Headaches are a super-common experience for many people. If you’re just getting a little pain once or twice a year, there’s no cause for concern. However, if you find you’re getting repeated headaches you can’t seem to pinpoint, especially if they’re daily or near-daily, you may have an underlying trigger you haven’t identified. Here’s some ‘hidden triggers’ we don’t often realize can be dragging down our health, as well as some tips on identifying your own.
How to Track Triggers
A trigger is exactly what it sound like- something that happens within the body, or even in your surroundings, that set off your headaches. One of the most effective ways to figure out if you’re getting regular headaches from a trigger, rather than something like an underlying disease or hormone imbalance, is keeping a headache journal. Every time the pain starts, right down the time, where you were, and anything happening around you. Over time, you should get a better idea of when, where, and why you’re getting pain- and that’s the first step to stopping it. Andyes, if you prefer to keep your journaling digital, there’s plenty of apps out there to help, too.
Know your Headache Types
While tension headaches and headaches from allergies or sinus issues are incredibly common, they’re not the only type of headache there is! And it’s important to not call every bad headache a ‘migraine’, either, as it can send you and your medical support looking for entirely the wrong triggers and solutions. Migraines have a distinct pain pattern- a deep-seated pulsing- and can last for days. They’re also typically accompanied by a variety of other issues, including light and sound sensitivity, visual distortions, nausea, and a distinct ‘migraine aura’ that sufferers often see right before the pain triggers.
If you’re experiencing very bad pain without these accompanying symptoms, it’s important to nail down what’s happening, so familiarizing yourself with headache types is a good idea.
Unexpected Headache Triggers
What hidden triggers could be setting you off? Let’s take a look
Don’t get us wrong, exercise is great for your wellbeing, but some types of strenuous activity can trigger headaches of their own. Some people even get headaches after sex! Running is a particular headache trigger, especially for some migraine sufferers, so it might be good to look for less strenuous, gentle activities instead.
This one is a well-known trigger. But most of us don’t realize we have bad posture habits in the first place. With desk jobs now dominating the market, issues like ‘tech neck’ have become real dampers to the health of our spine and neck. Stress is also a hidden factor that causes muscle tension and pain. If you suspect poor posture could be at the root of your pain issues, it’s a good idea to look at good ergonomic habits for PC use, like elevating your screen to eye level and ensuring you have good back support. If you’re prone to walking with your eyes down (or on a mobile screen), or you hunch by nature, poor posture is highly likely to be giving you pain and headaches.
Food and Allergies
Some common food triggers are discussed a lot by headache sufferers, but the range of foods that can trigger pain are actually a whole lot broader. For the ones that do get a lot of press attention- cold cuts, preserved meats like salami, aged cheeses, and red wine, there’s one underlying cause. They all contain a substance called tyramine, that builds up in foods which age naturally, and is widely linked to headache disorders.
If you find other alcoholic beverages also trigger your headaches, the culprit could be the alcohol itself, which constricts blood vessels when drunk in large amounts. Dehydration from alcohol consumption can also play a role. Some people are also allergic to the nitrates which preserve some wine and grape-derived alcohols (and preserved meats and fruits).
Sensitivity to certain food types means that you don’t quite have an allergy, but they don’t play well with the body, either. Tracking these foods can be harder, but is well worth it if you are getting regular headaches you can’t pinpoint to another source.
Dieting and Skipping Meals
Hunger headaches are far more subtle than you might assume. You can get the tight pain of a headache long before your stomach growling reminds you of a missed meal. Mostly, this headache trigger is tied to a blood sugar low. Rather than cram in a candy bar, which can make your blood sugar swing even more, opt for something with a little protein and fat to stabilize your sugar crash.
Ah, caffeine. Many of us are over-reliant on its stimulating effects to bust stress and power through hectic workdays. While a mild burst of caffeine can actually help a headache, chugging it all day long is a different story. Try to swap out the caffeine for something like a healthy energy drink that’s packed with stress-busting support, instead, and kill two birds with one stone.
Don’t feel trapped in a debilitating pain cycle if you’re suffering headaches. Take steps to reclaim your health by identifying potential triggers- and remember, your medical team are on your side, too, so if symptoms are worsening, don’t be shy to tell your doctor.