Sometimes you know exactly what's causing that pounding in your skull. Other times, you're blindsided. Headachesï¿½whether debilitating migraines or less-painful-but-still-annoying tension headachesï¿½are often set off or made worse by a key trigger.
Stress accounts for 80 % of all migraines, according to a study in the journal Cephalalgia. That's because it causes fluctuations in cortisol and adrenalineï¿½the fight-or-flight hormonesï¿½which can lead to pain and nausea, says Sheena K. Aurora, MD, medical director of the Headache Center at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. Stress can also make you clench your jaw and neck muscles, causing neck pain that, in turn, can set off tension headaches. Meditation, deep breathing and massage can help.
The dip in estrogen that occurs just before your period can lead to migraines. Similar hormonal fluctuations can also trigger headaches during pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause.Take an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like naproxen or ibuprofen two days before you expect your period, when the headache is likely to happen. If you're experiencing headaches during pregnancy, ask your doctor to recommend a pain-relief plan.
Migraine sufferers may be more likely to be hit when temperatures are high, according to a study in the journal Neurology. Shifts in barometric pressure (the density of the air in the atmosphere) may lead to sinus headaches, too.
You didn't sleep well
Insomnia is associated with low levels of the hormone serotonin. That causes blood vessels in the brain to dilate and activate the trigeminal nerveï¿½the main nerve involved in migraines, Dr. Grosberg saysï¿½leading to inflammation and the release of pain-causing chemicals. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day (even on weekends!), cut down on caffeine, and exercise regularly
You sniffed bad cologne
"The trigeminal nerve has projections in the lining of the nose," Dr. Grosberg explains. When you detect a noxious smell, the nerve can release substances involved in producing headaches. Avoid using perfume or scented cleaning products, soaps, or candlesï¿½and steer clear of stores that reek of them.
You're blinded by the light
Bright lightï¿½from fluorescent bulbs, computer glare, or even the sunï¿½can set off that pesky trigeminal nerve. If possible, switch from fluorescent lights to softer incandescent bulbs, Dr. Grosberg says. Place a nonglare screen over your computer, and try to cut back your usage. If you're working on a computer in a room with fluorescent bulbs and white walls, hang pictures up on the walls to absorb excess light.
You're eating the wrong thingsï¿½or not eating enough
The most likely offenders: Foods that contain the amino acid tyramine (like red wine and aged cheeses), nitrates (hot dogs, deli cold cuts, and other processed meats), or the amino acid phenylalanine (chocolate). All three substances cause blood vessels to constrict and then expand, causing migraines. Skipping meals triggers them, too, because the brain is hypersensitive to fluctuations in blood sugar, Dr. Aurora says.Eat and drink water regularly, and make sure those meals high in protein to help keep you satiated and maintain blood sugar levels. It's also crucial to figure out which, if any, foods bother you, and ban them from your diet.
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