By Katherine Tandy Brown
For the past several decades, I’ve been a migraineur. As much as I wish that meant “a pastry chef in a French restaurant,” that’s not the case. Instead, I’m one of more than 10 million Americans who have migraine headaches.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman – physician, New York Times best-selling author and founder/director of the UltraWellness Center – these severe, nearly disabling headaches can occur from once a year to three or four times a week and can last from hours to days. Symptoms can include an aura, light or sound sensitivity, nausea, vomiting, severe pain on one or both sides of the head, stroke-like symptoms or paralysis.
Each year, migraines add $13 to $17 billion to healthcare costs for medication, ER visits, hospitalization, physician services, lab and diagnostic services, and managing the side effects of treatment. Migraines are the most frequent pain-related complaint among workers, resulting in absenteeism and decreased productivity.
These pesky pain-producers are difficult to treat and hard to prevent with conventional methods. A slew of preventive drugs work poorly and often have side effects.
Like many migraineurs, I’ve spent all too many hours in a darkened bedroom with ice on my head. But that’s not much fun and time is valuable. So through the years, I’ve accumulated a repertoire of possible preventive techniques and pain-easers. The cream of the crop of that information follows.
Identifying individual triggers can be helpful. The No. 1 trigger for many people is stress. Reduce stress and your head issues will probably ease. Other triggers may include allergies, hormonal changes, letdown after a high-pressure situation, changes in barometric pressure, strong food odors, such as raw onion or gasoline, food allergies, artificial sweeteners, MSG, alcohol, gluten, getting too hot or too cold, spending too much time in front of a computer screen, changes in sleep or wake time, and/or overuse of pain medications, which may cause a “rebound” headache.
For some people, regular exercise can help ward off headaches. For others, it can actually be a trigger, as it increases heart rate, blood pressure and blood flow to the brain.
Avoid stress as much as possible. Create a few minutes of down time each day for meditation, yoga, massage and/or being in nature. Become aware of stressors, get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water and don’t get chilled or overheated. Take breaks from intense computer work to stretch, especially your neck and shoulders, and focus your eyes on distant objects. Sleep on a firm, supportive mattress with a neck-supporting pillow. Identify allergies and use natural relief methods such as chiropractic, acupuncture and homeopathy.
Each individual is different and treatments vary with varying types of headaches. Every doctor and migraineur will agree that a remedy is more apt to work if you use it as soon as you feel a headache coming on. The following is not a complete list by any means. Not all work all the time. When none work, medication can be the solution.
1. Put two used, spongy tennis balls in a sock. Lie with your head on these right at the base of the skull, with ice on your forehead.
2. Stand in hot water with ice on your head or stand with your face in the stream of a hot shower.
3. Put a bit of salt water in your hand and snort hard through each nostril, so it actually goes into the sinuses, exiting through the mouth.
4. Use supplements and or herbs, such as B-complex, magnesium, iodine (iodized salt), PA-free butterbur or feverfew.
5. Eat protein, such as peanut butter or steak.
6. Stop eating gluten, i.e., any products containing wheat, barley or rye.
7. Induce “brain freeze,” by eating ice cream or consuming an icy drink.
8. Ingest caffeine, via coffee or dark chocolate.
9. Massage the tips of the toes and around the hard edge of each ear.
10. Visit a massage therapist for head, neck and cranio-sacral treatment.
11. Relax with meditation. Visualize the pain abating.
12. Drain your sinuses by using a nasal pot.
13. Practice yogic Pranayama, or alternate nostril breathing.
14. Dab oil of peppermint under each nostril, on each temple and at the point on the back of the head where the spine meets the skull.
The above information is but a small sampling of options. Scads more is available online from sources such as the Mayo Clinic and WebMD sites. Always consult your physician before any change of treatment.