How to Treat a Headache Apart From Taking Drugs

Headaches can range from annoying to debilitating, and when it comes to treating them, you’ll want to use every tool at your disposal, including both drug and non-drug options. While looking for an over-the-counter headache medicine is an effective strategy, taking it too often can cause its own problems.

Some of the complications of taking too many over-the-counter headache medications include liver damage, which can happen if you exceed the maximum dosage listed on the bottle (either by taking too much at one time or by taking it often for a very long time). Although rare, acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States and is responsible for approximately 500 deaths per year , with the potential for damage starting once you exceed 4,000 mg per day or 8 Tylenol Extra Strength tablets. .

“A good rule of thumb is to really pay attention to dosage and frequency recommendations for over-the-counter [headache medications],” said Mike Sevilla , a family physician and spokesman for the American Academy of Family Physicians. “Do not exceed these dosage and frequency recommendations. Some medicines are recommended twice a day, others every six hours as needed. Keep these guidelines in mind.” These instructions exist for a reason, as following them is for your safety.

Another problem can be rebound headaches , where long-term use of over-the-counter headache medication can cause medication overuse headaches, defeating the whole purpose.

Headaches have different causes

Headaches can be caused by a number of factors , including stress, heat, lack of sleep, skipping meals, allergies, or any other trigger, many of which may be specific to the individual. When it comes to these triggers, it’s best to avoid them to reduce your chances of getting a headache.

“The cornerstone of headache prevention is hydration,” said Jesús Lizarzaburu, a family physician and spokesman for the American Academy of Family Physicians. “One of the main reasons people get hangover headaches is due to dehydration.”

It can also help to keep a headache diary , where you write down when you have a headache, as well as what you did in the days and hours leading up to them, so you can better understand what triggers you have. Lizarzaburu also advises making regular sleep a priority.

Strategies to try that are not cures

When you have a headache, the goal is always to reduce it as quickly and effectively as possible, which is why you can use non-drug strategies as a standalone intervention or in combination with medications. This may help you reduce the total amount of medications you need, if not eliminate them entirely.

Some non-drug strategies include:

  • Relax in a quiet, dark room
  • Applying an ice pack to the forehead
  • drink some water
  • Drink something with caffeine, such as a cup of coffee.
  • Do some light stretching to relieve tension that may be causing headaches.

Seville advises seeing a doctor if your usual strategies stop working or if the frequency of your headaches reaches the point where they disrupt your life. “If your headaches are accompanied by other symptoms, such as dizziness, lightheadedness, a feeling of numbness or tingling, or difficulty speaking, it could be a sign of a stroke ,” Sevilla said. If this happens, “call 911 or go to the hospital immediately.”

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