Fight Off Head Pounders

PHOTO: A man plagued by porn-induced headaches has to take painkillers 30 minutes before watching the X-rated movies, according to a case study.PlayGetty Images
WATCH Headache Triggers

Climbing temperatures can cause the blood vessels in your head to expand and press against supersensitive nerve endings, resulting in lots of seasonal noggin pain. Statistically speaking, you're likely no stranger to headaches: As many as 78 percent of people experience the tension kind, and roughly 30 million Americans suffer from migraines. Women are three times more likely to get head pounders than men are, thanks in part to hormone fluctuations that mess with those cranial nerve endings.

More from Women's Health: What's Causing Your Headache?

Experts disagree about why headaches happen, and a cure remains elusive. But you can stop the pain before it starts by sidestepping sneaky triggers.


Passing on breakfast, lunch, or dinner causes your blood-sugar levels to plummet, setting off a total-body chain reaction, says Seymour Diamond, M.D., of the National Headache Foundation. Unbalanced hormones signal your brain's cortex to emit waves that needle those sensitive nerves.

Take Charge: Nosh Often

If you don't have time to cook three big meals a day, try eating six smaller, simpler ones every two to three hours, says Diamond. The key in any case: Eat before you feel hunger pangs, and don't reach for sugary snacks (muffins, carb-loaded shakes) that will put your blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride. Drink lots of water--dehydration can also lead to headaches--and keep snacks like almonds and low-fat granola bars in your purse so you always have food handy throughout the day.


Strong odors, even pleasant ones, can be the kick-off for misery in over 40 percent of migraine-prone people, per Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. Certain smells can inflame blood vessels in the nasal passages and activate nerves in the part of the brain that processes sensory information.

Take Charge: Think Pre-Spritz

If you suspect that odors are triggering your head boomers, try going fragrance-free for a few weeks. And don't just lay off the perfume: Hair spray, deodorant, soap, and scented laundry detergent can also cause temple trauma, as can strong-smelling blooms (and, obviously, stuff like cigarette smoke). Reintroduce one fragrance at a time to see if only certain scents set you off.


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For some, it's the culprit, not the fix. While a small amount of the stuff works with pain-relieving drugs to quell headaches, drinking too many cups of coffee will actually cause repetitive or rebound headaches.

Take Charge: Drink Less Joe

Depending on your sensitivity level, you may not need to quit altogether. Limit your intake to about 200 milligrams of caffeine daily (roughly the amount in two cups of java) to help ward off headaches without going overboard. Keep in mind you can also get jolts from the caffeine in chocolate and protein bars.

More from Women's Health: 10 Best Foods for Life's Troubles


Prolonged staring at a screen--whether it's on a tablet, laptop, or TV--can be bad news for your brain's blood vessels, says Diamond. Most gadgets emit glare that stimulates cranial nerves to release inflammatory neurotransmitters. In layman's terms? Brain pain. What's more, slouching at a computer can provoke headache-inducing muscle tension.

Take Charge: Cover It Up

Screen protectors cut glare; they're cheap, widely available, and made for all types of gizmos. After you've sheathed your screen, try policing your posture or rolling a massage ball along your upper back.


Many foods, especially those high in protein, contain a natural chemical called tyramine that initially poses no problem. But levels rise with time, and too much tyramine can balloon the brain's blood vessels. Beware: Many aged cheeses are also rich in tyramine.

Take Charge: Avoid the Old

If you think food is hurting your head--and women are more prone to such triggers than men are--nix aged cheeses (blue, Brie) and opt for fresher types (cottage, cream). Warmer temps foster tyramine growth, so never leave protein-packed leftovers lying around.


And headbands. And tight braids. Pulling your tresses too taut can strain the tissues in your scalp, initiating the kind of muscle and nerve tension that causes headaches.

Take Charge: Loosen Up

Research shows some women felt immediate relief after easing up on tight hairdos (others felt better within the hour). If you have to wear your hair pulled back--say, at the office or the gym--opt for a chic messy bun or a less stressful low ponytail.


More from Women's Health:

7 Pains You Should Never Ignore

Yoga Poses to Soothe Head Pain

Are You Hurting Your Heart?

23 Essential Health Tips From Dr. Oz