That feeling of a headache coming on is the worst feeling. Street noises seem louder, lights seem brighter, and the pain in your head is about to mess with your day. It’s tempting to grab an ibuprofen or an aspirin to head off this pain. That will only mask the pain of your headache potentially leaving you with more headaches later. It leaves the cause, or causes, of headaches unaddressed and pills come with long-term, ill effects.
Headaches are very common and are a frequent reason for visits to the doctor. According to the National Headache Foundation, “over 40 million Americans are living with migraine disease and headache disorders.” (1) I say this often and I’ll say it again – common does not mean normal. It is not normal to have to live with headache pain.
So, what are common causes of headaches and what can you do about them? Usually there isn’t just one reason for a headache but a few. But addressing some of the common causes can help alleviate headaches as you work with your doctor to find the causes of YOUR headaches.
6 Common Causes of Headaches
Are you lacking fluid and electrolytes? Your body is made of 60-70% water and your physiological functions need proper hydration. Even minor dehydration can lead to symptoms like headaches.
What can you do? Make sure you are getting plenty of good, old-fashioned water and skip the highly caffeinated drinks for a bit. Make sure you aren’t making these hydration mistakes.
2) Screen Time
The average American adult spends over 10 hours of their day in front of screens and some of us are using more than 1 screen at once! (2) This number is only going up with more adults (and kids) working from home. This increased screen time can lead to strained eyes and more headaches.
What can you do? Screens are everywhere and unavoidable but check your screen time. Is what you are doing on screens necessary or meaningful? We all have places we can cut unnecessary screen time. How long are you scrolling social media? Does the video call need to be video or can it just be a phone call? Take regular breaks to give your eyes a rest (and grab some water). Make sure lighting is good and try some blue light blocking glasses.
With all that screen time comes tech neck. Heads always looking down over phones or slouching at the desk all add stress to the structure to the of the body. The forward head posture and tight shoulders can lead to headaches. Other daily traumas also add up and spinal subluxations (or misalignments in the vertebrae) can cause increased pressure on the nervous system.
What can you do? Always be aware of your posture and contribute to a healthy spine. Check how you are sitting at your desk and make sure your monitor is at the right height. Find a chiropractor to work with and get regular chiropractic adjustments to make sure your structure is being addressed appropriately.
4) Diet and Toxins
Diet can mean nutrients that help your body function and prevent headaches like magnesium, vitamin D, and B vitamins. It can also mean toxins that cause headaches. Toxins are in our air, food and water. They are more pervasive which means your body has so much more work to do to filter them out. Toxins can lead to inflammation in the body and headaches. Toxins in foods can be food colorings and preservatives or inflammatory foods like dairy, gluten, and soy. They can also be seemingly healthy foods that you are allergic to that cause headaches and other symptoms of hidden inflammation.
What can you do? Make sure you are eating a varied diet of whole, organic foods to get proper nutrition and avoid toxic foods. Sometimes healthy foods are toxic to individuals. Get your allergies tested so you know what foods you need to avoid. Limit your exposure to other toxins as much as possible.
5) Mental Stress
Headaches are a great cause of mental stress, but headaches can also be triggered by stress. One study found that those who were under more stress had more frequent and intense headaches while those who had low stress had fewer incidents. (3) Doesn’t seem fair but mental stress can hurt.
What can you do? Stress is everywhere and you can’t escape it. You can control how you react to it and find ways to remove unnecessary stress. Check out our tips on reducing stress.
Hormones can be the cause of headaches especially for women. According to a 2018 survey, women are twice as likely to have experienced a headache in the past 3 months. (4) If you get headaches more frequently around certain times in your cycle or during menopause it is a sure sign your headaches are related to your hormones.
What can you do? Make sure you protect and balance your hormones. Some of the ways to do this are by reducing stress, avoiding hormonal birth control, supporting digestive health, getting better sleep, and avoiding toxins. Most importantly, you should get your hormones tested.
Don’t Live with the Pain of Headaches
Just because headaches are common doesn’t mean they are normal. You don’t have to live with the pain of headaches. Make lifestyle changes and work with a proficient provider to determine the causes of headaches. Everyone is different and often there are multiple causes, but we can all agree they are painful.
Written by Dr. Patrick Flynn