Skip to main content

Avoiding headaches

What you can do to help keep headaches away.

Nothing can ruin a perfect day like a headache. The pain takes the fun out of everything. All you want is for it to go away.

But did you know there are things you can do to help prevent headaches from erupting in the first place?

It's true. The trick is paying attention to various factors that can trigger an aching noggin, says Suzanne E. Simons, past executive director of the National Headache Foundation.

"If you pay attention to when you tend to get headaches and what you're eating or doing or how you feel when they start, sometimes a pattern emerges," she says.

Following these tips may help you reduce the number and severity of common tension-type headaches and migraines.

Set a schedule

Maintaining a regular sleep schedule helps keep headaches at bay, says Simons. Try to wake up and go to sleep at the same times every day—even on weekends.

Watch what and when you eat

Skipping meals can leave you with a whopping headache later in the day, according to Simons. Be sure to eat regular meals, including breakfast.

Eating the wrong foods also can lead to problems if you have migraines. Common food triggers for these headaches include aged cheese and meats, chocolate, nuts and cultured dairy products.

Avoid alcohol

Ethanol, a chemical commonly found in beer, wine and liquor, contributes to headaches.

Keep fit

Regular exercise can help reduce the number and severity of headaches, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Tame stress

Stress on the job, at home or in school can all contribute to headaches, according to Simons.

Do your best not to over-schedule yourself and take time to relax. A break to nap, read, take a walk or just breathe deeply can help a lot.

Keep a record

If you have headaches often, try keeping a diary. This can help you pinpoint headache triggers and avoid them.

Note when headaches occur and other observations. Did you skip a meal? Do certain foods seem to be the culprit? Are you skimping on sleep? Are you stressed out?

Note your symptoms

Do you have tension-type headaches (the most common sort), migraines or cluster headaches? Details about your symptoms can help your doctor suggest the best treatment for you.

A tension-type headache often comes with stiff, painful head, shoulder and neck muscles. The pain is steady and dull. You may feel as though there's a tight band squeezing your head, like a hat that's too small.

Migraines are less common and are more likely to occur in women. The pain can be intense and may make you feel nauseated. You may have blurred vision, see spots or have other visual disturbances before the headache strikes. This is called an aura.

Along with certain foods, migraines may be triggered by bright or flickering lights, strong odors or cigarette smoke.

Rarely, people may have cluster headaches. These come on suddenly, with severe pain centered around one eye. Cluster headaches last several minutes to several hours and can occur several times a day. Headaches usually occur over a cluster period of weeks or months and then go away for a time. These headaches are more common in men than women.

See a doctor

If you have headaches frequently—three or more times a month—medical treatment may help.

A doctor can prescribe medicines to help prevent and treat headaches, as well as give advice on relaxation techniques and avoiding triggers.

reviewed 12/2/2019

Related stories