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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Living with the pain in my head

Headaches are, in my personal opinion, the worst pains anyone can suffer. Your mind is your center. It controls your thoughts, your motor functions, and everything that makes you, you! So when your head hurts, you don’t function to the best of your ability. All the information I provide is based on personal knowledge and experience. I'm not a doctor or medical professional. This information is NOT meant to diagnose or treat anything you have. Its meant to help you cope and maybe give you insight on things you can discuss with your doctor.

Headaches take form in various degrees of pain. Something from a light pain to a tension headache or even a full blown migraine. They can be a slight annoyance to completely debilitating. They can have a plethora of side effects that come along with them. Side effects may include vomiting, dizziness/lightheadedness, blackouts, blurry vision, disorientation, shaking, and even chills.

Headaches are triggered. Not just randomly sprung as one might think. If you can figure out your triggers, you can control them to some degree. Light headaches are typically caused by lack of sleep and hunger. Easy to fix, even in a busy life. Tension headaches and migraines are trickier. Things like caffeine, sugar, light, sounds, or random foods can turn the switch of pain on. Sometimes you are able to feel one coming on while other times it’s sudden.

I’ve been reading up on migraines a lot in the past couple years. This week in particular I found an old article my mom had given me on head pain in general. About 1/5 women suffer from migraines. Yet, barely half will be diagnosed with a cause. As a matter of fact, most of us “endure” the pain because we know what happens when we “check out”, even for a short time. Moms in particular don’t like taking time for themselves when there is so much to do. But suffering in silence won’t do you any good in the long run. Here are some things to take into account when dealing with headaches…

Here are four types of headaches that you can identify:

1.       Sinus headaches – these are accompanied by sinus swelling and pain or pressure in the cheeks and/or forehead. Many people misdiagnose themselves as having a migraine which can have similar symptoms, but taking a decongestant can make you feel worse.

2.       Migraine – these are largely genetic. Common symptoms include nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Ladies, the week of your period is the worse time for attacks because your estrogen levels are at their lowest. (I've been dealing with them daily myself since my cycle started.)
3.      Tension – These are often set off by stress and anxiety. The pain is typically dull and located on both sides of the head, around the forehead, temples or back of the head and neck. It could also be caused by changes in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
4.     Cluster – The exact cause for this type is still undetermined. It’s rare and more common in men though. Pain centralizes around the eyes, can happen a few times in a single day or can last weeks to months.
I've been gathering information on dealing with the different levels of pain. Since migraines are my worse problem, you might read a lot more on them....
Migraines can be a centered pain in the temples, stretched down one side of the face and head, or centered at the base of the skull and top of the neck. It may make your eyes feel swollen or give a burning sensation. They can be as brief as under 30 minutes to as long as several tormenting hours.
My personal experience with migraines has had me struggling to keep it together and renders me inoperable as a functioning human being. I can't tell you how often I've had to slip away to a dark room, seeking silence and relief from the mind-numbing pain that has taken over. Some things I've found useful for relieving the pain are the following.
  • Let your hair down at the onset of pain. Having my hair in a ponytail not only causes breakage up top, but can start the throbbing. Letting it down can release the added pressure. 
  • Dim the lights. Being in a dimly to no light room can take the stress off your eyes which in turn knocks the pain down in your head. 
  • Turn off the noise. Take out the headphones, shut the door, and relax in the silence. This is extremely difficult for me. Silence is truly deafening. So if you must, put on soft music at a low volume. Whether you like it or not, classical is probably your best option.
  • Lay down! Again, I struggle with this. Being a mom, I have kids who won't hesitate to barge in if I actually try to relax and beg for a drink or snack or complain about something a sibling did.
  • Take a shower or bubble bath. Make it warm but don't overdo it in the heat. That can make you quite lightheaded and possibly lead to passing out.
  •  Get those eyes checked! Especially if you wear corrective lenses, but even if you haven't before, maybe it's time you did. And keep updating that prescription yearly. Mine has changed every time I've gone in. As a matter of fact, this last time I found out I have a stigmatism. Plain English? One eye is shaped like a golfball while the other is ovoid like a football. Yes, one more feature that adds to my freak of nature status. Just can't catch a break. Also, invest in transitions. Otherwise, get prescription sunglasses. They make a world of difference in the light. I've been buying transitions for the past several years and I refuse to go back to being without them. 
  • Take time out for yourself. Stress is a leading cause for a lot of the head pains we get. It's not easy, I know. The last doctor that told me to relax and get more rest... I laughed at her. As moms, it's hard to catch a break. Especially single moms. But if you can manage to get a sitter, go for it! Take a walk on the beach, see a movie you've been wanting to (but couldn't with the kids around), or call up your friends for a few hours of adult time. Whatever brings you joy, make time for it. I'd say a minimum of twice a month. 
  • Take a bite... or two. You might not feel hungry especially if you're so far into the pain zone that it's making you nauseous. So grab a light snack and give it a chance to settle. Sometimes that's all it takes to bring the pain level down.
  • Lay off or lower your caffeine intake. This is another huge trigger for some people. Try to come off the addiction to sodas and coffee. Instead of energy drinks, get up 30 minutes earlier and do some brisk cardio. Yes, you'll have to make a sacrifice and sleep earlier at night, but it will pay off. It helps lower your stress levels as well as jump starts your metabolism. That could lead to weight loss as well. Win-win if you ask me.
  • Drink until you're clear. Did you know that the more water you drink, the lighter your urine will be? This not only insures you'll keep properly hydrated, but helps steer you clear of urinary tract infections. As an added benefit for the ladies, the more water you drink the easier your cramping will be while on your menstrual cycles. Staying hydrated helps ward off so many things, but headaches are the one I'm mentioning right now.
  • If you have to take something, try Excedrin Extra Strength or Excedrin Migraine (both are the same). They seem to work the best for me in speed and in ridding the pain. However, this is mostly caffeine and will possibly give you the shakes. Or try another anti-inflammatory medicine. Remember this, you can only take them constantly for so long before they don't work or you start damaging your organs....
  • Sometimes you might be able to find holistic oils that can relieve the muscle pain in your temples. I know my mothers friend mixed oils that worked wonders. But the original company that sold those hasn't had them in stock for quite some time.
I found some other interesting things on keeping headaches at bay. Avoiding strong scents and going fragrance-free. If caffeine isn't your trigger - drink a cup of coffee. Its a stimulant so if you're already a regular, don't stop cold turkey. Withdrawals will give you migraines. Eat a better breakfast! Aged cheeses, citrus fruits, and processed meats typically contain nitrates which can set you off. So consume them with caution and in moderation. Make time for every meal. Whether you eat small meals throughout or three large meals daily, don't skip! Hunger and lower blood sugar levels can alert your brain to send those signals of missing out. Beware though - dairy, wheat, nuts, chocolate, deli meat and even fermented foods, like pickles, can also be triggers. Stay cool. Not temperature, but attitude. Life can drag you down and stress you out. Don't let it get out of control! Take a moment to look at pictures of good times, watch a funny video on YouTube or try out some yoga poses. Drinking while you cook might not be as good as you think. Red wine in particular has been linked to migraines in some women, but drinking on an empty stomach just exacerbates its effects. Check the weather. At least 30% of sufferers are linked to weather induced pain. Maybe try takings an anti-inflammatory before the front rolls in.

I hope this is helpful to someone out there. Migraines are a personal battle that you don't have to fight completely alone. Speak up and don't let others give you that eye roll for "just a headache". Especially moms. If you don't care for yourself, how can you care for your loved ones? So when you feel so bad you want to take a drill to your temple, take a breath and find your comfort zone.


  1. I do get headaches/migraines often too. Things will get better when you move back in Florida next year. You need to get your old life back. Make sure you need rest and relax...

  2. I hope this was helpful information!