10 Reasons You Have a Headache (and How to Fix It)

No one wants a headache to end faster than the person experiencing the constant, throbbing pain. And while painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin offer just enough relief to let you meet family and work obligations, they may not always work. One sure-fire way to treat a headache is to identify its cause. Keep on reading to find out 10 of the most common causes of headaches and how you can alleviate the pain… even just a little.

1. Diet

The turkey and cheese sandwich from the cart across the street may make for a tasty lunch, but it may also be the reason for your headache. Fermented, pickled, salty, and frozen food as well as caffeinated and fizzy drinks have been known to trigger headache attacks in around 10% of cases.

How to fix it: As soon as you feel the throbbing pain in your head, write down what you ate or drank that day. Doing this will help you rule out food sensitivity as a cause or identify a pattern that points to the food-related trigger factor.

2. Jaw Tension

The surrounding muscles of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), also known as the jaw joint, control the movement of the jaw. When there is tension in the jaw, these muscles also tense up, placing undue stress on your head and often triggering a headache. Tension can also build up when the jaw is misaligned as the muscles have to work harder to perform everyday tasks like chewing and speaking.

How to fix it: Avoid chewing gum as it can aggravate the problem. Dr. Harris can customize an occlusal splint to separate your upper and lower teeth and reduce jaw tension. Botox from a certified medical practitioner can also help to relieve symptoms of TMJ disorder. In some cases, you may need to have your jaw realigned using Invisalign clear aligners.

3. Stress

Whether it’s because of your demanding job, colicky baby, growing pile of bills, or over-packed to-do list, stress is one of the most common reasons for headaches. You’ll feel a mild or moderately painful dull ache as if a tight band surrounds your head from all sides.

How to fix it: Try these breathing techniques to calm your mind. Make time for pleasurable activities like gardening, playing a sport, or walking the dog. Divide daily tasks into things that must be done, stuff that can wait, and activities that don’t need you—then follow the titles accordingly.

4. Dehydration

Believe it or not, when you don’t drink enough water you may start to develop a headache. Why? Brains are made up of 80% water, so when you’re dehydrated, the brain tissue also loses water. As a result, it shrinks and pulls away from the skull—a movement that pain receptors interpret as a headache.

How to fix it: Drink one glass of water every 15 to 20 minutes. If the pain is intolerable, take a painkiller, such as aspirin for faster relief.

5. Poor Posture

Remember all those times your mother asked you to sit up straight as you watched TV or ate at the dinner table? Well, for your sake, we sure hope she isn’t reading this because she’ll have written confirmation of how she was right all along. Bad posture can cause muscle contraction and tension in the neck and head area, which can trigger a headache.

How to fix it: Avoid slouching when you sit. Align your computer screen both at work and at home so you don’t strain your neck to look down. Try holding your phone at eye-level and use a tripod stand to hold it during long calls or presentations. If you spend a lot of time behind a desk, taking regular breaks can help relieve neck tension as well as serve as a reminder to keep observing good posture.

6. Teeth Grinding

Do you often wake up with a headache? As we sleep, we do many things we aren’t consciously aware of like bruxism, dental speak for teeth grinding. Clenching teeth causes tension in the muscles of the jaw, leading to the wear and tear of the enamel, headaches, or even broken teeth. While it’s true that anxiety and stress can contribute to bruxism, these two factors aren’t the only cause. An abnormal bite, or missing or crooked teeth can also result in teeth grinding.

How to fix it: Get a custom-fitted night guard from a dentist near you to help minimize the pressure on your jaw and teeth. It’s also a good idea to schedule an appointment with your dentist so they can examine your teeth for signs of wear and tear and recommend any necessary treatments before any further damage occurs.

7. Hormones

A change in the levels of the hormone estrogen can cause headaches. Some women get headaches at certain times during their menstrual cycles because of a dip in the reproductive hormone. While other females may notice an increase in the number of headaches in the weeks/months leading up to menopause or after a hysterectomy.

How to fix it: Your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory, triptan, or recommend birth control pills to relieve the pain. Wrapping an ice pack and placing it where you feel the most throbbing can also help.

8. Insomnia

Having difficulty falling asleep is something that happens to everyone. But if you spend more time counting sheep or typing “How to fall asleep” in Google than you do actually sleeping, then you are probably suffering from insomnia. Such a change in sleeping habits will not only lay waste to your motivation and strength for the day but can also cause severe and constant headaches.

How to fix it: A sleep specialist can help treat the underlying cause (insomnia) and alleviate symptoms like headaches.

9. Sleep Apnea

People with sleep apnea have the airway partially or completely blocked during sleep. Because of this obstruction, oxygen levels in the bloodstream decrease, and carbon dioxide goes up, causing the blood vessels in the brain to dilate. This widening of blood vessels is what we identify as a headache.

How to fix it: Dr. Harris can custom-fit an oral sleep appliance to support the jaw and prevent the airway from collapsing. In some cases, oral surgery can reduce or shift the obstructing soft palate, hard palate, jaw, and other structures in the back of the throat. For immediate short-term relief, try a painkiller like ibuprofen.

10. Environmental Factors

From fragranced air fresheners and dim or bright lighting to high humidity and consistent noisy conditions, anything that causes too much stimulation to our senses can affect the brain and lead to a headache.

How to fix it: Find out the cause. If it’s smells, avoid using strong perfumes and put a fan on your desk at work to drive away any fragrances that surround you. Dim or bright lighting at work is fixable with a quick call to maintenance. While weather changes can’t be controlled, taking a painkiller can offer relief.

Headaches can be distracting at best and debilitating at worst. The good news is there are things you can do to alleviate the pain. If your headache is stemming from your teeth, jaw, or thanks to sleep apnea, feel free to call our office and schedule an appointment so we can get you back to your (pain-free) self.