10 Causes of Headaches
We’ve all experienced headaches—they’re incredibly common and make us appreciate the existence of modern over-the-counter pain medications. But even though headaches as a whole are common, they shouldn’t be. Think about headaches like home internet: Everyone’s internet cuts out every once in a while. It can be a little annoying while your modem reboots, but it’s easy to manage. But when your internet cuts out often, you know that there’s likely a larger problem at work.
Frequent headaches can range from annoyingly unpleasant to genuinely disruptive, but you don’t have to simply accept them as part of your life! Identifying the root cause of your headaches can help you reduce their frequency and severity, allowing you to rediscover what life is like when headaches are a rare annoyance rather than a near-constant companion. Here are 10 common headache culprits you might not realize are related.
Stress is one of the biggest causes of frequent headaches because there are multiple ways that it can contribute to their development. When you’re stressed, you tend to hold that tension in your muscles, especially your neck and shoulders. You might not even be conscious of this muscle tension, but it can still cause major discomfort. Stress can also lead to headaches by causing people to clench or grind their teeth (a habit that can lead to headaches on its own). Balancing stress to reach headache relief can be difficult at first, but it is possible.
2. Teeth Grinding or Clenching
This habit often isn’t a conscious one, as many people clench or grind their teeth during their waking or sleeping hours without even realizing it. When you clench or grind your teeth, you’re exerting a significant amount of pressure on your jaw for a long time. This overworks the muscles and leads to the kind of tension and inflammation that produces headaches. Thankfully there are plenty of ways you can address this problem, protect your oral health, and find relief all at once.
3. Jaw Issues
Your jaw is made up of two incredibly complex joints known as the temporomandibular joints (often collectively referred to as your TMJ). These joints work together with a complex network of muscles and nerves to help you eat, speak, smile, and even swallow, so they’re incredibly important! This network of muscles includes those of your face and head, so problems with your jaw are a common culprit of persistent headaches. A misaligned jaw is relatively common but can result in muscle tension, bruxism, and headaches if untreated. TMJ dysfunction, also known as TMD, can lead to frequent headaches as well because of muscle tension and inflammation. Identifying TMD or a misaligned jaw can set you on the path to a healthier, headache-free life.
4. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a condition that causes you to stop breathing in your sleep periodically. It leads to a wide range of symptoms including fatigue and recurrent headaches. These headaches often occur first thing in the morning and are brought on by low oxygen levels in your blood. It’s easy to overlook sleep apnea symptoms, but the condition is serious and can impact your overall health, so it’s important not to dismiss it! If you suspect you have sleep apnea, visiting a sleep specialist can help you get better, more restful sleep, resolve your headaches, and stay healthier overall.
There’s also a potential link between migraines and genetics. Some studies indicate that more than half of people who suffer from chronic migraines have at least one family member who also suffers from the condition. While you can’t change your predisposition to headaches, knowing that there’s a genetic link can help you manage your migraines better. You may share some of the same headache triggers or respond to the same medications as your family member, so their experience can help inform your treatment.
6. Abnormal Sleep Cycle
The amount of sleep that each individual needs differs from person to person, but the average for adults falls between 7 and 9 hours each night. If you aren’t getting enough sleep due a busy schedule or insomnia, you’re much more prone to getting chronic headaches. By the same token, sleeping too much can also spark headaches. Thankfully, adjusting your sleep cycle so that you’re getting enough to feel well-rested in the mornings should cut down your headaches considerably. If you still feel exhausted no matter how much you sleep, contact your doctor so that they can further explore possible underlying causes.
7. Hormone Level Fluctuations
Headaches and migraines are significantly more common among women. This is in part due to the link between headaches and the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which play vital roles in menstrual cycles and pregnancy. Changes in these hormone levels, such as just before or during a period, can trigger headaches. Fortunately there are ways you and your doctor can manage these headaches and even prevent them entirely.
8. Weather Changes
Another major trigger for headaches is a change in the weather, such as a steep rise or fall in humidity, temperature, or pressure. If you suspect this might be a trigger for you, try downloading a headache tracking app to record the weather, including the pressure and humidity, on days that you have headaches. This can help you pinpoint the cause of your headaches and help inform any treatments your doctor may recommend.
9. Dietary Triggers
For some people, certain foods can serve as triggers for migraines. Common dietary triggers include artificial sweeteners, aged cheese, MSG, cured meats, alcohol, and chocolate. Strangely enough, caffeine, which is used in some over-the-counter headache relievers, can sometimes spark headaches if you suddenly increase or decrease the amount of it in your diet. After all, caffeine is addictive, so suddenly quitting coffee cold turkey can result in caffeine withdrawal and produce—you guessed it—a headache. An empty stomach can also induce a headache, though, so it’s always important to make sure you’re eating three full meals a day. Keeping a headache journal is a good way to help you identify triggers and eliminate them from your diet.
10. Sensory Triggers
When you have a severe headache, sensory inputs like bright, flickering lights, loud noises, and strong smells can make it worse. This is one reason sitting in a quiet, dark room helps so much when you have a throbbing headache. But these same sensory inputs can also cause headaches in the first place! For some people, any strong smell is a trigger, while others are more sensitive to specific smells like chlorine. You can’t always completely eliminate sensory triggers, but you can do your best to minimize them.
Headaches might be common for a lot of people, but they don’t have to be common for you! Determining the cause of your headaches and working with your doctor and dentist to treat them can seriously reduce or even eliminate your headaches. It might take a little trial and error, but the result is worth it! If you suspect that jaw issues, clenching, or grinding your teeth could be causing your headaches, call and schedule a consultation with Dr. Alhadef today.