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Health > Headache


Headache Fact Sheet

What to look for

If your headache is:

  • a dull, steady pain that feels like a band tightening around your head, you have a tension headache.
  • throbbing, begins on one side, and causes nausea, you have a migraine.
  • a throbbing pain around one red, watery eye, with nasal congestion on that side of your face, you have a cluster headache.
  • a steady pain in the area behind your face that gets worse if you bend forward and is accompanied by congestion, you have a sinus headache.

Although painful and troublesome, most headaches are minor health concerns and can be easily treated with pain killers or analgesics. However if they are recurring, or more severe and come with other symptoms - see a doctor immediately.
Very common headaches are tension headaches and they are brought on by an increase in the tension in the scalp muscle. They are usually easily fixed by a mild pain killer.
The worst type of headaches are migraines. This headache can usually be preceded by a sick feeling or a blurring of vision or flashing lights in front of the eyes. A migraine will usually begin with a fierce, throbbing pain on one side of the head. This pain may spread and is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. A migraine can last for hours or days.
Migraines are caused by the dilation and contraction of the blood vessels on one side of the brain.
Sinus headaches are characterised by pain in the area behind the face.


Headaches strike for many reasons.
Sinus headaches typically result from hay fever and other seasonal allergies, or from a cold or the flu.
With tension headaches, stress is the most common trigger; or it may derive from some physical factor such as persistent noise. Eyestrain, poor posture, too much caffeine, or the grinding or clenching of teeth at night can also lead to tension headaches.
Migraines are somewhat more mysterious. Although much evidence indicates that constricting and swelling of blood vessels is involved, some researchers believe that the headaches are primarily neurological in origin. Because migraines often run in families, it seems likely that genetics can play a role.
Apart from these reasons, migraines have numerous triggers - among them are too much caffeine, various foods or scents, dry winds, changes in altitude or seasons, hormonal fluctuations or birth-control pills, missing a meal, or stuffy rooms. Migraines may also occur in the aftermath of intense emotions such as excitement or anger.

Traditional Treatment

Both conventional and alternative medicine can be very effective in dealing with headaches, and the two approaches may be combined.
Most tension headaches can be helped by mild pain killers, Sinus headaches are relieved by antibiotics and decongestants.
A wide range of medications are prescribed for migraines. If your migraine is very severe or you suffer more than 2 per month, your doctor may prescribe the appropriate medications.

Alternative/Natural Treatments

Most alternative therapies attempt to address the underlying causes of headaches.
Aromatherapy - The following herbal oils may aid relaxation, easing the pain of tension or migraine headaches. Moisten your fingertips with one or two drops of lavender (Lavandula officinalis) essential oil blended with a carrier oil such as sunflower oil, then gently massage your temples with a circular motion; repeat in the hollows at the sides of your eyes, behind your ears, and over your neck.
For a sinus headache, try the same techniques using eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) or wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).
For any type of headache, a blend of lavender, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and peppermint (Mentha piperita) in a vapouriser or as a massage on the temples can help.
Compresses applied to the affected area or a bath using these oils can relax muscles as well.
It is important that the person with the headache finds the oils used pleasing to the nose otherwise the headache may worsen.
Herbal Therapies - The most widely used and recommended herbal remedy for treating and preventing migraines is feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium). This herb is available in capsules.
Migraines brought on by stress may benefit from a combination of equal parts of hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha), linden (Tilia spp.), wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis), skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), and cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), taken three times a day as a tea or tincture. For migraines accompanied by nausea and vomiting, try taking ginger (Zingiber officinale) with water at the onset of the warning stage. Three daily doses of goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) in tincture, tea, or powdered form may help reduce sinus headache pain.
Tension headaches may respond to valerian (Valeriana officinalis) when combined with skullcap and passionflower (Passiflora incarnata).
Some herbal teas work wonders for headaches - chamomile, lemon balm or valerian are good choices.
Press here to go to Herbal Page
for more information on these & other Herbs
Homoeopathy - A range of homoeopathic medicines are available to treat specific types of headaches. For a throbbing headache that is worse on the right side when lying down, try Belladonna. For severe, "splitting" headaches that feel worse with motion, noise, light, or touch, try Bryonia. For sinus pain with a thick, green nasal discharge, consider Kali bichromicum.


Regular exercise can release natural pain killing agents and help this condition. Exercise may also help to dilate blood vessels, which increases blood flow.
The following exercise has proved to be quite helpful to headache patients. While seated and comfortable, inhale and gently tip your head back until you're looking up at the ceiling (be careful not to tip your head back too far), exhale and bring your head forward until your chin rests on your chest; repeat twice. This will help relax the muscles in the neck.
Massage - Massage therapy can relieve headache-producing tension in the muscles of your head, neck, shoulders, and face.
Relaxation - Meditation and progressive relaxation therapies are effective in reducing stress, which can cause tension headaches

Personal Care

Place a cold face washer on the area that is throbbing and keep replacing when the washer becomes warm.
At the first sign of a headache, drink three glasses of very cold water, then go to bed with a cold compress. (Make sure the room is dark and quiet - without a pillow).

Dietary Considerations

Groups of migraine sufferers have identified foods that tend to trigger their migraines and these include the following- any food with caffeine in it, chocolate, aged cheeses, citrus fruits, processed meats, the food additive MSG, and red wine.
Magnesium relaxes constricted blood vessels; low levels of magnesium may contribute to migraine and cluster headaches.

When to seek further professional advice

  • a severe headache is accompanied by vomiting or other severe symptoms
  • after a head injury, you are drowsy, with dizziness and other symptoms.

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