Richard’s Almanac: Oh, our aching heads


I think it’s safe to say that most of us have headaches at one time or another in our lives. Although now in our advanced age we tend to worry more about them. A headache could signal the arrival of a stroke or other brain problem.

That’s why I read with interest an article in the latest issue of the AARP magazine titled “This Is Why Your Head Hurts.”

It seemed like when I was growing up every adult I knew had headaches as a matter of course. I remember one grandfather who always had a bottle of Anacin with him while another grandfather ended his work day, not with a cocktail, but with a tall glass of Alka Seltzer.

I can remember parents complaining about sinus headaches whenever the weather changed. Lots of aspirins and Bufferins were consumed to soften these debilitating afflictions.

Author Jessica Migala examined all of the causes of our headaches and created a chart that we can use to find the causes of ours before we run off and see a doctor.

She starts off with stress and how a lot of stress can be at the root of a muscle-tension headache. She suggests adjusting your posture, dropping your jaw and doing some neck rolls. Ms. Migala also suggests that having a first cup of coffee later than usual or abruptly stopping coffee can lead to headaches due to “caffeine withdrawal.”

I thought about this and related it to my own consumption of coffee. Up until a few months ago I probably would have about six cups a day — two after each meal.

I saw that too much caffeine consumption was not that good. So I stopped caffeine abruptly. I experienced headaches so I took the gradual approach and now use half-caffeine pods in my Keurig. I also cut out the after dinner coffee except if I am out at a restaurant.

Then there are the headaches that come from weather conditions. The author says that migraine sufferers have a higher risk of head pain when there is thunder and lightning. Inflammation of sinuses from stuffy noses and allergies can cause what are known as sinus headaches.

Headaches can also come from dehydration or hunger, according to the author. Fluid levels in the body affect the concentration of minerals in or around cells. The brain may respond to those fluctuations with pain. I had first heard about this reason from my son. He said that when he was serving in the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was important to keep hydrated or the headaches would come.

“Research has found that drinking at least 16 ounces of water may help relieve headaches within 30 to 60 minutes,” Migala says. She also notes that skipping a meal can set off a headache, possibly due to changing glucose levels.

Also listed as a headache cause is sleep deprivation from whatever the cause. It’s important to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Other headaches come from prescribed medications and regular use of over-the-counter pain killers. It’s best to consult your physician about your medications and their side effects.

Then there are menopausal headaches due to fluctuating estrogen levels. According to the author, “Many women see their headaches disappear after menopause.”

Noticeable by its absence is the hangover headache. Maybe because when we get one, we’re sure of the cause.

Then there are what the author calls mystery headaches. These warrant consulting a headache specialist.

Finally the author warns: “Any headaches accompanied by weakness, vision loss, balance problems or slurred speech require immediate physician care. Sudden pain that feels like the worst headache of your life — also described as a thunderclap — is a red flag that can signal an aneurysm. Call 911.”

So there you have it. Don’t ignore those headaches.