Beaufort Memorial’s Living Well Blog brings health and wellness to Lowcountry living.

How to Stop a Headache

Posted by Living Well Team on Mar 23, 2016 4:14:59 PM

Headaches always seem to strike at the worst possible moments—when you’ve had a tough day at work, you’re running late to pick up the kids or you need to get dinner on the table. They’re like the dried icing on the cake that is your day. And almost all of us get them.

Nearly 90 percent of Americans get headaches from time to time.

Of course, that doesn’t make you feel any better when your head is pounding, but these five steps can.


Step 1: Take meds.

This is the first step because medication takes about 30 minutes to start working. Start medication early before the headache gets too bad. Try acetaminophen or ibuprofen. You can even take them together (while noting the dosages) for a very painful headache.

Don’t rely too heavily on painkillers though. Some people actually get headaches from the overuse of certain medications, particularly those that contain caffeine.

Step 2: Drink water.

Dehydration is a common cause of headaches. And while drinking a glass of water won’t relieve your current headache, it will help shorten its lifespan and stop other effects of dehydration, such as dizziness and constipation.

Step 3: Apply a cool compress.

During a headache, blood vessels in your head dilate. Applying a cool compress to your forehead can help them contract and therefore stop the throbbing.

There’s also something to be said for applying heat. A hot compress on the neck and a cold compress on the forehead can do wonders. Another idea is to put your feet in warm water. This redistributes blood from the head and can stop the headache.

Step 4: Lie down.

Rest in a cool, dark and quiet room. It’s not just migraine headaches that cause light sensitivity. Lying in a dark room can be helpful for other headaches as well. If you’re able to nod off, that’s even better. Some headaches are brought about by sleep deprivation.

Step 5: Breathe deeply.

The majority of headaches are tension headaches, and the most common cause is stress. So, the key to ridding yourself of the pounding is reducing your stress.

Try a simple relaxation exercise, such as deep breathing. Take a deep breath in, hold it for a count of four, release and hold for another count of four. Repeat as many times as necessary. 

Most headaches resolve on their own and are nothing to worry about. Call your doctor if your headache worsens or does not improve with treatment.

If you notice anything like weakness, nausea or slurred speech, you should see a doctor right away.

Step 6: Prevent Future Headaches

You now know how to stop a headache, but how can you prevent future ones? Charles Shissias, MD, a Beaufort Memorial neurologist specializing in headaches, offers these tips.

Slow down.

“People are living at a faster pace than ever,” he says. “They’re doing too much and running themselves into the ground.”

Get your ZZZs.

“You may not be getting good quality sleep because of obstructive sleep apnea caused by weight gain,” Shissas says. “If you have mechanical problems with how you sleep, your sleep won’t be refreshing.”

Identify your environmental triggers.

“Certain foods, like chocolate or peanuts, can set you off,” he says. “Or it could be perfumes or scented candles. For some people, cheap champagne or red wine can cause headaches.”

Stress is the most common headache trigger. While you may not be able to get rid of the source of your tension, there are things you can do to combat stress. Click here to learn a three-step approach to reducing stress.

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