Ask anyone what gives them a headache, and you’re sure to hear a host of different causes, with the top offenders being stress, lack of sleep, continuous loud noises (like screaming children for instance), a traffic jam when you’re already late, or something as benign as an offending smell. Whatever your typical trigger, it might not be the only thing causing your headache. Here are seven strange things that may be causing your whopping pounder.
1. You coughed
Initially it may not seem so terrible, but a cough can be followed by a sudden sharp, splitting, or stabbing headache. This condition is referred to as primary cough headache, and it’s most common in men over the age of 40. “It’s thought to be the result of increased pressure within the veins surrounding the brain and skull,” says Brian Grosberg, M.D., director of the Montefiore Headache Center and associate professor of Neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, to Men’s Health. The pain can last for a few seconds to 30 minutes, and it can be very painful. Coughing is very common if you have allergies, asthma, or if you have an infection, and the best you can do is seek treatment for your underlying condition and sweat it out.
“If it’s not related to any specific symptoms, but the pain happens regularly, talk to your doctor about medication that may be able to treat the pain,” adds Grosberg.
2. Wine bar favorites
For those of you who frequent more upscale happy hours that serve hors d’oeuvres that are smoked, pickled, dried, or aged, such as aged gourmet cheeses, salami, and smoked salmon (not to mention wine), beware. These items tend to contain sulfites that can dilute your blood vessels and cause a headache, says Alexander Mauskop, M.D., director of the New York Headache Center, to Prevention. Keep track of what you eat and when you get a headache. It’s easy to eliminate offending foods until you’re headache free.
3. Flashing lights
Nearly 85% of migraine sufferers say they’re extremely sensitive to bright or flashing lights during a migraine attack, reports LiveScience. That said, if you’re sitting in a room with fluorescent lights overhead that create a glare on your computer screen, it can trigger frequent pounding headaches, and sitting and staring at a computer all day can cause a headache as well. “Glare affects certain cells in the retina that interact with different pain pathways in the brain and can lead to headaches,” says Matthew Robbins, M.D., director of Inpatient Services at Montefiore, to Men’s Health. Lucky for those who count this is as a headache trigger, there is a simple solution: Block out the caustic light by covering your computer screen with a glare shield.
4. You’re having rough sex
Having sex is great, but once it starts to get a bit rough, you can get more than you bargained for. You may experience a sudden, severe, explosive headache right before or during an orgasm. Talk about an entire body- and mind-blowing experience. “It’s likely due to short-lived increased pressure inside the brain during sexual excitement,” says Grosberg. Your chances of getting a headache increase if you’re having a lot of sex in a shorter period of time, possibly due to the fact that your brain does not have enough time to recover between sessions. There’s the quick fix for this one: If you find that a particular position is causing a headache, then you may want to avoid it.
5. Relationship worries
This one may come more as an indirect shocker. Relationship stress, be it with your significant other or a less intimate source like your relationship with your boss, can be a huge source of headache pain. There’s a simple reason for this: When you’re anxious, as relationships tend to make you feel, you take shorter breaths, says Nicole Glassman, owner of Mindful Health, a holistic health center in New York, to Prevention. The less oxygen you take in, the more your blood vessels constrict, which can bring on a pounder. An added bonus: Stress can make you clench your teeth, which can also cause tension headaches. The next time you feel anxious or overwhelmed, try some breathing exercises. Try breathing in and counting to four, hold your breath for 5 to 7 seconds, and then exhale. Repeat this several times until you’ve calmed down.
6. The weekend
No, not the weekend! Naturally on Saturday you sleep in and detox from the workweek; however, this break in routine could be giving you a headache. It’s a very common phenomenon called caffeine withdrawal; side effects include misery and, you guessed it, a headache. Waking up later on the weekends means you’ll be having your cup of coffee later, so caffeine will be coursing through your veins later than usual, triggering withdrawal symptoms and one hell of a headache. Seymour Diamond, M.D., executive chairman of the National Headache Foundation, recommends avoiding this common occurrence by getting up at the same time everyday, even on the weekends, as it’s the best way to keep your circadian rhythms consistent. If you’re craving more sleep, try not to sleep more than an hour later, he says to Prevention.
7. You’re a gum chewer
An interesting study out of Israel found that when researchers asked gum-chewing headache suffers to give up their habit for a month, 86% reported improvements in their symptoms, while many experienced total relief. The main culprit may be the artificial sweetener aspartame, which is found in many popular chewing gum brands that trigger throbbing headaches. The other culprit? The repetitive act of chewing creates muscle tension in your jaw and skull. Ditch the gum for aspartame-free mints instead to improve symptoms, reports Men’s Health.