Headaches are sometimes seen as an unremarkable illness, or even an excuse to get out of something (‘not tonight darling, I’ve got a headache… ‘).
However, when it’s your temples that are throbbing, and it’s you who can’t lift your head off the pillow, you’ll know that a headache is anything but minor – especially when you can’t figure out the cause, and therefore the headache cure.
So what actually causes headaches?
Many look to their diet and lifestyle for answers, but if you’re have headache or migrane symptoms regularly, you may be affected by these surprising headache causes instead. And once you’ve identified your headache trigger, avoiding it could be life changing…
1. Your bra
The pain may end up in your head, but it turns out it can start in your shoulders! As Tim Allardyce from Surrey Physio explains to BT.com, ‘As soon as the neck muscles become overworked, you are far more likely to get headaches (known as cervicogenic headaches, or neck in origin headaches).’
Wearing a bra that doesn’t provide proper support can quickly cause this ‘overworking’, leaving us struggling everywhere from the shoulders up. If you’re suffering from regular headaches, visit your local department store and get measured to ensure that your bra fits correctly.
2. Deodorant or perfume
Approximately 1 in 20 people are affected by a fragrance allergy, and it can affect them in many ways. In addition to causing headaches, allergies to fragrance can affect breathing conditions such as asthma, and skin conditions like eczema.
Eileen Hughes, 66, told the Daily Mail that she finds that she gets headaches as soon as she enters department stores because the smell is so overpowering. ‘I get a terrible headache after only a few minutes and have to leave,’ she says.
3. Cleaning products
If scent is behind your sore head, it might not just be the ones you wear on your skin. Cleaning products such as sprays, washing powders and air fresheners can all cause headaches. Alexandra Sheffield, 42, says that even sitting in the garden next to her neighbour’s clean washing can bring on an extreme headache and feelings of nausea.
Also speaking to the Daily Mail, she explains: ‘On trains, they often pump in air freshener with the air conditioning and it makes me feel so ill that I can’t wait to get off. ‘I’ve had terrible reactions to washing powder, air freshener, even scented candles.’
4. The weather
Clouds gathering in the sky? Keep the paracetemol handy, because according to research from the National Headache Foundation, 73% of headache sufferers found that weather can trigger their pain. Stormy weather is a common factor, but changes in humidity, temperature and even dry conditions can set you off, and unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to control such a big external factor.
It’s believed that people who get weather-related headaches are simply more sensitive to changes in the environment, and that this response is likely to be inherited. However, keeping track of the type of weather, the treatments you tried and how effective they were often helps sufferers to find some relief!
5. Your hairstyle
It might seem obvious, but many headache sufferers don’t realise that their symptoms are self-inflicted – just take out that tight ponytail or bun, and the change will be almost instant! The problem if your headaches are triggered by your hairstyle is that you often don’t have many other options for styling – one migrane sufferer on Reddit said: ‘There are many days where I’m in so much pain or just so tired because of migraines, that I just let my hair air dry and hang limp.’
However, you could try straightening or curling your hair for a more polished down-do, or opt for a braid, which still keeps your hair out of your way and looking tidy, but doesn’t pull on those headache-causing strands. Tight-fitting hats or other hair accessories can also have a similar painful effect, so avoid these whenever possible.
6. Your handbag
Step away from that enormous tote bag – if it’s not the weather, your bottle of Dettol or your hairdo that’s causing your headache, it could well be your handbag. Apparently, if your shoulder bag weighs more than 10lbs (stick it on your kitchen scales – you’ll be surprised), you can be affected by neck strain, which in turn, leads to well, head strain.
Backpacks are a far more sensible option, as they allow the weight of your worldly possessions to be spread across both shoulders. Not your style? Carry your usual bag but divide your belongings between that and a separate canvas bag to stop you from lugging everything around on one side.
7. Pain relief
Before we hear the collective cry of headache sufferers thinking their only source of comfort is being taken away, we should clarify that this means the overuse of painkillers, rather than taking them sensibly and in moderation.
Dr Fayyaz Ahmed, consultant neurologist at Hull Royal Infirmary, told nhs.uk that around 5-10% of people with headaches are probably getting them from taking too many painkillers. ‘It’s not that they’re taking more than the recommended dose on the painkiller packet,’ he explains.
‘The problem begins when you take advantage of the recommended dose to take painkillers for long periods, often for months on end. If you take painkillers for your headaches more than twice a week for more than three months, you’ll be at very high risk of getting rebound headaches.’
To prevent rebound headaches, avoid taking painkillers for more than twice a day, and more than two days in a row.
8. Having sex
Far from getting you out of sex when you’re not in the mood, sex can actually be the cause of your headache in the first place! Even worse, it’s sex that leads to orgasm that’s the main offender – and interestingly, men are three times more likely to get sex-related headaches than women. These types of headaches often come on suddenly and usually go away within 24 hours.
While there’s no definitive reason why they occur, many doctors suggest that it’s down to the quick increase in blood pressure you experience during climax. If you experience them, let your partner know, then take pain relief (if you don’t experience the problems above) and lie flat for an hour or two. The pain should pass, and some people can experience a sex headache and never have one again – but if the headache is severe or occurs on a regular basis, it’s time to consult your GP.