FAMILY HOME REMEDIES By Nadeem Y. MuftiHEADACHES - 14 Ways to Keep the Pain at BayWeve all had them. From the morning-after-celebrating-too-much headache to the tough-day-at-the-office headache to the you-might-as-well-kill-me-now-because-Im-going-to-die-anyway headache. Sometimes, an aspirin or other analgesic may ease the pain; atother times, nothing short of waiting it out seems to help. If you suffer from frequent,severe headaches that put you out of commission several times a month, you need to seekmedical attention. Likewise, if your headaches are associated with physical exertion,changes in vision, or weakness, numbness, or paralysis of the limbs, skip the urge to self-treat and see a doctor. If youre already seeing a physician and arent getting relief, thinkabout getting a referral to a headache specialist or headache clinic. However, if you areprone to occasional headache pain, read on. The tips that follow can help you feel a lotbetter--fast.Dont overdo the pain pills. Although an occasional dose of an over-the-counter analgesic may help alleviate your headache for a few hours, taking these drugstoo often may actually worsen the pain, according to Sabiha Ali, M.D., a neurologist atthe Houston Headache Clinic in Texas. "These drugs are OK in limited quantities," shesays, "but if you need to take more than two doses a day, you should see a doctor." Liedown. Lying down and closing your eyes for half an hour or more may be one of the besttreatments for a bad headache. For some types of headaches, such as migraines, sleep isthe only thing that seems to interrupt the pain cycle. "The most important thing is torecognize that the faster the patient with a severe headache stops what theyre doing andgoes to bed and rests, the faster the headache will go away," says James R. Couch, Jr.,M.D., Ph.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Neurology at the University ofOklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. "You need to recognize when thebig headache is coming. Thats the time to give up and go to bed." Dont let the sun shinein. Especially if your symptoms resemble those of a migraine (such as severe pain on oneside of the head, nausea, blurred vision, and extreme sensitivity to light), resting in adarkened room may alleviate the pain. Bright light may also cause headaches, accordingto Seymour Diamond, M.D., founder of Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago."Sometimes, looking at a computer screen may bring on a headache," he says. "Tintedglasses may help."Use a cold compress. A washcloth dipped in ice-cold water and placedover the eyes or an ice pack placed on the site of the pain are other good ways ofrelieving a headache, says Fred D. Sheftell, M.D., director and founder of The NewEngland Center for Headache in Stamford, Connecticut. "Other good solutions are theheadache hat, which is an ice pack that surrounds the head, and the ice pillow, which is afrozen gel pack that is inserted into a special pillow," he says. (These special ice packscan be found in some pharmacies; if you dont see them at yours, ask your pharmacistabout ordering them.) Using ice as soon as possible after the onset of the headache willrelieve the pain within 20 minutes for most people, Sheftell adds.Try heat. If ice feelsuncomfortable to you, or if it doesnt help your headache, try placing a warm washclothover your eyes or on the site of the pain, Ali says. She recommends leaving the compresson for half an hour, rewarming it as necessary.Think pleasant thoughts. Many headaches
are brought on or worsened by stress and tension, according to Couch. Learning to handlelifes difficulties in a calm way may keep the volume down on a bad headache, he says."Turn off all thoughts of unpleasant, crisis-provoking things," he says. "Think aboutpleasant things. Just for the moment, try to forget about the confrontation with the boss orthe coworker. Try to relax while you work out a strategy to cope with theproblem."Check for tension. Along with the preceding tip, Sheftell recommends thatpatients periodically check their body for tension throughout the day. "If you notice thatyou get these headaches frequently, check the body for signs of tension," he says. "Areyour jaws set very tightly? Are you scrunching your forehead? You want to check to seeif your fists are clenched. Also, when you stop at a red light, are your hands gripping thewheel very tightly?" If the answer to any of the questions is yes--stop, relax, and take adeep breath or two (dont go beyond a couple of deep breaths, though; otherwise, youmay begin to hyperventilate).Quit smoking. Smoking may bring on or worsen aheadache, Couch says, especially if you suffer from cluster headaches--extremely painfulheadaches that last from 5 to 20 minutes and come in groups.Dont drink. Alcohol, asidefrom its notorious morning-after effect, may also bring on migraines and clusterheadaches, according to Diamond. Alcoholic beverages contain tyramine, an amino acidthat may stimulate headaches (see Extra! Extra! - "Dr. Diamonds Antiheadache Diet" forother foods and beverages that contain tyramine).Start a program of regular exercise.Regular exercise helps to release the physical and emotional tension that may lead toheadaches, according to Ali. She recommends walking or jogging. These and otheraerobic activities, she says, help to boost the bodys production of endorphins (naturalpain-relieving substances).Cut down on caffeine. "Caffeine can increase muscle tensionand your anxiety level," Sheftell says. "It also creates difficulties in sleeping, which cancause headaches." Another problem is that many people drink several cups of coffee aday during their work week but cut their consumption on weekends. This can lead toweekend caffeine-withdrawal headaches, according to Sheftell. "My advice to thosepeople is for them to slowly decaffeinate themselves," he says. "Decrease your caffeineintake by one-half cup per week. I suggest that people who are prone to headaches cutdown to the equivalent of one cup of caffeinated coffee per day," says Sheftell. One five-ounce cup of drip coffee contains about 150 milligrams of caffeine. A five-ounce cup oftea brewed for three to five minutes may contain 20 to 50 milligrams of caffeine. Andcola drinks contain about 35 to 45 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounce serving. Sheftellalso recommends checking the caffeine content of any over-the-counter drugs in yourmedicine cabinet.Fight the nausea first. Some headaches may be accompanied by nausea,which can make you feel even worse. Whats more, the gastric juices produced bystomach upset may hinder the absorption of certain over-the-counter and prescriptionanalgesics, which may make these drugs less effective at relieving the pain of yourheadache. So, by first taking care of the nausea, the pain of the headache may be easier totreat, says Sheftell. He says that many of his patients have found that drinking peachjuice, apricot nectar, or flat cola has helped alleviate nausea. Over-the-counterantinauseants such as Emetrol and Dramamine may also be useful.Rise and retire at thesame time every day. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day also helpsprevent headaches, according to Diamond. "Changes in body chemistry that occur whenyou oversleep can precipitate migraines or other headaches," he says.Keep a headachediary. If you get frequent headaches, try to tease out the factors that seem to be
responsible, says Sheftell. "Pick up patterns. Figure out a way to record headaches andrate them on a zero-to-three scale of intensity: no headache, mild headache, moderate tosevere headache, incapacitating headache. Start to look at what foods you are eating.Women should begin tracking their periods, as well as their use of hormone-replacementmedications or oral contraceptives. You can show this calendar to your doctor."