[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]A headache is not typically related to a serious health condition.  Unfortunately, for those who experience them, they can be absolutely debilitating and completely destroy your day.  This leads people to wonder what they can do to stop a headache once it has begun. This article will explore common reasons which cause a headache, how to stop a headache once it has started, and attempts to even prevent them in the first place.

What Causes a Headache?

how to stop a headacheA headache is a very common medical condition which can affect anyone regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, gender, etc.  It is estimated that more than half of adults in the world will experience at least one significant headache in a year which will in some fashion impact their daily activities.  There are a multitude of reasons which may lead to a headache and can vary from one person to another. An event or illness that triggers a headache for one person may not trigger a headache for another person.  This is due to genetics and other external environmental factors.

The term “headache” can mean different things to different people.  Some think of it as occurring in between their eyes and others on the side of their head.  In fact, there are a variety of ways which headaches can be defined. When a headache is not caused by another condition it is known as “primary”; however, if the headache is the result of another condition it is known as “secondary”.

Related: What Causes Headaches Behind The Eyes?

What is a Primary Headache?

A primary headache is one which is caused directly by overactivity, problems, or other issues within the head which are pain-sensitive.  This also includes the blood vessels, muscles, and the nerves of the head and neck. Primary headaches may also be the result of a significant change within the chemicals in the brain.

What is a Secondary Headache?

A secondary headache is one which is caused by the stimulation from another underlying condition.  The other condition is the reason that the nerves are being stimulated by pain. Essentially, the headache is the result of another condition other than the headache itself.

There are a number of reasons which may attribute to a secondary headache.  These conditions may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • how to stop a headacheA hangover which was caused by an excessive amount of alcohol.  This is often due to severe dehydration in the body and is typically temporarily and will clear up with both time and hydration.  A person is most likely to experience this type of headache the next day after indulging in large amounts of alcohol.
  • A brain tumor.  This is often accompanied by significant, painful and frequent headaches.  A person who is experiencing these should seek medical advice soon to discuss symptoms and explore the possibility of having their head examined.
  • Blood clots may also be a contributing factor as certain parts of the brain are not receiving an adequate amount of blood. Thus, resulting in tension and pain in the head.  As with brain tumors, these are extremely serious, and the person may also be experiencing other painful symptoms and should seek medical advice as soon as possible to prevent a stroke or other potentially life-threating event.
  • Bleeding of the brain is another serious condition potentially caused by significant trauma or other medical reasons.  Again, this is not able to be diagnosed by the person alone as it needs to be diagnosed and treated by a medical professional.
  • People, especially children, are also subject to suffer from mild and temporary headaches from “brain freeze”.  This is a non-life-threatening condition which is caused by someone eating cold or frozen foods too fast. Most people have at some point in their life experienced this.  Probably as a young child when you took a big bite out of an ice cream cone. Adults are more likely to experience this by drinking an ice-cold beverage too fast.
  • A concussion is a medical condition which causes extremely painful headaches.  Concussions are caused by blunt force trauma to the head. Athletes, especially those in contact sports such as football, have an increased likelihood of experiencing a concussion due to the excessive contact and force used by their opposition.  A concussion is only diagnosable by a medical professional which the person suffering from it needs rest and medication. Concussions are taken very serious which athletes often must be tested and tested again once diagnosed to determine their condition has improved before they are allowed to again participate.
  • Dehydration may also be the root cause of your headache.  There are a how to stop a headachenumber of reasons which may cause a person to become dehydrated such as a lack of liquid consumption, excessive sweating due to heat or physical exertion, or, as mentioned earlier, a hangover.  As long as the dehydration is not at a dangerous level then the person can usually cure the headache and condition by consuming water or sport drinks. However, in severe cases of dehydration it may require the person to actually have an IV with appropriate medication inserted directly into their body by a medical professional.
  • A person may also be suffering from vision problems that are causing a headache.  When a person is experiencing a form of vision problems. For instance, if their eyes are straining in one way or another; thus, leading to a headache because of the additional strain placed upon the eyes.  Often, a person’s first indication that they may need glasses or contact lenses due to poor eyesight is the frequent occurrence of a headache with no other explanation.
  • As this is “flu season”, two of the first signs of a person having the flu are body aches and a headache.  If a person is experiencing both of these symptoms during the colder months of the year it is strongly recommended to get tested for the flu.  If the condition is caught early enough then appropriate medications may be taken to prevent further pain and to cure the flu before it takes full effect.
  • A sudden onset of a panic attack causes blood levels and stress hormones to be completely off balance which one of the side effects is a headache.  If you are experiencing a very stressful event, such as work or a personal event, it may ultimately lead to a headache and/or other medical conditions.  A person who experiences a panic attack should seek medical advice as there may be underlying issues such as blood pressure or blood sugar problems.

Different Types of Headaches

how to stop a headacheAs there are different potential causes of a headache there are also various types of headaches.  The different types of headaches a person may experience are listed below.

  • A tension headache is the most common type of headache a person may experience.  More than often a person will have a headache which starts out mild and manageable but will become more aggressive throughout the day rendering a person not able to complete regular day-to-day activities in a normal fashion.  A person will likely feel that they have something very tight around their entire head. There may also be a continuous and dull ache around the head. Finally, the pain may spread to or from the neck. A tension headache may be acute or chronic.  Typically, an acute tension headache will only last a few hours but for some people may last a day or two. Finally, and in severe cases, a chronic tension headache will last numerous days.
  • A migraine is also a common form of a headache.  Sadly, a lot of people claim to be having a migraine when in actuality they are not.  Just because another form of a headache is severe does not mean that it is a migraine.  This is a common misconception in that any headache which is severe is automatically classified as a migraine.  For most people, a migraine is a headache which is either pulsating or throbbing on only one side of the head. A person is also likely to experience blurred vision, light-headed, or nausea.  In fact, migraines are one of the top ten reasons which people call in sick to work.
  • A rebound headache is the direct result from overuse of a medication.  The irony is that the overuse of the medication was initially used to treat another headache.  When a person continuously uses medication to treat the headache symptoms, they will initially feel better but as the medication wears off the symptoms of the headache will return and may actually be worse.  A rebound headache may also lead to significant neck pain, restlessness, nasal congestion, and poor sleep.
  • A cluster headache occurs sporadically and may last between a few minutes to a few hours.  They occur suddenly and go all throughout the day for a period of weeks to months. For the sufferer, in between bouts of the sickness there are absolutely no symptoms at all.  Often, the pain is one-sided, severe, sharp, and likely located around the eye area. One tell-tale sign of a cluster headache is that because the impacted area is around the eye there may actually be visible signs such as it being red and swollen, eyelid droopiness, and the nasal passage may be stuffy and runny.
  • Finally, and the most dangerous and even life-threatening, is a headache most will refer to as “thunderclap”.  They are sudden and severe. People who have experienced them will say that it is one of the worst forms of pain they have ever went through.  The thunderclap headache is very intense which will reach its maximum intensity in less than a minute. The dangerous part of this headache is that’s it’s a symptom of a serious illness not-related to the headache itself.  There are odds that a person suffering from this form of a headache is that they also have intracerebral hemorrhage, cerebral venous thrombosis, ruptured or unruptured aneurysms, reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome, meningitis, and pituitary apoplexy.  A person who has one of these is strongly encouraged to seek immediate medical attention as the situation may turn deadly in a matter of minutes.

Top Related Article: Types of Headaches

How Can You Stop a Headache?

how to stop a headacheUp to this point, it was important to inform you, the reader, of the numerous types of headaches stemming from numerous causes. That is because there are various forms of remedies to stop a headache.  A method one person uses to cure a headache may not be effective for another. While the list below provides a lot of methods to stop a headache what works for you will depend on the cause and type of headache, genetics, and other external and environmental factors.

  • As previously discussed, one of the most common reasons a person gets a headache is that their body is purely dehydrated.  Therefore, the best way to combat dehydration is through water. A person who is suffering a headache which may be attributed to dehydration should drink a lot of water.  The good thing about using water to combat a headache is that if it is indeed dehydration which is causing the headache, the water will ease the conditions within a half hour to a few hours.  Also, a person who frequently experiences headaches relating to dehydration is strongly encouraged to drink a lot of water on a continuous basis to prevent future headaches.
  • Magnesium is also an important necessity to combat headaches.  Magnesium is responsible for a lot of functions in the body such as controlling blood sugar and nerve transmission.  It has also been found to be effective at controlling and alleviating headaches. Numerous studies have found that the right amount of magnesium per day can assist in reducing both the frequency and intensity of headaches.  However, there are drawbacks to a regular magnesium regime leading to digestive side effects like diarrhea. A person looking to magnesium to control headaches should start with a smaller dosage at first to determine if it will upset the stomach or not.
  • Limiting alcohol is possibly the easiest remedy to prevent a headache associated with a hangover.  It is unknown why some people can drink numerous alcoholic beverages and never experience a headache while others can have two or three drinks and experience a headache as soon as an hour or two after stopping.  This is likely attributed to genetics and other external factors. Additionally, some studies indicate that alcohol not only contributes to regular headaches but may also be attributed to migraines, which have been covered previously in this article and are much more severe.  Alcohol consumption is also linked to tension and cluster headaches. A common misconception about curing a hangover and headache associated with alcohol consumption is that an easy way to alleviate the headache and other symptoms is to simply start drinking again. Technically, people are right in saying that it will make a person feel better; however, it will only mask the symptoms by getting that person drunk again.  Once the effects of the alcohol have started to go away again the hangover and headache will return.
  • Everyone keeps hearing about the importance and benefits of getting a good night sleep.  The amount of sleep one needs varies from person to person as everyone’s body is different. Generally, it is recommended that a person get between six and eight hours of sleep every night.  A lack of sleep contributes to a host of different health issues, which also include headaches. Studies have found that people who get less than six hours of sleep per night over a period of time are more likely to experience regular headaches than those who did get an adequate amount of sleep.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, however, getting too much sleep, such as nine or more hours, is also linked to an increased likelihood of a person getting headaches. Again, it is recommended that a person should get between six and eight hours per night. If you have other medical conditions which may require less or additional amounts of sleep per night, please seek advice from your medical professional.
  • A person who is experiencing regular headaches should attempt to limit foods which contain high amounts of histamine.  Histamine is a chemical which is naturally found in the body which impacts immune, digestive, and the nervous systems. Histamine is found in foods like cheese, beer, wine, smoked fish, and cured meats.  Look online for a comprehensive list of foods which contain high amounts of histamine. Additionally, foods with high amounts of histamine may also contribute to migraines for some people. If you experience regular headaches or migraines, then it may be worth examining your diet and attempting to decrease or completely remove foods with high amounts of histamine to see if it decreases the frequency and/or intensity of your headaches.  In today’s modern world it is amazing to find out how much a person’s diet actually impacts so many areas of their health, not just their weight and waistline.
  • Some people have indicated that they have found success in reducing their headaches by using various essential oils.  Essential oils are concentrated liquids which contain aromatic compounds from a number of different plants. There are many different types of essential oils and each is designed to target specific health ailments or provide health benefits.  Some are used to boost immune while others are targeted to reduce stress and anxiety. If you’re reading this article, you’re in luck as there are essential oils available which are specifically targeted to alleviate headaches. While you should check the packaging of each essential oil to determine what condition(s) they target. The most common essential oils geared towards alleviating headaches include peppermint and lavender.  The most common way which people utilize essential oils is to mix small drops of oil with water into an oil diffuser. A lot of people use it only at night whereas others use them in their office or other work settings; particularly those who suffer from anxiety or chronic headaches will use them both at work and home. There are other ways to use essential oils than simply putting them in an oil diffuser. Some people have found success in rapidly reducing tension headaches by applying small amounts of peppermint essential oil directly to their temples.  Likewise, people suffering from migrants have found it useful to apply lavender oil to their upper lip or even inhaling it (without using an oil diffuser). The best advice which this article can provide, in relation to using essential oils as a method to alleviate headaches, is to research various essential oils online. Find which are marketed towards alleviating headaches, and then read reviews from previous customers to see if they have found success using such oil(s) to alleviate their headaches. Remember, as this is a common theme throughout this article, what works for one person may not always work for another.

Top Related Article: Best Essential Oil Brands

  • A cold compress applied directly to the head may provide some temporary pain relief for headaches.  A plain washcloth found in most household bathrooms may be used but there are actually compresses designed specifically for this purpose which may be found in drug stores and online to purchase at very reasonable prices.  The idea is to apply either a cold or frozen compress to the neck or head area which is hopeful to decrease inflammation, slow the nerve conduction, and constrict blood vessels. Each of these methods has been proven to reduce pain associated with a headache.  It is even effective at reducing migraine-related pain.

Related Article: Natural Remedies For Headaches

If you do not have a compress nor want to actually buy one, then you can make your own.  Simply fill a waterproof bag with ice and wrap it in a soft towel. A lot of people will use Ziploc or sandwich bags to put the ice in.  The towel is used to prevent moisture from actually getting on the skin. Make sure to use a thin towel to allow the coldness to actually do its work.  A towel which is too thick will prevent the coldness from actually reaching through.

  • Earlier in this section it was mentioned that foods high in histamine may also be a reason why some people experience headaches.  However, there are foods which may cause headaches which are completely unrelated to histamines. Many people have food intolerances which can trigger headaches of all kinds.  If you are a person who experiences regular headaches, then there may be something in your diet causing them. Because everyone’s body chemistry is different there is not a single food answer which may be recommended to eliminate to see if it is the cause of your headaches.  Rather, you are going to have to undergo what’s known as an “elimination diet”. Essentially, an elimination diet consists of removing a certain food from your diet for a while to see if you experience a decrease in headaches. Most people who have went on an elimination diet stated that it usually took approximately four weeks for their body to adjust once they figured out which food(s) caused their headaches.  Aged cheese, alcohol, chocolate, citrus fruits, and coffee are common foods people report which cause headaches. Eliminating one or more from your diet may help alleviate headaches. For instance, if you are experiencing frequent headaches then you may want to cut out all coffee for about a month to see if that helps. If it does not, then you can rule out coffee as the variable. Next, you may want to eliminate aged cheese to see if that helps, and so on.
  • Caffeine, which is found in a lot of drinks, may be used as a quick way to alleviate a headache.  Other than providing pain relief from a headache caffeine has been found to improve your mood and alertness, both which are positive outcomes especially if you are at work and need to focus.  Additionally, caffeine can increase the effectiveness of certain medications people take to alleviate headaches such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. If you are looking for a quick fix to a headache then you may want to take some medication to help and then drink some coffee or another drink high in caffeine to see if it helps.  However, be cautious as people can become addicted to caffeine and experience withdrawal symptoms, and one of the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal is a headache. Depending on your reasoning for wanting to cut back or eliminate caffeine from your diet, you should be forewarned that a headache may be the result from the withdrawal until a time which your body is no longer seeking that chemical.
  • Acupuncture is also another method people use when they are experiencing headaches to provide relief.  Acupuncture is a method of someone, meaning a person licensed to do so, inserting thin needles into the skin in certain areas of the body.  If you are experiencing frequent headaches, then taking your lunchbreak or going after work to a person who is licensed to perform acupuncture may be the method for you.  Please do not attempt to insert needles into your own skin or have someone else who is not licensed to do so. Otherwise, it could lead to a host of medical problems.
  • Stress is also a common variable for people who experience headaches due to the chemical imbalance it causes within the body.  A lot of people who experience stress and/or headaches have turned to yoga and have found success. Yoga is a terrific solution for people who are looking for an all-natural alternative to treating their headaches if they do not wish to use traditional medication like most people.
  • One variable which causes headaches which is often overlooked or unknown to most are certain smells or strong odors.  Being subject to these odors can cause headaches in some people. Even something as simple as cologne or perfume which you wear can cause headaches to occur.  You may want to try either switching your choice or cologne or perfume, using less, or stop wearing fragrances for some time to see if that alleviates your headaches.
  • It may be hard to even think about exercising with a headache, but studies have found that exercise has been proven to alleviate headaches as well as prevent future ones from occurring.  Even if you are not able to exercise while you are experiencing a headache you should attempt to get some exercise when you are not experiencing one. Go on a bike ride on the weekends or walk for 15 minutes while on your lunch.  Any form of physical exercise is good for your health and may lead to fewer headaches.


This article has provided a variety of techniques someone should utilize in an attempt to both quickly cure their headaches as well as to prevent future ones from occurring.  Which one is right for you? That is up to you to find out. The best advice this article can offer is to test out a number of these recommendations to see which ones work for you.  However, and this was mentioned earlier, headaches may be an underlying symptom of a serious condition. You should seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms along with your headache:

  • A very high fever of more than 102 degrees
  • Feeling light-headed like you are going to faint
  • Confusion
  • Trouble talking or understanding others
  • Blurred vision or other vision-related problems
  • Not able to balance while you are walking
  • Nausea or vomiting

Make sure you document all of your symptoms to discuss with your doctor.  If you are experiencing a headache so severe which you may have one or more of the symptoms listed above, you should make arrangements with someone to drive you to the doctor’s office or hospital.  Driving with a severe headache significantly impairs your ability to focus on driving which not only puts you at risk but also endangers the lives of others.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Dr. Barry

Dr. Barry

March 8, 2019