Many people are occasionally bothered by headaches and wonder how to get rid of a headache quickly. The way to end a headache quickly depends on what brought it on in the first place. For many people, causes of headaches or triggers are related to dehydration, high blood pressure, tight muscles in the neck and shoulders due to physical or emotional stress, or a reaction to foods, additives, medications, or chemicals that trigger inflammatory reactions in the blood vessels.
To resolve a headache, the cause needs to be evaluated.
Many headaches respond to caffeine – a cup of caffeinated tea or coffee can often be used to resolve a headache. Cluster headaches and migraines are most responsive to caffeine.
The first thing to try to get rid of a headache without drugs is to drink water or an electrolyte beverage. This helps because dehydration is a common cause of a headache. This is especially useful to get rid of a headache that results from drinking alcoholic beverages (a hangover headache). Ideally, choose an electrolyte beverage without artificial colors and sweeteners as these can add to a headache. Packets of powdered drink mixes, such as those mixed with vitamin C, are good options. If you have diabetes, it is important to look carefully at the sugar content of the drink.
Hot or cold compress
Applying a hot compress to the back of the neck or forehead can relax tension and ease vasoconstriction. For some people, a cold compress may feel better. A combination of heating creams (Bengay or similar) and self-massage into the sore muscles of the neck or upper back can help relax the muscles.
One research study has shown that yoga can be effective for headaches. The yoga practice included breathing techniques (pranayama) and yoga postures (asana). Simple stretching can also be helpful for headaches. Try doing some gentle neck rolls, stretching the jaw, and stretching each ear toward the shoulder.
Coconut and mineral water
Mineral water and coconut water are natural cures for dehydration and relieve headaches related to dehydration. They are natural sources of electrolytes, without the added sugar or artificial sweeteners that are found in many commercial electrolyte beverages.
Self-massage around the temples, shoulders and back of the head can help tension headaches. Massage, either self-massage or working with a massage therapist, can resolve chronic neck and shoulder tension that can cause headaches.
Acupuncture can be effective for certain headaches, like chronic headaches and migraines. The acupuncturist will assess the type of headache with a traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis, and treat the headache with needles in certain places along the energy meridians.
How to get rid of a headache
“When it comes to primary headaches that have no other underlying cause, figuring out your headache ‘triggers’ and avoiding them is the best defense,” says Vernon Williams, MD, director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute.
Headache triggers can be a specific part of your lifestyle — like diet, stress, or sleep habits — that bring on the pain of a headache. Here are the best ways to avoid or get rid of your triggers:
Hydrate. If you suspect dehydration could be the cause of your head pain, make sure you’re drinking enough water each day. Experts recommend dividing your weight by two, so if you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink about 75 fluid ounces each day. “As your body becomes dehydrated, the blood vessels of your brain narrow in an attempt to conserve water,” says Carrie Lam, MD, a physician. And stay away from alcohol — congeners, the chemicals present in alcoholic beverages, can also trigger headaches.
Eat balanced meals. If you have poor eating habits, like skipping meals or frequently snacking, you could experience headaches triggered by changes in blood sugar. Individuals who are prone to headaches should begin by focusing on eating three balanced meals each day that include a healthy source of protein — such as milk, fish, or meat. From there, you may be able to recognize food sensitivities by taking note of how you feel following a meal or snack, and determining which aspects of your diet may be causing your headaches.
Deep breathing. Stress can increase muscle tension, dilate blood vessels, and trigger headaches — and tension headaches are often associated with stress. Tension headaches can include pain in the forehead, the scalp, and the neck. If stress is behind your headache, deep breathing techniques may help you relax. Something as simple as slowing down your breath — for example, counting to five as you inhale and then five again as you exhale — can help you handle stressors and relieve head pain. Trying meditation or yoga may also help.
Medication. “Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, acetaminophen, and caffeine are over-the-counter treatments that many patients find effective at stopping a migraine headache in its tracks,” says Williams. Acetaminophen, like Tylenol, relieves headache symptoms by blocking pain signals to the brain. Anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen or Advil, keep the body from producing chemicals responsible for inflammation. These medications can often work for tension headaches, as well.
Biofeedback, especially neurofeedback, is a technique that can be used to re-train the mind. It is helpful for migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches.
Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise like walking, running, or swimming, can reduce the frequency and severity of headaches. Stay well hydrated after exercising!
Meditation or resting
Lying down in a dark room for 15 minutes can often stop a headache or migraine.
Meditation, a more purposeful relaxation practice, has been shown to reduce several types of headache in several research studies. Spiritual meditation, as compared to mindfulness or other types of mediation, was most effective at reducing migraines.
Lavender Oil: Not only does lavender have a beautiful fragrance – it’s also a great remedy for alleviating headaches. Simply smelling the soothing scent of lavender essential oil helps, so you can just put a few drops on a tissue and inhale it. You can also add 2 drops of lavender oil to two cups of boiling water and inhale the steam. Another option is to mix two or three drops in one tablespoon of almond oil or olive oil and massage your forehead with it. “You can even draw a foot bath of lavender oil and peppermint, since the hot water draws blood to your feet and the aroma relaxes you”, suggests Dr. Manoj K. Ahuja, Healing Touch Hospital.