It seems like a painful thing to have an awareness month for, but the numbers don’t lie: 1 in 6 Americans deal with headaches and headaches are the most common complaint that lands people at the doctor’s office.1 What is a headache? According to the Cleveland Clinic, a headache is “ a pain in your head or face that’s often described as a pressure that’s throbbing, constant, sharp or dull. Headaches can differ greatly in regard to pain type, severity, location and frequency.”2 There are several types of headaches, including sinus, tension, migraine, cluster, and headaches associated with flu, COVID, and other issues.

While some headaches aren’t necessarily preventable, there are triggers that can set off a headache. Things like stress, certain foods, lack of sleep, bright lights, and dehydration can all get your head pounding. So what can you do to avoid or reduce headaches?

Check your environment: It was date night and my husband and I went to go see the latest installment in the Avatar movie franchise. We snuggled into our movie theater recliners, ordered a little dinner, and settled in for the three-hour movie. We had a great time, so you can imagine my surprise when, at the end of the movie, when I raised my recliner back into an upright position, the whole world tilted. For the first 24 hours after the film I dealt with motion sickness, but that wasn’t the end of it. It was the start of a series of headaches that went on for several weeks, my visual system all kinds of jacked up by the wild visuals, lights, and stimulation of the film.

As it turns out, I’m not alone. Studies show that the more visually robust our cinema experiences become, the more of us are prone to headaches and other issues after viewing films.3 And it’s not just at the movie theater. Concerts, laser and drone shows, amusement park rides with augmented reality, and, yes, even that amazing worship night experience at your church with full stage lighting and big LED screens, can all lead to headaches and vision issues for those who are sensitive to these kinds of stimuli. Strong smells and loud noises can also trigger a headache. If you’ve experienced headaches following one of these experiences, you may want to limit your exposure in the future.

Limit caffeine and alcohol: I know, I know, you wonder how you’ll get through your day without your coffee. And to be fair, when you first cut out caffeine from your diet, you’ll likely experience the dreaded no-caffeine withdrawal headache. But as it turns out, that constant drip of caffeine throughout the day could be causing headaches for you. Kelli Tornstrom, a nurse practitioner, explains, “Caffeine narrows the blood vessels that surround the brain, when consumption is stopped, the blood vessels enlarge. This causes an increase in blood flow around the brain and pressures surrounding nerves.“4

Additionally, if you experience migraines, alcohol could be the culprit. Because alcohol contains histamines which cause inflammation and reaction in the body, a headache can result. Alcohol also contains a natural diuretic, which can lead to dehydration, another known trigger of headaches.

That time of the month: Our hormones play a huge role in our overall health, and that means that hormones have an impact on headaches as well. For women, when hormones fluctuate during normal monthly cycles, those fluctuations can cause headaches. While male fluctuations and levels of hormones are not as well researched or understood,there is growing interest in how natural levels of testosterone and estrogen in males may lead to headaches.5

Blood sugar and a healthy diet: There’s a word for it: hangry. It’s when you’re getting hungry and that leads to feelings of anger as your blood sugar levels play havoc with your emotions. The same is true for your headaches; when your blood sugar drops, your headache pain can go up. Staying away from inflammatory foods while also making sure your body and brain are getting the nutrients and support they need can help interrupt the headache cycle.

Take that walk: Better yet, get in some even more vigorous exercise. Researchers believe that neurotransmitters released during exercise help decrease the frequency of headaches.6

Vision changes and dental symptoms: It might be time for a new prescription on your glasses or contacts. Or it could be that you’re grinding your teeth at night or have another dental issue going on that is resulting in headaches. With many memberships with Altrua HealthShare, you have discounts on vision care. And for your dental needs, Altrua HealthShare has the country’s first dental sharing membership, SmileShare.

Is it time to see your doctor? While headaches can be a typical experience for a lot of people, if the frequency, intensity, or interference with your day-to-day life is on the increase, it could be time to see your care provider. They’ll be able to check for underlying conditions, give you further strategies for managing your headaches, and prescribe medication when necessary. If you’re an Altrua HealthShare Member on certain memberships, you have a built-in allotment of care visits as part of your membership. You can also take advantage of telehealth, with virtual appointments available right at your fingertips. If you’re not sure about what type of membership you have and what is included, or if you’re not yet an Altrua HealthShare Member, contact a Member Services Representative at 1.866.717.9197.

Preventing headaches is a combination platter of discovering what headache triggers are for you, taking a look at your environment and diet, and managing your stress. While the experience of having a headache is something many people have, exactly how to treat that headache and how to avoid headaches in the future is very individualized. Keeping track of when you’re having headaches and the circumstances around those headaches can help you have more headache-free days.