track of your headaches. Rate each one on a scale of 0 to 3, starting with no headache (a score of 0) and moving up in intensity to mild headache (a score of 1), moderate to severe headache (a score of 2), and incapacitating headache (a score of 3). Record details about potential headache triggers. Were you under an unusual amount of stress? What did you eat? If you're a woman, did you have your period? Did you use medications that contain hormones, such as oral contraceptives? Now look for patterns by connecting days when you had bad headaches with these factors. This information may help you avoid triggers and can also help your physician devise a better treatment plan.

In the next section, we'll talk about foods that can cause headaches in people with food sensitivities and natural home remedies from your kitchen that can ease the pain.

To learn more about headaches and their many causes, visit these links:

  • To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
  • Headaches, whether a dull or pain or full-blown migraine, can be treated with some simple herbal preparations. Herbal Remedies for Headaches can show you how.
  • Sinusitis, an infection of the sinus cavities, can cause heacaches and other uncomfortable symptoms. Learn more in Home Remedies for Sinusitis.
  • In Home Remedies for Hangovers, learn how to bounce back when an excess of alcohol strikes you down.
  • Learn about the science behind that throbbing head pain in Headaches Explained.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Natural Home Remedies for Headaches

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. If you suffer from nausea along with your headaches, try drinking peach juice.

It's been estimated that perhaps 10 to 30 percent of headaches are related to food sensitivities. The dietary triggers seem to vary considerably among individuals, however, making it difficult to create a trigger-free diet that would work for all. Indeed, the reported food suspects range so widely that if they were all prohibited, you might end up with little or nothing to choose from -- not a good thing, since fasting itself is a headache trigger. Still, there do seem to be some foods or ingredients that cause trouble for a number of headache sufferers, and these home remedies are listed below.

To determine if a food sensitivity might be triggering your headaches, begin by recording the foods you eat, along with other environmental factors (it's possible an interplay of food and another trigger, such as a hormonal change, is necessary to trigger your headaches), in your headache diary. Look for patterns in the foods you've eaten within the 24 hours prior to getting each headache. If a food or ingredient consistently shows up in your diet just prior to a headache, try cutting out that food or ingredient for two or three weeks. Then add it back for two to three weeks. If your headaches fade and resume with the removal and return of the food, then you've discovered a food trigger that you should try to avoid. (If this experimenting seems to indicate that you're sensitive to a large number of foods or an entire food group, discuss it with your doctor or a registered dietitian to ensure your adjusted diet will provide all the nutrients you need for health.)

Tyramine and other amines. Tyramine is an amino acid known to promote headaches, nausea, and high blood pressure in certain individuals. (People who take antidepressant drugs called monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors are especially prone to accumulating high amounts of tyramine.) Tyramine is found in a wide variety of foods, including aged cheeses, processed meats, peanuts, broad beans, lentils, avocados, bananas, fresh baked bread, red wine and other alcoholic beverages, and pickled foods. A related amine that can be troublesome for some headache sufferers is phenylalanine, which is found in chocolate, among other foods. Even citrus fruits contain an amine that can serve as a headache trigger for some folks.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG). This purported flavor enhancer is also found in a wide variety of foods, although it is not always clearly identified on food labels. It is most commonly found in Chinese foods, canned foods, soy sauce, seasonings and tenderizers, and processed foods.

Nitrates and nitrites. These preservatives are often added to luncheon and other processed meats, such as bologna, salami, hot dogs, bacon, and ham, as well as smoked fish.

When a headache strikes, check your kitchen for these helpful home remedies.

Home Remedies from the Freezer

Ice. A washcloth dipped in ice-cold water and placed over the pain site is an easy way to relieve a headache. An ice compress works well, too. Place a handful of crushed ice cubes into a zipper-type plastic bag and cover it with a dry washcloth. (A bag of frozen vegetables is a good substitute.) Apply where needed. Whatever method you use, try to apply the cold compress as soon as possible after the headache develops. Relief typically starts within 20 minutes of use.

Home Remedies from the Refrigerator

Peach juice. Drinking peach juice or apricot nectar can help alleviate the nausea that sometimes accompanies a bad headache.

Home Remedies from the Sink

Hot water. If snow is falling and the last thing you want on your head is an ice pack, turn to heat for soothing relief. Dip a washcloth into hot but not scalding water. Squeeze out and apply over your eyes or on the pain site. Leave the compress on for 30 minutes, rewarming as necessary.

Home Remedies from the Spice Rack

Peppermint. A dab of peppermint oil rubbed on the temples can ease a tension headache. Don't try this with children or if you have sensitive skin as the oil can have a burning effect.

Cloves and other spices. Here's a remedy that includes the whole kitchen sink...or should we say the whole spice rack? A blend of scented herbs eases away tension headaches. Look into your spice rack. Do you have dried marjoram, rosemary, and mint? They work well together. And if you have dried lavender and rose petals, they make wonderful additions to the mix. Put 4 tablespoons of each (or whichever you have) into a cloth sachet bag. Add 1 tablespoon cloves. Close up the sachet bag, and whenever you have a headache or feel one coming on, hold the bag to your nose and inhale deeply until you feel it subsiding. (If you don't have a sachet bag, a clean handkerchief works fine.) You can also apply this bundle of herbs to your head when you rest.

Rosemary. Rosemary is a well-recognized folk cure for easing pain in the United States, China, and Europe. One of its constituents, rosmarinic acid, is an anti-inflammatory similar to aspirin and ibuprofen. Since rosmarinic acid is also an important constituent in sage, the two herbs are often combined to make a pain-relieving tea. Place 1 teaspoon crushed rosemary leaves and 1 teaspoon crushed sage leaves in a cup. Fill with boiling water. Cover to prevent the volatile oils from escaping, and steep until the tea reaches room temperature. Take 1/2-cup doses two to three times a day. You don't have to mix the two herbs to benefit from rosmarinic acid, however. If you only have one, make a tea of it alone.

Remember, severe and frequent headaches warrant a trip to the doctor's office. But for occasional headaches, remember these home remedies to find fast relief.

To learn more about headaches and their many causes, visit these links:

  • To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
  • Headaches, whether a dull or pain or full-blown migraine, can be treated with some simple herbal preparations. Herbal Remedies for Headaches can show you how.
  • Sinusitis, an infection of the sinus cavities, can cause heacaches and other uncomfortable symptoms. Learn more in Home Remedies for Sinusitis.
  • In Home Remedies for Hangovers, learn how to bounce back when an excess of alcohol strikes you down.
  • Learn about the science behind that throbbing head pain in Headaches Explained.

Ivan Oransky, M.D., is the deputy editor of The Scientist. He is author or co-author of four books, including The Common Symptom Answer Guide, and has written for publications including the Boston Globe, The Lancet, and USA Today. He holds appointments as a clinical assistant professor of medicine and as adjunct professor of journalism at New York University.

David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.