Self-Care for Headaches

Self-Care for Headaches

Most headaches aren't serious and can be relieved with self-care. But some headaches may be a sign of another health problem like eye trouble or high blood pressure. To find the best treatment, learn what kind of headaches you get. For tension headaches, self-care will usually help. To treat migraines, ask your healthcare provider for advice. It is also possible to get both tension and migraine headaches. Self-care involves relieving the pain and avoiding headache "triggers" if you can.

Ways to reduce pain and tension

Try these steps:

  • Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the pain site.
  • Drink fluids. If nausea makes it hard to drink, try sucking on ice.
  • Rest. Protect yourself from bright light and loud noises.
  • Calm your emotions by imagining a peaceful scene.
  • Massage tight neck, shoulder, and head muscles.
  • To relax muscles, soak in a hot bath or use a hot shower.

Use medicines

Aspirin or aspirin substitutes, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can relieve headache. Remember: Never give aspirin to anyone 18 years old or younger because of the risk of developing Reye syndrome. Use pain medicines only when necessary.

Track your headaches

Keeping a headache diary can help you and your healthcare provider identify what's causing your headaches:

  • Note when each headache happens.
  • Identify your activities and the foods you've eaten 6 to 8 hours before the headache began.
  • Look for any trends or "triggers."

Signs of tension headache

Any of the following can be signs:

  • Dull pain or feeling of pressure in a tight band around your head
  • Pain in your neck or shoulders
  • Headache without a definite beginning or end
  • Headache after an activity such as driving or working on a computer

Signs of migraine

Any of the following can be signs:

  • Throbbing pain on one or both sides of your head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and smells
  • Bright spots, flashes, or other visual changes
  • Pain or nausea so severe that you can't continue your daily activities

Call your healthcare provider

If you have any of the following symptoms, contact your healthcare provider:

  • A headache that lingers after a recent injury or bump to the head.
  • A fever with a stiff neck or pain when you bend your head toward your chest.
  • A headache along with slurred speech, changes in your vision, or numbness or weakness in your arms or legs.
  • A headache for longer than 3 days.
  • Frequent headaches, especially in the morning.
  • Headaches with seizures
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you have a headache that you would call "the worst headache you have ever had."