Boss yelling and pointing
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1. Your Boss

Anything (or anyone) that boosts your stress level can make you more vulnerable to tension headaches or migraines. Doctors don't know exactly how it happens. Many things may be involved, including certain nerves in the brain that relay pain messages and may be extra sensitive. Changes within the brain itself may also be involved in migraine headaches.

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100-degree temperature on thermometer
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2. Weather

Temperature changes can make a migraine more likely. Whether it's a heat wave or a cold snap, the change can trigger a headache. Sunny, hot days can do that, too. Rain or changes in barometric pressure also may lead to headaches. While you can't change the weather, you can wear sunglasses on a bright day, stay hydrated, and avoid the midday sun.

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woman putting on perfume
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3. Strong Scents

Strong smells, even nice ones, trigger migraines in many people. Why this happens is unclear. The most common offenders are paint, perfume, and certain types of flowers.

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Rear view of a woman with ponytail
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4. Hair Accessories

Ouch! How you wear your hair can take a toll on your head. A too-tight ponytail may strain the connective tissue in the scalp, leading to a hairdo headache. Headbands, braids, and tight-fitting hats can do that, too. If this is the cause of your headache, you’ll usually get fast relief if you let your hair down.

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Man lifting weights in gym
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5. Exercise

Strenuous activity can sometimes lead to headaches. Examples include jogger's headache and even a sex headache. These types of headaches are most common in people who are likely to get migraines. Call 911 if you get a severe headache suddenly after doing something that's physically hard, or if it's your first headache of this kind and you also get vomiting, double vision, or a rigid neck.

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Businessman slouching on phone, head in hand
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6. Poor Posture

Slouching builds up pressure in the head and neck muscles. Do you hunch your shoulders, use a chair with no lower-back support, or stare at a monitor that is too low or too high? If you have frequent tension headaches, changing these things could help.

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Variety of cheeses
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7. Cheese

A migraine trigger for some people is aged cheese, including blue cheese, cheddar, Parmesan, and Swiss. The problem may be a substance called tyramine. The longer a food ages, the more tyramine it has.

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Two glasses of red wine
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8. Red Wine

Tyramine is also in red wine and other alcoholic drinks. Other ingredients in wine can contribute to headaches as well. Because alcohol boosts blood flow to the brain, the effects may be even more intense. Try sipping sparkling water or another non-alcoholic drink.

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Deli meat arranged on tray
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9. Cold Cuts

Cold cuts and other processed meats often contain tyramine and food additives such as nitrites, which may trigger headaches in some people. If you think this could be a trigger for you, try taking these foods out of your diet for a while to see if it makes a difference.

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Businesswoman in Break Room
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10. Skipped Meals

Hunger headaches aren’t always obvious. If you don’t eat, your head could start to ache before you realize you’re hungry. The trouble is likely a dip in blood sugar. But don’t try to cure a hunger headache with a candy bar. Sweets cause blood sugar to spike and then drop even lower.
 

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Cigarette burning in ashtray, close-up
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11. Smoking

Smoking may trigger headaches, and not just for the person holding the cigarette. Secondhand smoke contains nicotine, which causes blood vessels in the brain to narrow. Giving up cigarettes or staying away from secondhand smoke helps a lot if you get cluster headaches. These are extremely painful headaches that happen on one side of your head. They can also cause eye and nose symptoms.

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Woman pouring coffee
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12. Caffeine

If you get a lot of headaches, too much caffeine may be why. In moderation, caffeine often helps. It's in many headache medications. But chain-chugging coffee or sodas can cause headaches. If you want to stop using caffeine, ease off gradually. Quitting suddenly can make things worse: Caffeine withdrawal is another headache trigger.

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Chart for recording headache information
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13. Find Your Triggers

By doing this, you may be able to stop headaches before they start. The best way is to keep a headache diary. Every day, note the foods you eat, stressful events, weather changes, and physical activity. Whenever you have a headache, jot down the time it starts and stops. This will help you find patterns so you can avoid your triggers.

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Woman getting neck massage
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14. Manage Stress

Many people find that if they cut stress, they can manage migraines or tension headaches better. You can't control everything, but you can change how you respond to the things that concern you. Look into classes or read a book on stress management, meditation, or massage. Anything healthy that helps you relax, problem-solve, and recharge is good to try.

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15. Get Moving

Exercise is a powerful stress reliever. You can do anything you like. Walking is a great choice. When you walk, the swinging motion of your arms tends to relax the muscles in your neck and shoulders. Breaking up those knots gets at the root of some headaches.

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Healthy lunch on cafeteria tray
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Eat Regular Meals

No more hunger headaches! Eating good-for-you meals throughout the day (with smaller portions, so you don’t eat too much) will keep your blood sugar on an even keel. Try to pair a protein with a complex carbohydrate, such as peanut butter on whole-grain bread or a chicken breast with brown rice. Also, sip enough fluids, since dehydration can also give you a headache.

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Physiotherapy on the PGA Tour 2005
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PT, Acupuncture, Talk Therapy

If you get tension headaches, physical therapy will help relax your neck muscles and give you new habits that lead to better posture.

You might also want to look into acupuncture. It’s not a proven fix, but it could be something to try if other treatments haven’t helped.

Also, a type of counseling called behavioral therapy could help you manage stress, which can worsen or bring on headaches.

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Medicine's Role

Over-the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen work well against many types of headaches. But using these medicines daily, or nearly every day, can bring on medication overuse headaches or rebound headaches -- headache pain that returns as soon as the pills have worn off. For frequent or severe headaches, ask your doctor what would help.

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When to See a Doctor

If you get a new headache that is unusually severe or lasts longer than usual, see a doctor. Tell her if your headache pattern changes, such as if they happen more often or if you have new triggers. Call 911 if you have a severe, sudden headache (out of the blue or after an accident or head injury), or if you also have vision changes, trouble talking, movement problems, confusion, seizure, a fever, or a stiff neck.
 

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 11/02/2017 Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on November 02, 2017

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SOURCES:

Vanderbilt University: "Meal Ideas and Menus: Avoiding High Tyramine Foods Made Easy."

Frese A. Neurology, 2003.

Frese, A. Cephalalgia, 2007.

Blau, J. Headache, May 2004.

Stankewitz, A. Neurology, July 2011; epub.

National Headache Foundation: "Hypoglycemia," "Smoking," "Alcohol and Headaches," "Nitrites/Nitrates."

Schurks, M. Current Pain Headache Report, April 2008.

Mukamal, K. Neurology, March 10, 2009.

Mukamal, K.J., Neurology, published online March 10, 2008.

Cleveland Clinic: "Rebound Headaches."

UC Berkeley, University Health Services: "Tension Headache Fact Sheet."

Cathcart, S. Cephalagia, October 2010.

Millea, P. American Family Physician, September 2002.

American Headache Society.

UpToDate: “Patient education: Headache treatments in adults (Beyond the Basics.)”

 

Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on November 02, 2017

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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