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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Headache

Almost all headaches respond to lifestyle changes. Specific recommendations are suggested to limit the number or intensity of each type of headache.

Managing Tension Headaches

Exercise Regularly

Physical activity can help control stress. Aim for 30 minutes at time on most days of the week. Start out slowly and increase activity level over time. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Improve Your Posture

Poor posture contributes to tension headaches. Do not slouch. Hold the phone, rather than cradling it on your shoulder, or use a headset. Consider seeing a physical or occupational therapist for posture tips more specific to your individual situation.

Learn Stress Management Techniques

Stress can contribute to a headache. A mental health professional can work with you to develop stress management skills and learn relaxation techniques. The counselor may be able to help you identify events that trigger the headaches and work toward resolutions.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Maintaining regular sleep routines will help you fall asleep. Sleep helps decrease tension and irritability.

Take Breaks From Tasks

Regular breaks help prevent your muscles from tightening up and can decrease stress.

Limit Stimuli During a Headache

  • Put an ice pack or heat pack on your head or neck to ease discomfort.
  • Lie in a dark, quiet room.
  • Massage your temples and neck.
  • Practice relaxation techniques.

Managing Migraine Headaches

Keep a Diary to Help Identify Your Migraine Pattern

Identifying what triggers migraines and what relieves them will help your doctor and you develop a plan to manage your migraines.

Do Not Overuse Pain Medication

Overuse of pain medications can make your headaches worse. Avoid excessive use of these medications.

Learn Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques

Stress can contribute to a headache. A mental health professional can work with you to develop stress management skills and learn relaxation techniques.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise helps control stress and reduce depressive symptoms. Regular swimming and walking can decrease the number and intensity of migraine headaches. However, exercise can trigger a migraine attack in certain individuals. Talk to your doctor about specific activities you can do.

Avoid Foods That Trigger Migraines

Some foods bring on migraines. Avoid foods that trigger your migraine headaches. These may include:

  • Chocolate
  • Any foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), tyramine, or nitrates
  • Alcohol, especially red wine
  • Aspartame

Eat Small Meals More Often

If low blood sugar happens before your migraines, eating small amounts of food more frequently may help prevent your blood sugar from dropping.

Do Not Change Your Regular Sleep Pattern on the Weekend or During Vacation

Sleeping and waking at regular times may help prevent headaches.

Limit Stimuli During an Attack

  • Apply cold compresses to painful areas of your head.
  • Lie in a dark, quiet room.
  • Apply gentle pressure to your temples.

Managing Cluster Headaches    TOP

Find a doctor who is a headache specialist. Work with your doctor to create a plan to treat and prevent your headaches.

Do Not Drink Alcoholic Beverages

Even a small amount of alcohol can trigger a headache during a cluster period.

Learn Stress Management Techniques

Stress can contribute to a headache. A mental health professional can work with you to develop stress management skills and learn relaxation techniques.

Do Not Smoke

Tobacco use has been associated with cluster headaches. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about the best ways you can quit.

Do Not Overuse Pain Medication

Overuse of pain medications can make your headaches worse. Avoid excessive use of these medications.

Managing Sinus Headaches    TOP

Keep Nasal Passages Moist

This can be done by:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids to keep hydrated
  • Breathing in warm, moist air
  • Using a mist of saline nasal spray up to 6 times a day
  • Nasal irrigation—ask your doctor how to do this at home

Avoid Exposure to Anything That Triggers Allergy or Sinus Symptoms

Allergic reactions increase the amount of secretions in and swelling of the nasal passages. This can lead to sinusitis.

Seek Medical Treatment for Allergies or a Persistent Cold

Medical management of allergies and upper respiratory infections helps prevent sinusitis. If you are prone to sinus problems, ask your doctor about using a decongestant before air travel. A decongestant will help keep nasal passages open.

Wash Your Hands Frequently to Avoid Colds

Hand washing helps prevent colds and other infections passed from the hand to the nose, mouth, or eyes. Colds increase the amount of secretions in and swelling of the nasal passages, which can lead to sinusitis.

Avoid Alcoholic Drinks

Alcohol can cause swelling of nasal and sinus tissues.

Avoid Smoke

Do not smoke. Also, avoid second-hand smoke and polluted air. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about the best ways you can quit.

Do Not Overuse Pain Medication

Overuse of pain medications can make your headaches worse. Avoid excessive use of these medications.

When to Contact Your Doctor    TOP

Contact your doctor if your headaches do not respond to lifestyle changes and prescribed medications.

References

Cluster headache. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116292/Cluster-headache. Updated February 16, 2016. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Dihydroergotamine. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T233099/Dihydroergotamine. Updated September 6, 2017. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Headache. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116292/Cluster-headache. Updated May 22, 2017. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Headache—frequently asked questions. National Headache Foundation website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed October 2, 2017.
Migraine in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114718/Migraine-in-adults. Updated August 9, 2016. Accessed October 2, 2017.
NINDS headache information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Headache-Information-Page. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Pascual J, El Berdei Y, Gómez-Sánchez JC. How many migraine patients need prolonged (>1 year) preventive treatment? Experience with topiramate. J Headache Pain. 2007;8(2):90-93.
Scher A, Stewart WF, Buse D, Krantz DS, Lipton RB. Major life changes before and after the onset of chronic daily headache: a population-based study. Cephalgia. 2008;28(8):868-876.
Sumatriptan. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T233503/Sumatriptan. Updated September 6, 2017. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Tension-type headache. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated February 8, 2017. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 12/20/2014

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