Headaches can simply be defined as pain that comes from the head and upper part of the neck. Headaches are one of the most common medical conditions that affect people worldwide. They can be painful to experience and can cause a person to be grounded in bed for days if not managed with urgency. The noble thing is that there are remedies that can treat a headache without going to the doctor.


Causes of headache

The most common causes of headaches are illness, stress, the environment, and genetics. The list below describes the causes of headache in brief:

  • Stress and depression.
  • Lifestyle patterns, for example, alcohol abuse, lack of sleep, and overdosing on medication.
  • Medical conditions like influenza (flu) and fever.
  • Throat infections, sinusitis, and ear infections.
  • Environmental factors, for example, unpleasant smells like tobacco smell and noise.
  • Headaches can also be hereditary, and studies have shown that (70%) of most children who have migraines inherit it from their parents.

Symptoms of headache

The most common symptoms associated with headache are:

  • Pain on a single side of the head.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo and a feeling of lightness in the head.

Types of headaches

There are many types of headaches but the most common ones are:

  • Tension,
  • Migraine,
  • Sinus,
  • Cluster and
  • Chronic daily headaches.

Tension headaches cause average pain, and they can occur recurrently in children and adults. Migraine headaches are those which are characterized by pounding pain. They usually last from 4 hours to three days. Migraine headaches can be associated with symptoms like loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Sinus headaches occur when regions called sinuses found in the head get inflamed. They are characterized by deep pain in the forehead and between the eyes. Cluster headaches are the most severe, and they are associated with intense piercing and burning pain.

Ways to treat headaches naturally

Below is a list of natural remedies which have been proven to be effective in treating headaches

1. Drinking enough water

Drinking water
Figure 1: Man drinking a lot of water

Dehydration has been shown to be one trigger of headaches. Tension headaches and migraines have actually been proven to be the most common types of headaches triggered by dehydration. It is therefore important to drink enough water to prevent or relieve headache. Studies have shown that drinking water can relieve headaches in 30 minutes to 3 hours. It is recommended to drink at least 8 glasses of water or 2 litres per day.

2. Getting enough sleep

Figure 2: A man enjoying his peaceful sleep

Lack of sleep can have several negative effects on our health, and this includes causing headaches in other people. Studies have shown that people who get less than 6 hours of sleep per day are more likely to get headaches more frequently compared to those who get 8-9 hours of sleep. On the other hand, headaches have also been shown to be triggered by oversleeping or getting over 10 hours of sleep per day. The optimum amount of sleep that is recommended is 7-9 hours.

3. Managing Stress

Stress management strategies
Figure 3: Stress management strategies

Stress has been shown to be a trigger of headaches, most commonly tension headaches and migraines. It is therefore important to learn to manage stress to prevent unnecessary headaches. There are many ways which can relieve stress, for example: talking to people you trust about your problems, exercising, eating healthy, relaxation techniques like taking deep breaths and thinking positively.

4. Massaging the head with ice pack/ hot pack

Head massage
Figure 4: Massaging the head with ice pack/ hot pack

Massaging the head and upper part of the neck with a cold pack may help relieve the pain that is associated with headaches. A cold pack can be made by filling a waterproof plastic with ice, then wrapping it in a towel. The cold ice massage works by reducing inflammation, constricting blood vessels and slowing nerve transmission, all of which relieve the pain.

 5. Avoiding processed foods which contain Nitrites and Nitrates

Processed foods which contain Nitrites and Nitrates
Figure 5: Processed foods which contain Nitrites and Nitrates

Nitrites and nitrates are chemical preservatives that are found in processed foods, for example, sausages, bacon, and tinned beef. Nitrites and nitrates have been proven to trigger headaches in some people. This is because they cause blood vessels to expand and trigger headaches. Eating regularly and having at least 3 meals per day also helps with relieving headaches. It is therefore not recommended to skip meals because this can increase vulnerability to headaches.

6. Limit screen time

Cause of headache
Figure 6: Screen looking habits that lead to headache

Looking at a screen (computer, phone, tablet, etc) for a prolonged period for example over 4 hours can trigger headaches because of the eyestrain that occurs. It is therefore advised to take a break from screens regularly to prevent eyestrain, which triggers headaches. You can take 30 seconds breaks to view something far away from where you are, for every 30 minutes you take on the screens.

7. Exercising

Figure 7: Exercising to prevent or relieve headache

Exercise releases hormones called endorphins in the body, which are natural painkillers. Exercise is therefore effective in relieving the pain from headaches. Most people normally find it difficult to have the will to exercise during a headache. Therefore, low-intensity exercises, for example, riding a bike, jogging, and walking, are recommended.

8. Limiting alcohol intake

Alcohol intake
Figure 8: Alcohol intake

Alcohol has been shown to be a trigger of migraines in about a third of people who suffer from frequent headaches. In addition, it has been proven to trigger cluster and tension headaches in some people. Drinking excessively can trigger headaches because alcohol is a diuretic that causes fluids and electrolytes to be lost from the body through urination. The fluid loss can cause dehydration, which causes or worsens headaches.

9. Using natural essential oils

Natural oils
Figure 9: Natural oils

Essential oils contain aromatic compounds mainly from herbs, for example, mint and lavender. Examples of the most common essential oils that can be found in Zimbabwe are Vicks oil rub and Tsunami herbal oil. Vicks and Tsunami contain herbal oils, for example, mint oil which helps in relieving tension headaches, and lavender oil which eases headache pain when inhaled.

10. Stop smoking

How to stop smoking
Figure 10: How to stop smoking

Cigarettes contain a substance called nicotine which can trigger headaches mainly cluster type and migraines. This is because nicotine causes the blood vessels to constrict and this reduces blood flow to the brain, which may ultimately cause headache pain. Avoiding smoking and passive smoking is therefore recommended to relieve headaches.