For anyone who suffers from regular headaches, they can be both a literal and figurative pain. Even a nagging dull ache may impact productivity and well-being, while more serious throbbing common with migraines may lead to time spent in bed with the curtains drawn. Fortunately, there are many underlying causes of frequent headaches that can be relatively easily remedied.
How are persistent headaches defined?
According to the Mayo Clinic, to be classified as chronic, headaches must occur 15 days or more a month with a duration of 3 months or longer. Even if headaches aren’t as frequent to be medically defined as “chronic”, it’s a good idea to monitor them for your overall wellbeing.
Common causes of frequent headaches & how to address them
While there are many varieties of headaches, most fall under three primary types, migraine, tension, and cluster, according to the NHS. But there can be many reasons for the causes of headaches, including:
Changes in stress levels & sleep
Stress and headaches often go hand-in-hand, with lack of sleep being the compounding result. Ongoing tension and poor sleep patterns may become a vicious cycle, says WebMD. While stress may not always be preventable, finding ways to manage it is vital in helping prevent headaches. Exercise and meditation are two useful techniques that may help reduce stress safely and effectively.
About 400 million adults suffer from allergic rhinitis (aka hay fever) around the world according to worldallergy.org, with headaches being a typical symptom. It is a common misperception that all allergies are developed only in childhood and adolescence. The onset of allergies can occur at any age, according to WebMD. It’s not unusual for adults to experience hay fever onset in their 30s and 40s, or 50s and 60s, and beyond. This condition is triggered by seasonal changes and its corresponding allergens, including increased pollens, weeds, grasses, and moulds.
While medication may be necessary for some, lifestyle modifications may be enough to handle short-term seasonal allergies. For example, keeping doors and windows closed during high pollen times, installing dehumidifiers in areas of your home that attract mould, and regularly vacuuming your floors.
Allergies can also develop from other environmental factors such as dust mites, pets, or household chemicals. As a result, these allergic reactions commonly lead to headaches. It is best to identify possible headache triggers by eliminating each new possible allergen one at a time.
While many of us try to consume enough water regularly, during busy days it can be easy to forget to drink. However, dehydration can lead to uncomfortable headaches, according to Medical News Today. Consuming plenty of water to avoid dehydration headaches is especially important if you’re losing fluid quickly for reasons such as excess sweating or vomiting.
Be sure to monitor urine colour throughout the day (clear to light yellow is ideal) and pay attention to dry mouth. Besides increasing water intake, other ways to stay hydrated throughout the day include eating more foods high in water content, like cucumbers and fruits.
Food sensitivities & triggers
While certain foods are known to trigger headaches (especially for migraine sufferers), diet is an important consideration if regular headaches are becoming problematic. Fasting and skipping meals can lead to headaches in some people, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Common foods and beverages that may trigger headaches include aged cheeses (like blue cheese, cheddar, feta, and others), red wine, chocolate, processed meats (such as deli meat, bacon, and ham), in addition to foods containing the additive monosodium glutamate (MSG), a popular flavour enhancer in soups and Asian dishes. Some headaches may also be triggered by nuts and nut butter, bread such as sourdough, and cultured dairy (like yogurt and soured cream). Caffeine is even a possible cause – so try cutting back to around 1 cup of coffee per day.
Regular headaches related to diet can be difficult to pinpoint, as so many different foods are potential triggers. Trial and error through eliminating certain things from your diet one at a time may enable you to see what the trigger could be for you.
Menstruation in women can be a common headache trigger, though it’s usually limited to certain days during the month. Pregnant and post-partum women may, however, experience frequent headaches, as a result of hormonal changes. Perimenopause, or the period leading up to menopause, can also be a potential ongoing headache trigger. The duration of this phase varies greatly, with most women beginning to experience symptoms in their 40s. However, perimenopause can begin for some women as early as their 30s.
When to see a doctor
If headaches persist despite making lifestyle changes and eliminating potential triggers, or they are accompanied by other unexplainable symptoms, visit your doctor. In rare cases, headaches can be indicative of a serious health condition.