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What could be causing your headache?

There are many possible causes of headaches and understanding your triggers may help you to reduce their regularity.

For some, headaches are a temporary irritation, but for others, headaches can be severely painful or even debilitating. There are three types of headache: tension, migraine, and cluster. A tension headache, as the name suggests, feels like a tight pressure around the head. A migraine headache is typically a throbbing or pounding feeling in one side of the head, which can make people sensitive to light and/or nauseous. A cluster headache is more like a stabbing pain behind the eye, which can lead to nasal congestion, tears, or redness. 

There are many possible causes of headaches and understanding your triggers may help you to reduce their regularity. 

Poor sleep 

A common cause of both tension and migraine headaches is a lack of sleep, although the connection between them is not clear to medical professionals. Headaches can often be cured with a nap or a good night’s sleep. 

Dietary triggers

Some people find they get a headache when they are hungry, while others may find that eating particular foods can trigger a migraine. There are numerous trigger foods for migraines, but common ones include chocolate, dairy products, wheat, onions, and tomatoes. Highly processed foods which include dyes and nitrites are also common triggers. The body is two-thirds water, so dehydration can prevent the body from functioning at its best. If the brain does not have enough fluid, it can cause headaches. 

Environmental factors

Cluster headaches can be worse for some people during particular seasons such as fall or spring. For others, changes in the environment such as smoke, bright light, strong aromas, or cold or humid weather can cause cluster headaches. 

Eyesight problems

Our eyesight can degenerate so gradually so that we do not notice the change. When we are struggling with our vision, we strain our eyes and squint to compensate, which can lead to tension headaches. If you have noticed that you are getting headaches more regularly and they become worse when you have had to read or watch television from a distance, you should book an eye test. 


When we are stressed the muscles in our back, shoulders, and neck become tense. This tension can be perceived by the brain as being in the head. Stress can also trigger migraines in some people.

Caffeine withdrawal

People who drink coffee, tea, or soft drinks that are high in caffeine can find that when they stop drinking it, they develop a headache. This is because caffeine constricts blood vessels, and when it is absent the vessels relax and bulge as the heart beats. 

Drinking alcohol

Drinking even a small amount of alcohol can lead to cluster headaches and migraines in some people. Wine is a common problem for migraine sufferers. In addition, overindulging in alcohol can cause dehydration the following day, commonly referred to as a “hangover.” 

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Hormonal changes

Women can experience headaches associated with hormonal changes; for example, fluctuating estrogen levels. This is why some women only develop migraines during perimenopause and why the menopause often brings an end to migraines for many women.


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