Smoking and second-hand smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes can contribute to headaches for both the smoker and the non-smoker. Nicotine, one of the components of tobacco, stimulates the blood vessels in the brain to constrict (narrow). Smoking also stimulates the nerves in the back of the throat, contributing to headache pain.
Usually, by removing the stimulus (nicotine), headaches will be relieved. Quitting smoking or reducing exposure to second-hand smoke is especially helpful for those with cluster headaches. In one study of people with cluster headaches, those who reduced their tobacco use by less than one-half pack of cigarettes per day found their headaches decreased by 50%.
Brian Carter, 41, had his first migraine in his 20s. "I worked from home, and I'd try to keep working but couldn't," he says. "I'd get nauseous. Doing anything felt painful, so I'd lie down and put a pillow over my head."
Sound familiar? If you're one of the 36 million Americans who get migraines, you probably know that the awful pain is no ordinary headache. Migraines are defined as moderate to severe pain lasting 4 to 72 hours, usually on one side of the head. The pain gets worse with exercise,...