Migraines and Headaches: Remedies That Can Either Help or Hurt a Migraine

Reviewed on 9/15/2021

Can Tinted Glasses Help?

Wearing glasses that block blue-green light may help you have fewer migraines.

Bright light is the enemy when you have migraines. So you'd think glasses with tinted lenses would help. And they can -- if they have an FL-41 filter, a pinkish tint that blocks blue-green light. People who wear them daily report fewer migraines with less pain. But traditional sunglasses might actually make things worse. Over time, your eyes adapt to the darker environment they create. This makes you even more sensitive to light.

Take a Second Look at Chocolate

Despite popular belief, eating chocolate during a migraine may help bring some relief.

Many people blame chocolate for triggering their migraines. But studies haven't found a clear link. It might just be guilt by association. Maybe you ate a few squares to satisfy a craving for sweets, an early migraine symptom. In fact, eating chocolate during an attack might bring some relief. It's a mood booster and has magnesium, riboflavin, and tryptophan, all known migraine fighters.

Get Ready to Romp

Having sex may offer some relief if you're having a migraine.

Sex may be the last thing on your mind when your head is throbbing. But you might want to rethink that. One survey of people with migraines found that while a third reported that their head pain got worse during sex, 60% said it got better -- and most of them had complete relief. Warning: Some people get "sex headaches" after orgasm. Being prone to migraines puts you at greater risk for them.

How Sweet It Is … or Isn't

Drinking soda may help fight headaches, because low blood sugar and dehydration are potential triggers.

Either low blood sugar or dehydration can lead to a headache. Some people find that sodas help -- especially cola, which has headache-fighting caffeine. Others turn to hydrating sports drinks. But don't overdo it. Too much sugar could make you even more dehydrated. Sugar even triggers migraines for some people. Diet sodas aren't the answer, either. Artificial sweeteners may also give you headaches.

Some Like It Hot

Spicy ingredients and foods may trigger some peoples' migraines while others find that it helps.

Capsaicin, a key ingredient in chili peppers, is a known pain reliever. And there's some evidence that a nasal spray containing capsaicin could ease migraines and other bad headaches. This might explain why some people with migraines swear by spicy soups. On the other hand, some people think spicy foods actually trigger their migraines.

Exercise Your Options

Regular workouts lead to fewer, less painful headaches.

Regular workouts lead to fewer, less painful headaches. Exercise reduces stress, improves sleep, and releases endorphins, your body's natural pain relievers. But for some people, exercise can trigger a migraine. Experts think that's because it temporarily boosts blood pressure. To exercise without pain, stay hydrated, do a thorough warmup, and don't work out on an empty stomach.

Make Mine Decaf … or Not

Caffeine may help or hurt your headaches, so you may need to experiment with it.

Caffeine is the ultimate yes-no migraine trigger. It causes attacks for some, stops them for others. You might think coffee causes your headaches, but your thirst for a cuppa could be due to early migraine signs, like fatigue. While kicking the habit may help in the long run (expect a migraine when you first stop), caffeine often makes medications work better. If you indulge, keep your intake moderate and consistent.

Do Over-the-Counter Meds Work?

Over-the-counter medications may help some folks with migraine pain.

Drugstore pain medications like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen do help some folks with migraine pain. Don't use them daily or almost daily, though. That can lead to rebound headaches. And they often don't work for the worst migraine symptoms. Bottom line: They might be a good addition to your treatment plan but can't take the place of a visit to your doctor.

Supplements Can Help or Hurt

Some supplements may help prevent or manage migraines.

Magnesium, riboflavin, CoQ10, folate, and the herbs butterbur and feverfew help some people prevent or manage migraines. Other supplements, like ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and ephedra, might make headaches worse. Some could interact badly with your migraine medication. They include:

  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Ginseng
  • Echinacea
  • St. John's wort
  • Valerian
  • Large doses of garlic

Always get your doctor's OK before trying a supplement.

Screaming for Ice Cream

Brain freeze may change blood flow to the brain and may stop head pain in its tracks.

One home remedy involves scarfing ice cream to cause "brain freeze," which is supposed to stop head pain in its tracks. A small study seemed to support this tasty technique. After they brought on brain freeze by drinking ice-cold water, people had changes in blood flow to their brains similar to those thought to occur when migraines subside. For some people, though, very cold foods and drinks trigger migraines.

A Massage? Maybe

Massages help relieve stress, which may prevent migraines.

Massage helps relieve stress, a major trigger for migraines. We need more research into whether it can prevent migraines or soothe pain. But it's a popular alternative treatment for migraines. However, up to 80% of people with migraines find touch painful during an attack. If this is you, wait until your headache's gone before booking a massage appointment.

Tracking Your Triggers

Tracking your triggers may help you identify what sets off your headaches.

Keeping track of your migraine triggers isn't an exact science. There's often a lot of lag time between trigger and headache. It's easy to be mistaken. At any rate, avoiding triggers may not be the most effective technique. Some research has found that facing triggers and finding ways to cope with them, often with a doctor's help, can make you less sensitive to them.

Migraines and Headaches: Remedies That Can Either Help or Hurt a Migraine

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