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Headache Relief - 23 Ways to Stop a Headache

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Written by Carina Ryder, MS, BSN.
Certified Nurse Midwife, Takoma Park Gynecology
Medically reviewed by
Last updated May 16, 2024

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Headache relief, including medication, natural and therapeutic remedies for ordinary headaches (i.e. tension headaches) or other common types of headaches including sinus and migraine headaches. Learn about the different approaches to alleviate your headache symptoms and how to determine when medical care may be appropriate for your condition.

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How to stop a headache? Here are 23 different ways to find headache relief, from natural remedies to medications. We also discuss non-traditional methods including acupuncture, meditation, and massage.

Tension headache relief

Tension is the most common type of headache, and is the type that most people mean when they think of headaches. If you're unsure what type of headache you have, please head to the "Types of headaches" section at the end of the article.

Natural tension headache remedies

The following headache remedies can help provide all-natural relief.

  • Tea for headaches: Green tea is possibly the best tea for headaches and helps in the overall relief of tension headaches and migraines. Chamomile tea can help with some migraine symptoms due to its tension-relieving and sedative properties. You can also try peppermint tea if your headache is paired with nausea or Sichuan lovage for overall headache prevention.
  • Caffeine: When you have a headache, your blood vessels enlarge, which causes the pain to intensify. Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties which help to shrink enlarged blood vessels down to their normal size, restricting blood flow and lessening your headache discomfort. So for some individuals, a cup of coffee or tea can cure a headache while for some, a caffeinated beverage can trigger a headache. If you suffer from regular headaches, keep a log to see if caffeine could be playing a role in causing them. But for others, caffeine can be a fast and affordable treatment.
  • Ginger for headaches: Ginger root can help relieve the pain of an intense headache or migraine. To use ginger root, grind up a half teaspoon of ginger and stir it into a glass of water or hot tea.
  • Dehydration headache: Tension headaches are often a common side effect of dehydration. If you notice the start of a headache coming on, think back on your recent water intake.

Tension headache medications

Please always follow labeled directions on any medications

  • Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol): A type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that is less likely to upset your stomach, cause stomach bleeding, heart attack or ulcers than other NSAIDs like ibuprofen. This is the best over the counter pain reliever for headaches during pregnancy, as it won’t harm the fetus. For a good numbers of run-of-the-mill headaches, it's regularly recommended to start with acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) first.
  • Ibuprofen (such as Advil): An NSAID or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. If you’re looking for an affordable and fast-acting treatment for a mild headache, ibuprofen is a great option. Just make sure to check with your doctor, because NSAIDS can interfere with many prescription drugs, especially drugs such as lithium, warfarin, diuretics, methotrexate, and other commonly prescribed drugs.
  • Aspirin: An anti-inflammatory analgesic that’s ideal for mild to moderate headaches. Aspirin can also be used as a preventative measure for migraines but is not deemed strong enough to relieve pain from a migraine that’s already struck. If you suffer from daily or consistent headaches, keep in mind that aspirin should not be taken more than twice a week. The adult recommended dose of aspirin for treatment of headache pain is 325 to 650 mg every three to four hours as required, up to six times per day.
  • Naproxen sodium for headaches: For strong headaches, try naproxen sodium, an NSAID that helps relieve inflammation. If your headache is persistent, you’ll find that naproxen sodium tends to provide longer pain relief, minimizing the risk of side effects and being more cost-effective.
  • Excedrin: Excedrin is a common headache reliever and is a combination of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine. It can block pain but if you’re sensitive to caffeine, you could find yourself in worse shape because this pain reliever contains caffeine.

Sinus headache relief

Sinus headaches are often mistaken for tension headaches but sinus headaches are usually triggered by allergies.

Natural sinus relief

The following can help relieve blocked sinuses naturally.

  • Sinus rinse: Using a neti-pot or over-the-counter rinse kit, one can find rinses helpful for headache relief
  • Aromatherapy for headaches: Essential oils are potent compounds derived from natural ingredients like plants, herbs, and fruits. They have been used for centuries as natural treatments for a variety of ailments, including headaches and sinus congestion. Some of the best essential oils for headaches include peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, and lavender.
  • Applying hot and cold compress: Alternating every 15 minutes between hot and cold towels over your sinus can help relieve sinus pain and loosen secretions.

Sinus headache medications

Beside the NSAIDs you can take for fast relief, there are a number of over-the-counter medications that target the allergic reactions that underpin sinus headaches. They include:

Migraine relief

Natural migraine relief options

Migraine headaches are more complicated to treat via natural means and usually involve alternative physical strategies. You can try:

  • Acupuncture: Studies have pointed to a strong link between acupuncture and headache relief. While similar treatments can be administered at home, it is recommended that you only let a professional apply the treatment.
  • Yoga for migraine relief: Trying specific asanas before the occurrence of migraine, or as it begins to manifest can help. These yoga poses are found to be most beneficial: forward bends (Seated Forward Bends), Supported Ardha Halasana (Half Plow Pose), the Chin Lock, the Cat Pose, Seated Spinal Twist, and Child’s Pose.
  • Meditation: According to the American Migraine Foundation, a 2014 study published in the medical journal Headache found that meditation can reduce the frequency of migraines to 1.4 fewer incidents each month.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise can reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches and migraines. When you exercise, the body releases endorphins, which are your body's natural painkillers. Regular exercise has been proven to prevent headaches from occurring.

Medications for migraine relief

The following medications can be effective for migraines.

  • NSAIDs or Aspirins: See "tension headache relief options" above for details on over-the-counter options.
  • Triptans: Prescription drugs that specifically target migraines. They can come in a variety of in-take forms.
  • Beta blockers: Used for other conditions but also work for migraines
  • Anti-seizure drugs: Divalproex sodium and Topiramate help prevent migraines.
  • Botulinum toxin injections: Botox around the scalp can help reduce the frequency of migraines but is only used for chronic conditions.

Headache causes

How to stop a headache? Here are 23 different ways to find headache relief, from natural remedies to medications. We also discuss non-traditional methods including acupuncture, meditation, and massage. However, these methods vary in terms of the headache types they can treat. You need to first and foremost discover the type of headache you have. Once you can discover the cause behind your sudden or persistent headache, it will get easier for you and your health care personnel to discover the most suitable treatment and possible prevention of future occurrence.

If you're worried about your headache, we interviewed a renowned Harvard doctor on "When to Worry About a Headache: Location, Duration, and Type". For help in knowing what type of headaches you’re suffering from, take our handy, specialized quiz from our , which will help you narrow down your specific type of headache so you can feel better as fast as possible.

First, let’s talk about the different classifications and types of headaches there are because often, isolating the type of headache you’re having will help you cure it more effectively.

Types of headaches

Mild headaches

Headaches and migraines can vary in the degree of pain they bring and where the pain is located (the temples, the center of the head, the sinus area). For example, headaches can vary from ones that cause severe pain (chronic or debilitating migraines) to ones that are more irritating than painful (mild headaches).

Mild headaches are more irritating than painful. A mild headache won’t interfere with your daily functioning, and they tend to cause a mild or nagging pain on both side of the temples or in the middle area of the forehead. The most common cause of a mild headache is tension, stress, eye strain, or sinus congestion. The headache often feels like a tight squeezing pain around the head, especially in the temples.

Moderate headaches

A moderate headache is one that will impact your daily functioning to some extent and is characterized by medium intensity migraines or headaches.

Moderate headaches are typically caused by stress, harsh light or sound, allergies, tension at home or work, or eating really cold foods, like ice cream. These headaches are often aggravated or worsened by strong aromas (perfume, cleaning products, smoke, gasoline, car exhaust) and loud sounds.

Severe headaches

A severe headache, also called a primary headache, will definitely interfere with your ability to function at home, at work, or socially. Severe headaches are painful and are often classified as intense migraines or “cluster headaches,” which means they cause pain in several areas of the head (temples, between the eyes, etcetera) at the same time.

A severe headache or migraine can last from a few hours to several days and they are very painful. Often, these types of headaches must be treated by a physician, who may prescribe a prescription medication to help alleviate the pain and occurrence of these headaches.

Chronic migraines

Chronic and severe migraines are often called “debilitating headaches” because they often render individuals completely helpless in the face of them, making work and daily tasks impossible. Debilitating headaches are painful and long lasting, draining you of energy and time, because that kind of pain is very exhausting.

An incredibly painful headache should never be ignored as it may be indicative of a severe head injury or underlying illness. It is strongly advised that anyone suffering with debilitating headaches, especially if they come on very suddenly, to speak with a physician immediately or go to the emergency room – especially if the headache is more painful than those experienced in the past.

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