9 Ways to Beat a Killer Headache

By Sarah Winfrey on 6 September 2007 (Updated 13 May 2010) 28 comments
Photo: shaunl

My sinuses are a barometer — literally. I can usually tell when it's going to rain because, as the barometric pressure builds, my face feels more and more like it's going to burst off the rest of my head. I don't know why I was selected for this particular superpower. Most days, I would happily give it up for a life of normalcy. But instead, I fight the headaches. Since I also have allergies, get tension headaches, and fight the occasional migraine, the truth is that my head hurts a lot of the time. Over the years, I've come up with some things that relieve the pressure without lightening my checkbook.

1. Steam is your friend

It doesn't matter how you do it, just get some steam in those poor, swollen nasal passages. Actually, this helps me with whatever kind of headache I have — probably because it helps me relax! My favorite way to get steam is to close all the doors and windows to my bathroom and turn on the shower as hot as it will go (without me in it!). In a few minutes, my bathroom is a sauna and I can breathe again. The cleansed pores? Definitely a side benefit!

2. Drink tea

While tea is one way to get some steam, it also provides heat on the roof of your mouth. One set of sinuses sits right above the roof of your mouth, and heat helps both the swollen tissue and the clotted mucus. Tea is also relaxing, so it helps calm your muscles. If you're fighting a migraine, the caffeine can also give you the boost you need to beat it.

3. Put a warm, wet washcloth on your head

Again with the heat and the steam, as well as the fact that it just feels good. When your head hurts, you often unconsciously clench the muscles in your face. The warmth and the humidity help them relax.

4. Close your eyes

Even if your headache isn't directly related to eyestrain, closing your eyes can help. I can't find an explanation for this, though several doctors have told me to do it. My theory? It has something to do with the amount of information your mind is processing at once. This is particularly useful for stress-induced headaches.

5. Get some sleep

For me, headaches are connected to not getting enough sleep. My body just doesn't function as well when I'm not rested. When I catch up on some of these hours, bad headaches become manageable and slight ones disappear entirely.

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6. Quack like a duck

Or do whatever it is you do when you need to laugh. Because laughing releases tension AND moves the muscles in your face in relatively unusual ways, it helps reduce tension headaches and allows sinuses to drain. Plus, it distracts you so you're not thinking solely about the throbbing going on in your head.

7. Exercise

Yes, it's good for your head as well as your heart...and your lungs...and your muscles...you get the idea. The endorphins that exercising releases after a good 20-30 minutes fight headaches, too. Sometimes it takes an act of God to get out of bed, but it's almost always been worth it for me.

8. Change positions

Sit or stand in a new position. Tilt your head to one side. Just do something different. This relieves your standard points of tension, thus reducing tension headaches, and also helps your sinuses drain (because all the nasty thick mucus can find the itty, bitty hole it's supposed to drain out of). If nothing else, it gives you a new perspective, and we all know how helpful that can be.

9. Get a backrub

Actually, get someone to press wherever you want them to. There are points in the head (and back, hands, and feet) that help reduce head pain. It sounded crazy to me, too, until I found myself at a conference I could not leave with a headache that would not leave and tried it. My headache didn't stop, but it did get to the point where your standard painkillers actually helped. Apparently, most headache sufferers are pretty good at finding these points on their own — they're the places you want to be touched when your head hurts. Bizarre, but helpful.

I'm not a doctor. These are things that work for me, or that I've picked up over the years. If you take this advice, you do it at your own risk. Your doctor may tell you I'm crazy. I'm ok with that.

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Guest's picture
JenInSC

There is a pressure point in the webbed area beween the base of your thumb and index finger. My aunt, a registered nurse, showed me how to pinch and massage that area in a circular manner. It can get tight when you have a tension headache. I looked it up and it's called the Hoku point.

Guest's picture
Guest

IT WORKED!

StructuralPoke's picture

I can feel your pain -- literally. My barometer behind my eyes goes off when the weather is bad a state over! I tried Tylenol and it made me sick. Ibuprofen -- same thing. I had to end up going to the doctor for some real drugs. Talk about a budget breaker -- they ended up to be ~$7 a pill. Good thing is that they work.

The worst part is that they usually hit while I'm at work. And busy. And have a meeting coming up. And phone calls coming in. Urgh! I've had my door shut curled up on the floor with a fan blowing in my face more than once.

The one thing I really learned was, whether it's medicine or something else, if you wait 30 minutes to do something about the headache, it takes 30 minutes for the cure to work.

Guest's picture
Debbie

I think I get a different kind of headache than your main ones, though I've never quite figured out what kind. They don't seem like tension or sinus headaches. They seem like like cute little baby migraines. (One temple or the other is pounding with pain, bright light makes me squint, I don't want anything tight around my neck, etc., but I can still function, see, etc.)

I get them frequently and they are more likely when I'm stressed or dehydrated.

What works best for me is taking a pain reliever as soon as I notice the headache starting up. If I wait until it's bad, it takes bigger and/or more doses to get rid of the headache. My mom, a nurse, told me that taking pain relievers earlier rather than later is generally a good idea, for example after surgery, because they are more likely to work and work with a smaller dosage.

Pain reliever + sleeping works best for me (unless it's very hot, in which case sleeping doesn't help--must remember to turn on AC or fan before napping!).

Just getting rid of the stress when I'm stressed or drinking a lot of water when I'm dehydrated usually rarely works by itself.

Pushing on the part of the temple that hurts or lying on that side so there's pressure there from the pillow helps me, but only so long as the pressure is there. For a friend's tension headaches, rubbing on the back of his neck helps.

Also, going upside down is no good at all, especially if you do it quickly. No quick getting blood into the head!

I will try your closing eyes trick next time, though. Thanks for sharing!

Guest's picture
Craig

All good tips so far. In addition:

- Try to maintain regular meal times as a preventative measure, and don't skip meals. Headaches can be triggered by blood-pressure swings (small snacks between meals can help too).

- Try to drink plenty of fluids during the day. Dehydration can easily bring on a headache.

- An ice pack on your forehead can be helpful...use layers of dry paper towels to keep the temperature bearable. (Crushed ice cubes in a baggie work just as well.)

- Tension Headache Excedrin (a mix of acetaminophen and caffeine) works wonders where other OTC pills don't. Just don't abuse them or they can cause rebound headaches. As Debbie points out, whatever you take it's better to take it earlier rather than later.

- Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends, as another preventative measure. If you need to catch up on sleep, try to get to bed earlier rather than wake up later.

Guest's picture
Rob

By sidunses get stubbed ub too! And the headaches can be killer. Usually, I find that when the pain starts, I've tensed up in response, especially in the back of my throat. Sometimes my tongue is pressed hard against the roof of my mouth. Relaxing this relieves the pain. You have to keep reminding yourself to do this. Also, take a moment to check the way you are breathing. Try to breathe deeply, from the bottom of your diaphragm, and relax the back of your neck and your jaw as much as possible. Finally, a non-medicated saline nasal spray might help reduce the swollen sinuses. These aren't miracle cures, but they help.

I'm going to try the pressure point thing! Rob

Andrea Karim's picture

I get migraines. Small ones, but annoying ones. Soft frozen gel packs on the back of my head really help. So does darkness - lots of darkness.

Jessica Okon's picture

They're old school, and I don't know if they're available outside of the South. They're in every gas station in NC.

In addition, they taste pretty vile.
These headache powders kick butt. They come in tablet form, but they don't work as fast. They're basically asprin,acetominophen and caffeine-which is pretty common in other headache remedies, but I guess because they're powdered they dissolve more quickly. Who knows, I just know if I take them right when I'm feeling miserable, they work.

There is a bit of an art to taking them--you have to fold the paper just so, and if you're lucky you won't gag.

http://www.goodyspowder.com/
http://www.bcpowder.com/
http://www.medshopexpress.com/042651.html

Another thing that works pretty well if you time it right is to take Tylenol with a cup of coffee.

I also recommend a hammer to the head or crying in the dark.
Headaches stink!

Guest's picture
K

I had headaches more days than not. But esp pre-menstrual ones. I have heavy periods so I started taking an iron supplement (not just what comes in my daily multi-vitamin. Not only are my pms headaches gone but the ones the rest of the month are pretty much gone now too.

The headache formula of Exedrin did help sometimes when reg aspirin wouldnt. You can now find a generic version of it that is half the price of the Exedrin.

Meditation-type exercises/visualization/guided imagery helps at times.

I read once that gently brushing your hair or having someone do it for you can help a headache.

Guest's picture

I'm glad I've found these tips as I recently had the worst sinus pain in my life. I usually get sinus after a cold/flu. My doctor said it was an infection and I should have been on a course of anti-biotics which would have avoided the sinus infection, but no I decided to soldier on. I get some relief by leaning forward and down over a steam bath with a few drops of tea-tree oil in the water.

Guest's picture

Believe it or not, along with the ice or gel pack on your forehead, stick your feet in the hottest bucket of water you can take! This will dilate your blood vessels and increase bloodflow away from your head and towards your feet, reducing the pressure on your noggin'. This was one the of the tips I've gotten from my grandma...I've written an article on other such tips too at my site.

Guest's picture
Lorna Huntley

Take a mans tube or atheletic sock and place three cups of uncooked rice in it . tie shut and either place infreezer [for cold pack] or place in microwave for 2 or 3 min {depends on microwave] for a warm moist heatpack. Stays warm longer than washcloth and can be reheated as often as necessary. If too warm for face pad area witha paper towel.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Thanks for the tips, guys!  I'm definitely going to try the ice thing (at least in the summer!) and the relaxing my tongue and throat thing (because that just sounds cool).  If that doesn't work, well, pills with caffiene are always an option!  

Lorna, how does rice produce moist heat?  Do you have to soak it?  That sounds...mushy.  Did I miss something? 

Guest's picture
Julia

a decongestant. Like you, my weather witch gene kicks in during wild changes in the barometric pressure (either up or down), so I find taking a decongestant along with my analgesic helps too. As does the caffeine (a coffee's better than a cola, but beggers can't be choosers sometimes), and a couple of big glasses of water. If all else fails, I usually take a nap as well. But I like some of the other remedies you all have suggested as well. I may just try a few of those too.

Guest's picture
Lorna

I don't know how it produces the moist heat but it does. I made little pillows out of fingertip towels and my husband and son swear by these for there sinuses . My daughter uses it as a hot pack during that time of the month

Jessica Okon's picture

COLD PACK-I do the same thing as Lorna, except what I've done is take an unopened bag of rice & put it in another ziplock bag and then in the freezer. I can't sew & the plastic bag ensures the rice won't spill out. I've also used a bag of dried beans & that worked as well.

It holds the cold amazingly well.

Guest's picture
Shannon

All of those are great tips! I am with most of you in getting regular headaches of all kinds as well as having sinus issues. Here are some more tricks that help me as well.

1. Meditation-Trust me, its your friend. I have gotten so good at relaxing and tuning out to calm my mind and de-stress, I can actually carry on and no one knows what I am up to. Of course I try to keep what I am doing under the deep mind use radar as it knocks me out of the calmed mind state.

2. For sinus issues and headaches, I have found a Neti pot works wonders as well for daily cleansing. Do not use this if you are plugged up or have a sinus infection as it can make life worse.

Hope this helped!!!

Guest's picture
Guest

I get terrible headaches from so many things: sinuses, eyestrain, lack of sleep, too much sugar, no caffiene. I have found that rubbing a little bit of peppermint oil on my temples, cheekbones, and the back of my neck really help. It can be purchased at a health food store or online. I paid $20 for a 1 oz bottle and I absolutely love it. A little goes a long way and DO NOT rub your eyes or other sensitive areas!

Guest's picture
James

Thanks for all the great suggestions everyone.
I read an article years ago that suggested drinking two glasses of Gatorade for bad headaches. I've found that doing this (and closing my eyes for a few minutes after) usually helps. I suppose this works on headaches that are caused by dehydration or perhaps by a lack of some basic minerals (magnesium, etc.)
I've also found that using a saline sinus rinse (like with a Neti pot) on a regular basis really helps with my sinus headaches. It's amazing that something this simple helps with sinus pressure, but it does. Good luck, everyone!

Guest's picture
Guest

Ok, so on the bottom of your foot there is this big muscle/bone/thing under your big toe. If you press really hard all around it, it heals your headache. And if you have someone do it for you, it is really relaxing. Laying down in a dark, quiet room seems to help too. Another thing to do is just massage your forehead, right in between your eyebrows. Hope this helps!

Guest's picture
Ginger

1. Headaches Meds
2. Add sinus meds + sinus spray
3. Hot steamy shower
4. Ice/rice packs
5. Find trigger points and massage
6. Eat dark chocolate
7. Drink tea or coffee and get the caffine
8. Do shoulder shrugs/head bobs to relax neck & shoulders
9. Lie down in dark, quiet room
10. Regular visits to the chiropractor. I live there.

I've suffered with headaches/cluster headaches for 30+ years. When the weather is changing, I medicate before it arrives where I am. It may not stop the pain, but it will reduce it enough that I can still function.

Guest's picture
ron porter from gaffney sc

if u have a major headache or a migraine try putting peppermint oil on ur forehead ....cheekbones ....and the back of ur neck then get a hot washcloth and put it on ur chest that will help u breath better while the peppermint oil is on u ( ive been told that peppermint oil is very stout , strong smell ). lastly lay down in a bath as hot as u can stand it with the hot wash cloth on ur chest with peppermint oil on ur forehead cheekbones and the back of ur neck....try that

Guest's picture
Lee

SinusBuster pepper nasal spray helps me a lot.

Guest's picture
Samurai

Love these tips! Sometimes I feel I need an extra inch of room in my skull b/c of a headache. Thanks for sharing!

Going to sleep generally helps and breathing deeply.

Guest's picture
matt

thanks bro , ive been having headache all week like **** its annoying im gonna try the tea and the steam shower . thanks again dude = )

Guest's picture
hadley

wow thanks so much. i personally thought u were crazy but i was desoperate and tryed it. it works.

Guest's picture
kyle

it helps to yawn if you have a headache, it gets oxygen to your brain.

Guest's picture
barent

why should pressure points be bizarre,they work very well. also calcium-magnesium, as supplements for headaches. there are so many other non-toxic ways to get ride of headaches. to me, the real bizarre, is people taking over the counter drugs that are toxic to the body,especially the liver,at the first sign of discomfort.