Ask the readers: Headache remedies?

Heya Grumpy Nation!

I have been getting bad headaches.  I do not like them.

I’m currently keeping a headache journal for my GP doctor to look at the next time I go in, but I would also like to try to stop having headaches before then too.

Known headache triggers:  Flashing lights, pressure changes with the weather, yeast extract, dehydration, caffeine withdrawal.

I have been pretty good about avoiding flashing lights and yeast extract and I drink a lot of water and generally avoid caffeine.   My weather headaches have been getting more frequent and more protracted, sometimes lasting days if the weather doesn’t change.  I thought I would find a pattern with my cycle, but apparently not– there are weather patterns but not hormone ones.

One painkiller alone (advil/aspirin/tylenol) doesn’t seem to work– I need to double up sometimes with different painkillers and even then it’s not great.  Sinus medicines make me loopy so if I take them I still can’t work.  Dimetapp was working like magic for a little while, but I think I built up a tolerance.  Sometimes DayQuil is enough and sometimes it isn’t. NyQuil is pretty good but it also knocks me out so I only take it at night so I can sleep.

I *think* magnesium supplements might help.  Propel helps a little.  This one fruit drink that my grocery story has that has magnesium and potassium might help.  These supplements might blunt the pain, but it doesn’t go away completely.

Heat, particularly on my neck and sinuses works, but only so long as the heat is actually being applied.  Ditto massages.

I tried one of those nasal squirt things that’s kind of like a cheaper neti-pot, but it was really unpleasant and didn’t seem to do anything much on first application except make me salty from the saline solution.  Is it worth pursuing more?  (It took a little while to get used to a bidet for the toilet, but also a bidet for the posterior area was never as unpleasant as the nasal squirt thing.)

What do you do when you get a headache?  How do you avoid headaches?  How do you make headaches go away?


33 Responses to “Ask the readers: Headache remedies?”

  1. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I am not that kind of doctor BUT those sound like classic migraines if they are worse on one side. I had exactly that with weather too… and the needs all the painkillers… and the heat helps but only while I’m lying on the hot pad…and the yeast extract.

    Aspirin and NSAIDs in general (but especially aspirin) sometimes help. There’s an aspirin/caffeine/Tylenol combo that’s sold for headaches- caffeine causes vasoconstriction which seems to alleviate the symptoms some. But rebound headaches are also a thing. Hydration sometimes helps (I really like Skratch labs mixes- pricey but worth it).

    What I truly believe about severe chronic headaches is you can make them worse but often you can’t make them better with anything OTC. If you can get a trial of a triptan and it helps, then they were probably migraines, and if not, it sounds like you need a neurologist who specializes in headache because you’ve already tried everything reasonable!

  2. Wally Waffles Says:

    I get sinus headaches and they have been horrible this year. These are some of my remedies: Advil plus allergy medicine (zyrtec knockoff). If it’s really bad, theraflu nighttime (this works for migraines – it’s a nice sleep that doesn’t make me groggy – I take the Advil first then the theraflu and usually wake up in no pain). Jamba Juice peanut butter smoothie with extra protein – this is a miracle cure. If I can’t get to Jamba Juice, I keep vanilla ice cream in the freezer and put some peanut butter on it and mix it up and eat it. Protein plus a bit of brain freeze works really well. Super strong mint tea. Long hot shower with mint or eucalyptus.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We have a Jamba Juice in town. I will try that next time! I’ll also try theraflu that’s one we don’t have.

      Hot showers do help but only while I’m in them. I wonder if I should get a humidifier. Though it’s often already pretty humid when I get one of these.

      I also wonder if there’s an allergy component— pollen counts seem crazy this year.

      • KGC Says:

        I wonder if an air purifier in the bedroom might help? This would really only address the allergy part but it’s made a big difference for my allergy-ridden spouse and even I (mild, barely-there pollen and seasonal allergies) notice that I am clearer in the morning with the purifier running than before we got it. I doubt this would be a cure-all but maybe it would help a little for at least one component. We got the Blue Air brand.

        I also have started getting headaches more in the past few years than ever before. So far I haven’t identified any specific triggers BUT I am starting to get the sense that they are hormonal…which is really annoying, considering I’m on birth control (same type for 10+ years, so that’s not new). (I should start officially tracking this to be sure) Mine are definitely mild migraines and I can USUALLY get them to go away with an NSAID+caffeine. I’m currently not allowed to have NSAIDs right now, though, and consequently had a 4+ day low-grade migraine last week that was very very unpleasant. I prefer ice on my face rather than heat but that just makes it hurt less in the moment with the ice on, not actually go away once ice is removed.

        Best of luck! Headaches are really the pits.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We have TWO air purifiers in the bedroom right now which might be why the air is drier than elsewhere…

        Multi day migraines sounds awful.

  3. Alice Says:

    My worst headaches are radiated pain from neck pain– when I’ve been stressed for awhile, I start unconsciously doing unfortunate things with my muscles that result in neck pain with headaches. To get them to go away or not start, I do rounds of neck PT exercises. For the most recent neck pain headache, I also used a Back Buddy to work on my neck and shoulder muscles. None of this makes things go away quickly, but it cuts it back a LOT. Resuming neck PT and using the Back Buddy can bring it down to a 1-3 day experience. (And after this last one, I’m thinking I need to integrate more consistent preventative exercises into my routine.)

  4. delagar Says:

    Those sound like migraines to me, too. I had them for years, often as many as two a month, and they would put me in bed for up to three days at a time. Eventually my neurologist put me on Topomax, which cut the frequency down to once or twice a year.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, but I get migraines and they’re different.

      Maybe they’re a different kind of migraine, but the kind I usually get (or get about once every 3 years) are just different in so many aspects. And these headaches definitely don’t put me in bed for days, they are just unpleasant and make it kind of hard to think. What I think of as actual migraines are horrific and do put me in bed even with coffee. (I am usually very sensitive to caffeine).

  5. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    If it is sinuses, have you tried guaifenesin? It’s a mucous thinner, not a decongestant; often included in cough syrup, but you can get pills of it alone. Decongestants are an absolute last resort for me b/c they make my heart pound, so guaifenesin is where I start when I’m stuffed up.

  6. Omdg Says:

    Def see a headache specialist. There are some newer medications on the market that some people get a great deal of relief from.

    I get ocular migraines, and when this happens I take 800mg of ibuprofen. Smaller doses and/or acetaminophen also work but take longer. Hasn’t failed me yet.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Step 1 is the log and GP. But after that if nothing works I will move on to a specialist.

    • Linda T Says:

      I have had two ocular migraines but no pain with them.
      I thought I was having a severe problem with unusual floaters or a retinal problem because of the color.
      But my ophthalmologist found no problems and said it sounded like an ocular migraine. I had never heard of it before.

      • Omdg Says:

        Mine aren’t painful either, but not being able to see is problematic. The nsaids fix the vision symptoms.

  7. rose Says:

    Sounds like you may have serval things involved. Hormonal changes not directly tied to p*riods could be involved. Food combinations can be triggers (cashews and apricots as example). IF you are tracking the headaches already also track your water and every morsel you eat. For some people the reaction to foods can be 24 hrs later. Agree with two air filters in bedroom or rooms you spend most time in. Outdoor exercise (depends on weather and pollens) helps some. With a college age student you may be at a stage of life where MANY things are changing physically ….in which case time helps.
    SUpport and sympathy! I still remember…….

  8. Been there, not doing that Says:

    CBD cream (the real stuff) applied topically to the forehead when you feel them coming on. If that doesn’t work, go to oral CBD, with very low THC. Haven’t had a migraine since California legalized pot.

    I’m with the migraine camp, too. In my experience, you can have multiple forms of migraine. My batch included headaches, ocular migraines and these fun ones that tightened a chord along the bottom of my rib cage then had me barfing for hours (fun, that). All, according to docs, migraines. Oculars go away fast and I just ride them out, but the topical cream goes on the blood cord right way, too.

    According to a brilliant doctor I met years ago in Japan, migraines and allergies often seem to be related. He described migraines as a sort of cloud that would drift through different parts of the brain, stimulating various problems. I don’t know how widely that holds, but find it interesting the answers combining both…

    Do you get those weird blurry translucent black dots in your vision? That’s another way to identify a migraine.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think I’m becoming increasingly allergic to marijuana (judging by my reactions to ambient users). Probably not the part that is in CBD but I’m definitely wary.

      I don’t get ocular migraines or translucent black dots. Just the standard one-sided extremely painful pounding. Usually triggered by flashing lights.

  9. Debbie M Says:

    I’m lucky. Aspirin mostly worked for me when I was a kid. And when ibuprofen became available over the counter, it always worked (though sometimes not until the second dose if I waited too long to take it).

    My boyfriend likes to use a vibrator on the back of his neck. He gets tension headaches. I can’t imagine anything worse than vibrating a headache myself, but people are different.

    Good luck!

  10. economiss Says:

    I have had a lot of headaches this spring (also deep south). For me, I think it’s our repeated patterns of severe weather + bad pollen. What helps: in addition to a nightly zyrtec, I’ve added a morning flonase (well, the generic from Costco) for a week at a time, but not all the time. I try to only take it in short spurts, but that seems to take the edge off when I just can’t kick it or I can tell my allergies/sinuses are just rough. It’s not immediate remedy, it takes a couple days of taking it to get to full strength. Liquid IV can help me in some cases – especially on long teaching days, dehydration seems to make them worse for me. While I used to always take Tylenol for headaches, I’ve found sudafed + ibuprofen are most likely to knock these headaches out. Only the behind-the-counter psueodephedrine, though. The other one makes me feel worse!

  11. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    First headache since this post. Trying robitussin!

  12. Michael N Nitabach Says:

    Sorry, still catching up on blog-reading! I have found naproxen (Naprosyn) to be a substantially more effective headache remedy than other NSAIDs.

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