How to Heal your Headache

If you ask anyone in my household, they will tell you I get LOADS of headaches. Like daily, at least. This is not the truth, but clearly I make such a fuss when I do get one, it seems to them that the occurrence is frequent.

In fact, I get a headache about once a month, right around the onset of my period. I take some ibuprofen and it does the trick. No big deal, right? But recently, I got a headache that just wouldn't quit. I took the usual dosage of ibuprofen (2 tablets) and nothing happened. No relief. I waited a few hours, took more, to no avail. The following day I still had the same pressure and pain in the front of my face, mainly around the eyes. Because it's spring, and stuff is starting to bloom, several people suggested it must be allergies.

The following day, I followed the advice of my friend Patti and tried Claritan-D. The relief wasn't instant, but over the course of the next few hours, my headache slowly evaporated. I was dried out, had to drink a boatload of water to compensate, and somewhat jittery, but the headache never returned. Not after the dose wore off, and not the following day, either. So my headache was due to allergies, right?


I found a book called Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program by David Buchholz, MD. This doctor and researcher at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine says ALL headaches are caused by migraine. (Except the very rare cluster headaches.) Migraine is a mechanism present in all our bodies. This innate mechanism causes excess blood flow and swelling of blood vessels in the head and neck in response to a variety of triggers. (Triggers can be foods, alcohol, stress, weather, hormones, etc.) And not only headaches. Migraine can also cause other symptoms such as stuffy nose, post-nasal drip, earache, and sinus pressure--all of my symptoms! Plus visual disturbances, nausea, and the other symptoms you might think of as "classic" migraine occurrences.

So if Claritan-D fixed my headache, including all the other annoying symptoms I had, why not take it all the time? Because this practice can actually cause rebound headaches. When the decongestant wears off, the blood vessels can react by bouncing back too far--back to their swollen state. According to Dr. Buchholz, ibuprofen (and other NSAIDS) do not cause rebound headaches, but allergy medications and other drugs, including caffeine, can. This is why quitting coffee can cause those massive withdrawal headaches.

How do you get rid of your headaches for good? You control the triggers. Some, like hormones and weather, you cannot control. Others, like diet and alcohol, you can. Typical dietary triggers include aged cheeses, caffeine, chocolate, citrus, bananas(!), red wine, fermented foods, processed foods, MSG, anything containing nitrates or sulfites. The list is actually much longer than this, and you might even have your own specific triggers that are atypical. (I was struck by how many of my favorite foods are on this list! I'm starting to think it's a miracle I don't have a migraine daily!)

As a precaution, I've started to cut back on my caffeine intake. Yes, I am now only drinking ONE cup of coffee per day! (Down from two.) I've switched to black tea in the afternoon. I'm considering switching from red wine to white (vodka is supposed to be best for avoiding migraine, but I'm not much of a hard liquor drinker). You can tell I'm tiptoeing into this process; Dr. Buchholz suggests giving up ALL trigger foods cold turkey for at least 4 months. I'd have to have some debilitating headaches before I went that far, but certainly some folks do.

If you're one of those extreme headache sufferers, I'd definitely recommend this book. Please leave your comments below if you suffer from frequent headaches and have tried reducing your triggers. Of course, if have debilitating pain, check with your doctor first!