Hydration, stress relief and cutting down on caffeine can help alleviate the problem, says Claire Byrne
One in four cites sleep deprivation and one in five cites financial distress as hindrances to their heads
WHETHER you get headaches at the end of a long day, or at the end of an even longer night, there's no denying they're a pain in the, um, head. And if your headaches develop into something more chronic, they can ruin more than just your morning after, they can have a massive impact on your everyday life.
This week sees the launch of Headache Awareness Week in association with Nurofen, an initiative aimed at educating people on the triggers for, and types of, headaches, as well as how best to prevent and cure them. New research conducted as part of the launch has found that it's not young revellers or stressed-out workers who are suffering most – 12pc of Irish mammies suffer from headaches at least once a week, with one-quarter of Irish mothers having bad, very bad or unbearable headaches, compared with 17pc of dads. One in four cites sleep deprivation and one in five cites financial distress as hindrances to their heads.
Elizabeth Humphries is one such mum. A 46-year-old, stay-at-home mother with four children, headaches are par for the course, but Elizabeth's often leave her unable to drive or perform simple tasks required of a busy mum. Often the pain is so severe that she feels nauseous and has to lie down, and several times a year, her headaches get so severe she can be in bed for several days. "The worst headache I ever had was on holiday . . . I had to be taken to see an emergency doctor at 3am. I asked my doctor why headaches can occur on holiday, and he explained that stress can be suppressed during daily life, only to spill out once we get away and relax."
While Elizabeth can distinguish certain headache triggers, "insufficient water intake, or overheating in bed", she says others are harder to predict or prevent. "I have started to make a headache diary, noting how often they occur, and possible causes. I did note that I got a headache around "that time of the month" so I am keeping watch to see if hormones are a possible trigger."
Elizabeth is far from alone. Some 3.2 million people in Ireland suffer from headaches, with 17pc suffering them as often as Elizabeth, at least once a week. Over one-quarter of people found they had to put off regular tasks because of headaches, while 15pc had needed to spend a day in bed.
Like Elizabeth, common triggers included dehydration and lack of sleep, while almost one-third felt skipping meals was their headache trigger.
Pharmacist for Boots, Jean McAleenan, says headaches are one of the primary issues she deals with in the pharmacy. "It is clear that people don't fully understand the way to manage and treat headache-related pain. First and foremost, speak to your pharmacist if you are experiencing headaches on a regular basis. You should also consider your personal headache triggers."
As well as pain relief and hydration, Jean suggests some pro-active measures you can take to alleviate your sore head, such as isolating trigger foods or cutting down on caffeine and alcohol.
Jean suggests regular exercise to lower stress levels, as well as stretching out the areas of your body prone to holding tension. "Tension can be carried in the shoulder or neck. Stretching your neck, shoulders and back may help."
Identifying whether your headache is sinus or allergy related is also important.
As part of Headache Awareness Week , a special app has been developed with videos, tips and soothing sounds to help with headache prevention.
Jean says using relaxation techniques will go a long way to soothing your head. "Focus on taking long, slow breaths to help reduce stress levels. If possible, sit or lie in a darkened room, clear your mind and relax. Listen to the Soothing Sounds feature on the app to hear relaxing sounds, especially designed to help you relax and feel calm."
On advice from her doctor, Elizabeth has lowered her sugar and caffeine intake and is mindful of her posture. She's also planning to try physiotherapy, but says she still struggles to get enough R&R.
"I saw a shampoo advert recently on the television, which ends with the slogan, "Who takes care of you?" I think women and mothers especially can identify with that – they are usually the caretakers, and their own needs can get neglected."
But when it comes to stress, tension or financial woes, to her 3.2 million fellow sufferers, Elizabeth offers this nugget of advice: "It may not be ideal but daily lives can be made more manageable. The first step is to take some time to sit down with a notepad, and see where things can be improved."
Nurofen Headache Soother is now available for free on the App Store and Android Market. See www.nurofen.ie for more information.