An ounce of prevention is all well and good, but when a headache comes on, and comes on strong, we want nothing but a cure, and preferably several pounds of it. Here are some typical treatments as well as their effectiveness:
Try Out the Different Over the Counter Medications (OTC's)
The three major over the counter medications used to treat headache are:
- Paracetamol (a.k.a. acetamenophin)
In general, aspirin, paracetamol, and ibuprofen are very helpful in reducing the pain associated with headaches. Aspirin and ibuprofen work by blocking pain receptors. They are also effective anti-inflammatory drugs, meaning they can help reduce the swelling of veins and muscles, which is what caused the headache in the first place. Paracetamol indirectly blocks pain receptors, but has no anti-inflammatory properties. It's often a good choice for people who find that aspirin and ibuprofen upset their stomach.
Which one is best for you?
Think Inside the Box
It often isn't clear when looking in the drugstore which of these pain relievers is inside the box in front of you. All the headache relievers have strange, complicated names, and there seems to be a new one every week: Nupritinol, anyone? To tell what's inside, just look on the back of the box at the “Active Ingredients” list and you'll see which of the pain relievers listed above the product contains.
It depends. OTC relievers work differently for different people and different types of headaches. One tension headache sufferer might find that ibuprofen does the trick, while another with similar symptoms might need time-released aspirin. Find what works best for you by trying one treatment at a time.Note: Always take the medicine as directed and read the information leaflet carefully.
Generics Work Just as Well
Aspirin is aspirin. Ibuprofen is ibuprofen. It’s the exact same chemical formula whether it’s in a fancy package you’ve seen on TV or in a generic bottle at the drugstore. Some generic brands are even making aspirin with all the bells and whistles of the major brands: you know, gel-caps, night-time-release and all the rest. These pills are not only just the same and just as effective as the big guys, but they’re sometimes even manufactured at the exact same factory as the major brands! The only difference? The package. And, of course, the price.
Only Use Antihistamines in Special Circumstances
OTC antihistamines are sometimes taken for headaches, but these drugs should be taken to treat headaches only in particular cases—such as when the headache is a symptom of hay fever--and only under the instruction of a doctor. Antihistamines lower the body’s immune system and can make you sleepy. Talk to your doctor for more information.
There are hundreds of medications that a doctor can prescribe to a headache sufferer. If you feel that OTC medications can’t do the trick, then ask your doctor about which treatments or procedures might be right for you.
Want to Try Some Alternative Therapies?
There is no single cure for all headaches. If pressure points, feverfew herbs, and reflexology could magically cure headaches, you’d know it by now. The truth—rarely pure and never simple—is that some of these techniques work wonders for some people--and most don't. But, briefly, here are a couple of the alternative strategies people have used to deal with headaches:
- Acupuncture. More and more people turn to acupuncture—a technique of Chinese medicine involving the insertion of needles into the skin--every year as a treatment for headaches. (Acupressure is the same treatment minus the needles for those who are puncture-phobic.) As part of long-term treatment, studies show that acupuncture is effective for some chronic sufferers. But obviously it’s difficult to use in the short term (that is, you probably don't have an acupuncturist right next to you when at the onset of a headache). Also, evidence shows that once regular acupuncture sessions end, patients revert back to the same level of suffering they were at before.
- Herbs, Aromatherapy, etc. A list of the herbs that some people claim will cure headaches sounds like the list of ingredients in an exotic dish at a fancy restaurant (Cayenne pepper, rosemary, peppermint oil...). Whichever herb or alternative medicine you choose to take, make sure to cycle on to (and off) it slowly. Also, avoid trying more than one remedy at a time—both to avoid possible bad reactions—and more importantly so you’ll know which remedy is having the desired effect.
If you've had trouble treating your headaches, read on to find out when you should see a doctor.