Tips to Get Rid of a Headache

Headaches happen. The good news is there are several simple things you can do to ease the pain without a trip to the doctor. Try these tips and get to feeling better fast.

Try a Cold Pack

If you have a migraine, place a cold pack on your forehead. Ice cubes wrapped in a towel, a bag of frozen vegetables, or even a cold shower may ease the pain. Keep the compress on your head for 15 minutes, and then take a break for 15 minutes.

Use a Heating Pad or Hot Compress

If you have a tension headache, place a heating pad on your neck or the back of your head. If you have a sinus headache, hold a warm cloth to the area that hurts. A warm shower might also do the trick.

Ease Pressure on Your Scalp or Head

If your ponytail is too tight, it could cause a headache. These "external compression headaches" can also be brought on by wearing a hat, headband, or even swimming goggles that are too tight.

Dim the Lights

Bright or flickering light, even from your computer screen, can cause migraine headaches. If you’re prone to them, cover your windows with blackout curtains during the day. Wear sunglasses outdoors. You might also add anti-glare screens to your computer and use daylight-spectrum fluorescent bulbs in your light fixtures.

Try Not to Chew

Chewing gum can hurt not just your jaw but your head. The same is true for chewing your fingernails, lips, the inside of your cheeks, or handy objects like pens. Avoid crunchy and sticky foods, and make sure you take small bites. If you grind your teeth at night, ask your dentist about a mouth guard. This may curb your early-morning headaches.

Hydrate

Drink plenty of liquids. Dehydration can cause a headache or make one worse.

Get Some Caffeine

Have some tea, coffee, or something with a little caffeine in it. If you get it early enough after the pain starts, it could ease your headache pain. It can also help over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen work better. Just don’t drink too much because caffeine withdrawal can cause its own type of headache.

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Practice Relaxation

Whether it’s stretches, yoga, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation, learning how to chill out when you’re in the middle of a headache can help with the pain. You might talk to your doctor about physical therapy if you have muscle spasms in your neck.

Try Massage

You can do it yourself. A few minutes massaging your forehead, neck, and temples can help ease a tension headache, which may result from stress. Or apply gentle, rotating pressure to the painful area.

Take Some Ginger

A small recent study found that taking ginger, in addition to regular over-the-counter pain meds, eased pain for people in the ER with migraines. Another found that it worked almost as well as prescription migraine meds. You can try a supplement or brew some tea.

Use Meds in Moderation

Pharmacy shelves are stocked with pain relievers for all kinds of headaches. To get the most benefit with the least risk, follow the directions on the label and these guidelines:

  • Choose liquid over pills. Your body absorbs it faster.
  • Avoid ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) if you have heart failure or kidney failure.
  • Do not give aspirin to a child under age 18.
  • Take painkillers as soon as you start to hurt. You’ll probably beat it with a smaller dose than if you wait.
  • If you get sick to your stomach when you get a headache, ask your doctor what might help.
  • Ask your doctor what to take to avoid a rebound headache, which is pain that sets in after a few days of pain relievers.

And be sure to talk to your doctor about what headache symptoms you should not treat at home.

When to Call Your Doctor

Get medical care right away for:

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on June 09, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: "Have a Headache at Work? 13 Quick Fixes."

National Headache Foundation: "Hot and Cold Packs/Showers,”  "Bruxism."

National Health Service (UK): "Sinus headache,” "10 Headache Triggers."

Blau, JN. Headache, published online May 2004.

The International Headache Classification ICHD-2: "External Compression Headache."

Mount Sinai Hospital: "Managing Your Migraines"

American Headache Society: "Dental Appliances and Headache,” "Types of Headaches," "Sinus Headache or Migraine?" "Acute Therapy: Why Not Over-The-Counter or Other Nonspecific Options?” "Ten Things That You and Your Patients with Migraine Should Know."

The Migraine Trust: "Medication for Migraine."

Lawrence C. Newman, MD, President, American Headache Society and Director, Headache Institute, Mount Sinai Roosevelt Hospital, New York City.

American Academy of Neurology: "Migraine Headache."

American Migraine Foundation: "Headache Hygiene - What is it?"

American College of Physicians: "Managing Migraine."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Chronic Daily Headache."

Mayo Clinic: “Acupuncture,” “Migraine,” “Migraines: Simple steps to head off the pain,” “Rebound headaches,” “Tension headache.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Self-Care Treatments for Headaches: Procedure Details,” "Headache Treatment Overview," "Self-Care Treatment for Headaches," "When to Call the Doctor About Your Headache Symptoms," "Headache Treatment Overview."

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Acupuncture: In Depth,” “Butterbur,” “Feverfew.”

Cephalalgia: “Double-blind placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) addition in migraine acute treatment.”

Phytotherapy Research: “Comparison between the efficacy of ginger and sumatriptan in the ablative treatment of the common migraine.”

FamilyDoctor.org: "Hydration: Why it is so important."

HealthyChildren: "Choosing Over-the-Counter Medicines for Your Child."

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