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First Aid Guide for Dealing with Headaches

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

A sleepless night, skipped meals, a tooth infection, or a hangover, the list of reasons to get a Headache is very long. For some people, the solution is a cup of tea, for others, a nap. However, understanding Headaches is actually a lot more complicated.

A Headache refers to pain that is perceived in any part of the head. Headache is a very common symptom which is why people tend to ignore it. This is not a good idea as frequent Headaches have been linked with several serious medical conditions. It is therefore important to see a doctor and understand why you are facing this symptom while also receiving the correct form of treatment to alleviate it




Types of Headaches

Did you know that there are over 150 types of Headaches that are classified by the International Headache Society? If you visit a doctor, they will likely ask you about: 

  • The affected area

  • How does the Headache begin? (whether a sudden, sharp pain or more gradual?)

  • How long does the Headache last?

  • If there are any other symptoms associated with it?

  • What do you feel aggravates the pain or relieves it?

Getting these details helps doctors narrow down the potential cause of the Headache.

In general, Headaches are classified as follows. 

  • Primary Headaches: These occur due to any problem with pain-sensitive structures in the head. The brain itself does not have pain receptors. However, there are several parts of the head like blood vessels, muscles, meninges (covering layers of the brain), eyes, ears, teeth, etc. that have pain receptors that can be triggered by many several causes. 

  • Secondary Headaches: When a Headache is a symptom of some other disorder, it is usually classified under Secondary Headaches. Many diseases cause Headaches, and these are usually associated with specific symptoms that are indicative.

Primary Headache

The most common types of Primary Headaches are Migraines, Cluster Headaches, and Tension Headaches. Nearly 90% of all people with Headaches have some type of Primary Headache.

Migraines are a type of Headache where people usually have a pounding type of pain, often aggravated by exposure to sound and light, nausea, and may be associated with pre-Headache visual disturbances (also called aura).

Tension Headache is usually a presentation of a band-like pressure over the head, usually non-pounding, and not associated with other symptoms.

Cluster Headaches are short episodes of severe pain that usually occur localised to one area (typically around one eye). They are associated with symptoms like nasal congestion, redness of the eye, increased tear secretion, etc., and usually occur at the same time every day.

There are a lot of lifestyle factors that contribute to getting frequent primary Headaches, such as:

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Increased stress

  • Lack of sleep

  • Poor posture

  • Starvation

  • Intake of certain food items containing nitrates (like aged cheese)

  • Headaches associated with exercise or exertion

  • Brain freeze (Headache from eating very cold items)

Secondary Headache

Secondary Headaches occur as a symptom of some underlying disease process. The most common causes contributing to secondary Headaches include:

  • Sinusitis

  • Ear infection

  • Tooth infection

  • Flu, or generalised infections in the body

  • Dehydration

  • Adverse effects of medications

  • Head trauma and concussions

  • Infection of the meninges, also called Meningitis

  • Infection of brain tissue which is called Encephalitis 

  • High BP (hypertension)

  • Stroke

  • Intracranial bleeding

  • Haemorrhages and blood vessel pathologies

  • Glaucoma (a condition where there is increased pressure inside the eyeball)

First aid for Headache

As we spend long hours staring at screens, sleep irregularly, and fail to drink enough water, getting Headaches is increasingly common. 

Here are some immediate measures that you can take at home to try to alleviate your Headache.

  • Decrease exposure to any stimulus that triggers your Headache, such as bright lights, loud sounds, watching TV or your phone, walking around, etc. Some people even get Headaches after inhaling strong fragrances or perfumes.

  • Rest is an important part of managing Headaches. Rest in a relatively cool, preferably dark and quiet room.

  • Sleep significantly helps with decreasing the severity of your pain. Using cold compresses and ice packs on your forehead may provide temporary relief.

  • There are many over-the-counter pain medications that are available to decrease Headaches. The safest of these medications is Paracetamol (acetaminophen). You can take an adult dose of Paracetamol (500-1000mg) up to thrice a day to manage your Headache. 

  • Make sure you eat some food and drink enough water prior to taking the medication. 

  • Stress management and relaxation techniques can help desensitise you and prevent the occurrence of Headaches induced by this condition. 

  • Acupuncture has been proven to be of benefit in relieving chronic Headaches such as migraine.

Prevention of Headache

Here’s how you can prevent a Headache.

  • If you have a refractive error, make sure to wear glasses of the correct power at all times. Get your eyes checked every 6 months so you know you’re wearing the appropriate glasses.

  • Alcohol intake can trigger a migraine or Headache. Limit your alcohol intake if you get frequent Headaches.

  • Certain foods high in histamine such as cheeses, fermented foods, beer, wine, etc. can trigger Headaches. A good option is to cut out one food at a time to narrow down which is the culprit food. 

  • Make sure to get 7 to 8 hours of regular, undisturbed sleep every night

  • Essential oils such as lavender oil or peppermint oil have been found to be beneficial in relieving Headaches and improving the quality of sleep.

  • Nutrient deficiencies can trigger Headaches as well. Take your multivitamins and calcium supplements regularly. Antioxidant tablets have been shown to be beneficial as well.

  • Engage in regular physical activity. Yoga, cardio, and any form of movement can be beneficial.

When should you see a doctor for a Headache?

In general, if you are frequently suffering from Headaches, with any other symptoms, it is recommended that you see a doctor to understand why you have this issue and treat it appropriately. Seek immediate care if you have any of the following occurrences.

  • A sudden onset of very severe, debilitating Headache

  • Headache progressively becoming worse over the course of hours or days

  • Associated with a decrease in mental functioning, consciousness, and perception

  • Accompanied by seizures or loss of consciousness

  • If you are older than 50 and are experiencing a new type of Headache different from how you’ve usually presented in the past

  • Associated with a change in personality or abnormal behaviour

  • Recent history of injury to the head

  • Associated with symptoms like 

  • Fever

  • Neck stiffness

  • Vomiting

  • Severe eye pain

  • Weakness of limbs or paralysis

  • Inability to walk or use your hands

  • Slurring of speech

  • Loss of balance

  • Double vision, coloured halos, sudden blackening of vision

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common FAQs related to first aid for a Headache.


Can improving one’s lifestyle help in dealing with Headaches?

Your lifestyle plays a major role in the prevention of common types of Headaches. Following a routine with a healthy diet, regular exercise, good sleep, and relaxation techniques can be very beneficial.

What to do if my Headache does not subside?

If your Headache does not subside with simple measures, make sure to consult with your doctor. Give them all the relevant details regarding your health in order to help them arrive at a proper diagnosis. Your doctor may order some blood tests, and radiological investigations like x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs depending on their clinical interpretation as well. 

Is a loss of balance a symptom of Headache?

Yes, a loss of balance can be a symptom of a Headache.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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