What A Headache!
From migraines to dull aches, a throbbin’ noggin can be a real downer. Learn how to deal with the pain.
Beth Mattey is no stranger to bloody noses, allergic reactions, and broken bones. As a high school nurse in Wilmington, Delaware, she’s seen it all. But there’s one complaint that tops her list. Every day at least one student and as many as six stop by her office, saying: “My head hurts!” Do the math. That’s about 540 visits to her office each school year thanks to headaches. Ouch!
The stats confirm Mattey’s experience. Up to 75 percent of teens have at least one headache a month, usually a tension headache (dull pressure or a band-like tightness around the head) or a migraine (OMG-pain that’s paired with nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light). These kinds of headaches typically aren’t a cause for concern. However, headaches due to injury, like falling or being kicked in the head, can be life-threatening. Though injury-related headaches are extremely rare, if you notice pain that worsens when lying down, a change in vision, difficulty speaking, or sudden weakness, alert your doctor or school nurse immediately.
Luckily, most headaches can be managed with over-the-counter medications. But surprisingly, headaches are still a bit of a medical mystery. However, even though there’s no surefire way to dodge them completely, doctors do know some of the common triggers that can increase your odds of getting a headache. Read on for some of the unexepected causes and the simple lifestyle changes that can help you stop—or at least soothe—your aching head.
7 Surprising Headache Triggers
The Trigger: Chewing Gum
Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s time to spit out the gum. A new study found that when adolescents stopped chewing gum, 87 percent reported that their headaches improved and 63 percent said the pain went away altogether. Researchers think overuse of one of the joints in your lower jaw when chewing may be to blame.
The RX: Try a breath mint instead.
The Trigger: Skipping Breakfast
We get it: Your mornings are hectic, and sometimes even a bowl of cereal doesn’t make the cut. But headaches are a symptom of hunger—your body’s way of nagging you to give it the fuel it needs.
The RX: Prevent headaches—and stomach rumbles—by starting the day with a protein and fiber-rich breakfast like Greek yogurt with a banana. And try carrying a box of raisins or a small bag of nuts in your backpack for emergencies.
The Trigger: Late-Night TV
Whether you stayed up watching Last Call With Carson Daly or cramming for a test, a lack of shut-eye can cause chaos in your body’s chemistry. According to experts, one consequence of disrupting that delicate balance is a throbbing headache.
The RX: Stick to a schedule. Make your wakeups and bedtimes as consistent as possible—on weekends too.
The Trigger: Your “Candy Crush” Addiction
A recent study found that the more time teenagers spend in front of a screen—be it on a smartphone, tablet, or computer—the more likely they are to report having a headache. One possible reason: Poor posture when using tech devices causes tension in the upper back, neck, and shoulders that may lead to a headache.
The RX: If you can’t log off, pay attention to how your body feels when you use your devices. If you do start to tense up, take a short break and gently move your head side to side and roll your shoulders in small circles to relieve tightness.
The Trigger: Your Mom
Yup, feel free to point a finger at your parents. Migraine headaches are hereditary—if someone in your family suffers from them, it’s possible you will too.
The RX: When a headache hits, jot down ideas of what could have set it off. If you often feel thirsty, make an effort to guzzle six to eight cups of water a day to prevent future dehydration-induced pain. Or, if you connect your headache to your mall’s fragrance aisle, pick a new shopping route, since perfume may be your trigger. Even lunch meats, chocolate, and certain cheeses have been known to provoke migraines. The more you understand what affects your body, the better equipped you’ll be to head off headaches.
The Trigger: Hormones
For girls especially, fluctuating hormones can bring on mega head pain. Right before your period starts each month, there’s a dip in estrogen levels, and this hormonal fluctuation can send you into super- headache mode.
The RX: Track your headaches and periods in a journal and look for overlaps (migraines, for example, typically occur during the two days leading up to a period and the first three days of a period). Once you notice a pattern, start taking pain relievers—like two Advil a day—before your headache usually kicks in to prevent the migraine from starting.
The Trigger: Tomorrow’s Algebra Final
Stress, whether over a school assignment or a fight with your BFF, has been linked to headaches, but just like the chicken-or-the-egg scenario, neurologists aren’t sure which comes first. Some think anxiety brings on headaches, while others believe the effects of having a headache (not being able to concentrate during that math test, for example) cause you to stress out.
The RX: Focus on fitness. Not only can exercise help reduce stress, but regular physical activity may prevent headaches to begin with. The next time you’re feeling anxious, take 10 to pick up a game of basketball with friends, go for a jog, or dance around your bedroom.