Top 10 Ways to Avoid or Reduce Headache and Migraine Pain

Headaches and migraines can be debilitating, but there are numerous ways you can reduce their pain or even eliminate them.

These include simple management and prevention strategies and learning more about your condition and how it affects you.

This article includes ways to lessen pain when it strikes, lifestyle changes that can help you prevent headaches and migraines, and some helpful things to do in between attacks.

Create the Right Environment

A young woman lies in bed in a dimly lit room.

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Light and noise can aggravate headaches and migraines. When your pain strikes, try to create a calm, dark, quiet space. If possible, sleep or at least rest and relax as much as you can.

You may find that soothing sounds can relax you while also blocking out aggravating noises like traffic or the buzz of electronics. Try a fan, soft nature sounds, or calming music. Lots of apps and online videos offer sounds designed to counter migraines.

Some essential oils, used for aromatherapy, may help ease head pain or be soothing. However, fragrance sensitivities cause headaches in some people so make sure you're not sensitive to them before you try them on a headache.

Essential oils with some scientific evidence that they help headaches or migraines include:

  • Peppermint
  • Lavender
  • Basil
  • Angelicae Dahuricae Radix
  • Chuanxiong Rhizoma
  • Chamomile
  • Anise
  • Garlic
  • Rose

Use Heat or Cold

A woman sits in bed with a cold compress on her forehead.


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Hot or cold packs or a hot bath or shower may help by relaxing or numbing your muscles.

Cold applied to the forehead and temples is common choice for migraines. Heat, all over or on the neck/back of head, is more popular among people with headaches from tension or muscle contraction.

Wearable heating and cooling packs and other devices are available. Topical products like Icy Hot may also help.

Use Caution

Be sure not to expose your skin to extreme heat or cold. Limit the length of time you use heating and cooling products. Put a towel or piece of fabric between your skin and a cold pack. Only use ice for 15 minutes, then take at least 15 minutes off before applying again.

Caffeinate?

A man hands another man a cup of coffee.


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Research shows that caffeine can sometimes help with a headache or migraine. But it can also trigger them.

A 2017 study showed 130 milligrams (mg) of caffeine makes painkillers work better against tension-type headaches. You can get that amount in two ounces of espresso, a 12-ounce cup of coffee, or some energy drinks.

Tea and soda typically contain lower levels. So you'd need several servings to reach 130 mg.

Some headache medications include caffeine, as well.

However, if you consume caffeine regularly, the effects may diminish over time. Also, caffeine withdrawal often causes a headache.

Caffeine may be a trigger for chronic daily headache (CDH) in some people, though. People who have occasional migraines are more likely to develop CDH when they take in caffeine on a daily basis.

It may be worth experimenting to see if caffeine aggravates or relieves your headaches.

Recap

When a headache or migraine strikes, create a soothing environment by considering light levels, aggravating versus soothing sounds, and possibly aromatherapy. Heat or cold may help in the form of compresses, a bath or shower, or topical pain relievers. Caffeine is a common headache remedy that may actually be a trigger for some people.

Make Time to Relax

woman doing yoga

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Relaxation can help during a headache or migraine and getting regular relaxation may help stave off attacks, as well. They take practice, so don't wait until the pain comes on to start.

Set aside a period of time every day that's dedicated to relaxation. You can use this time to:

  • Meditate
  • Listen to a relaxation or meditation app
  • Do yoga or tai chi
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Sit quietly doing nothing

Use this time to focus on you, how you’re feeling, and what you need. This self-care will pay off, leaving you more relaxed and aware of yourself.

Get Plenty of Sleep

woman sleeping

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Too much, too little, or disrupted sleep is a very common trigger of headache and migraine. Experts recommend that you set times to go to bed and get up, and then stick to those times, even on weekends and during vacation.

If you don't feel rested after a night's sleep or you experience excessive daytime sleepiness, talk to your healthcare provider about a sleep study to rule out sleep disorders.

Eat Well and Often

salad with fruits and vegetables

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When you skip meals, your blood sugar can plummet, potentially triggering or contributing to a headache or migraine. So you should make sure to eat regularly, even if you're just grabbing a snack (and even if your hectic schedule makes this difficult).

Replacing processed foods with fresh alternatives that reduce inflammation can go a long way in preventing head pain. A short-term elimination diet can also help you identify any dietary triggers, such as fast food, which may contribute to headaches in some people.

Wear Sunglasses

man and child wear sunglasses outside

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Consider sunglasses as an investment, not just a throwaway summer fashion accessory. Proper shades can help prevent headaches and migraines.

Optical-grade lenses don’t have the distortion that some inexpensive lenses have, and polarization is essential for cutting glare. Wear them whenever the light is bothersome, even if it's indoors.

Add a baseball cap when light comes in above the sunglasses so the cap's bill can block that light. Your eyes (and your head) will thank you.

Don't Get Dehydrated

woman hydrates with water

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To avoid headaches and migraine, you should make sure to stay hydrated. For some people, even mild dehydration can trigger head pain, so drinking lots of fluids is essential.

Water is best. Some fruit juices and caffeinated drinks can trigger headaches and migraines.

Proper hydration is essential to good health in general, so you’ll be working on more than just head pain prevention by doing this.

Manage Your Stress

woman relaxes in nature with dog

Halfpoint / Getty Images

So what if there's an undone load of laundry, a few dishes in the sink, or a couple of minor household repairs awaiting your attention? Stop worrying—the house almost certainly won't fall down around you. 

Stress can trigger tension headaches and contribute to migraines, so try your best not to stress over the small stuff. Learn to prioritize and do what you're able to do each day without stressing.

Watch Your Overall Health

woman stretching before jog

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When you have a particular health problem such as headaches or migraines, it’s easy to concentrate on that problem and ignore your overall health. Don’t fall into this trap.

Good overall health is essential when you're struggling with any more specific health problem. If you stay generally healthy, you may even help yourself contain your head pain.

An important component of both good health and pain management is regular exercise. So is maintaining a healthy weight, as obesity increases the risk of chronic headaches.

Recap

Lifestyle changes that may help prevent headaches and migraines include practicing regular relaxation, getting lots of sleep, eating a healthy diet, wearing sunglasses to keep bright lights from triggering head pain, staying hydrated, managing stress, getting exercise, and being healthy overall.

BONUS: Learn and Build

woman using laptop in bed

Stokpic / Pexels

Between attacks is a good time to educate yourself and build a support system to help you through the next one.

  • Educate yourself on head pain causes, symptoms, and treatments. It'll allow you to better care for yourself and understand what your healthcare provider says about your condition and treatment.
  • Keep a daily headache and migraine diary including what you eat, activities, and other factors that may lead to head pain. It can take up to 48 hours for a trigger to cause a headache or migraine, so a careful diary may help reveal patterns.
  • Find a support group in your community or online so you have understanding people to vent to and learn from. You'll feel less alone and could pick up valuable information.

Summary

Things that can help fight headache and migraine pain right away include dim lighting, silence or soothing sounds, aromatherapy, heat or ice, and caffeine (for some people).

Beneficial lifestyle changes include getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, wearing sunglasses, staying hydrated, managing your stress, staying active, and maintaining good overall health.

It also helps to learn about your condition, identify your triggers, and find a support system.

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14 Sources
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