Advice Column, Health, Parenting

Summer fun without the headache

Summer is the season most South Africans look forward to for its long, lazy weekends and holidays full of braais, swimming, sports, and picnics. Relaxing in the sun are highpoints in the year for most of us. However, mixed with some tension and frustrations and the mix of breaking your routine, eating and drinking differently, staying up late and having too much sun can all lead to headaches. 

According to a study published in Neurology the official journal of the European Neurological Society, your headache risk jumps 8% each time the temperature climbs nine degrees. Heat may make the blood vessels in your skull expand and press up against surrounding nerve endings, creating a very sensitive situation. 

As a result, even normal blood flow can feel like a jackhammer drilling through your cranium, says Dr Elliot Shevel, South Africa’s pioneer in the field of migraine surgery and the medical director of The Headache Clinic. Headaches are people’s number one physical woe, but you don’t have to live with the pain. You can stop the throbbing and get back to the beach.

Eat healthy meals

Eat balanced meals three times a day with healthy snacks in between to make sure your body gets the nutrients and energy it needs. Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) can also trigger headaches in many people. If a meal with high sugar content is eaten, it can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels followed by a fast drop that may trigger a headache. Eating a meal with low sugar content may prevent the onset of a headache during the day. Call us on 011 484 0933 for a list of foods which have a low glycemic index. Remember that skipping meals is a sure-fire trigger for headaches. Eat in moderation and enjoy your meals.

Beware of too much sun

It’s not only the heat, but bright sunlight will often also trigger headaches. Many headache and migraine sufferers are sensitive to bright light and they should avoid it when they have a headache. It is wise to wear sunglasses for protection. Polarized lenses are recommended, as they are effective in cutting out glare. A suitable hat may also be helpful. 

Get enough sleep

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, tested 32 women with tension-type headache. The investigators studied self-report data on headache triggers, pain interference with sleep, and self-management strategies for pain.  81% reported that going to sleep was the most frequently used self-management strategy, and this group also rated going to sleep as the most effective strategy. So don’t lose out on sleep this winter. Fatigue is a major trigger of headaches as well, aim to sleep seven or eight hours a night.

Stay active

Taking part in physical activities are not only great fun, but also an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Take up some form of everyday physical activity that will help you stay healthy. Learn the right stretching exercises to stretch the muscles of the head, face, neck and jaw. Stretching should be gentle and soothing, not agonizingly painful. For a free copy of exercises, contact The Headache Clinic on 011 484 093. These exercises will help you to stretch the neck and jaw muscles carefully and will give results.

Steer clear of stress

Summer can be a very stressful time for most, thanks to large family gatherings over the festive season and stress is a major headache trigger. The research conducted by the World Health Organization has shown that 80 % of headaches are caused by muscle tension, which is triggered by stress. Headache and migraine sufferers should try plan ahead of time for big family get-togethers and holidays to avoid tension headaches. Try to avoid last minute gift shopping, ensure your car is serviced before travelling, delegate chores to family members, and make travel reservations well in advance.

Keep your fluid intake up

The human brain is more than 75% water, and it is very sensitive to the amount of water available to it. When the brain detects that the water supply is too low, it begins to produce histamines. This is essentially a process of water rationing and conservation, in order to safeguard the brain in case the water shortage continues for a long period of time. The histamines directly cause pain and fatigue, in other words a headache and the low energy that usually accompanies it. It is best to drink plain water, as many carbonated soft drinks contain substances that can also trigger headaches. Substances that headache sufferers should avoid include common ingredients in soft drinks such as caffeine.

When to see a doctor

It is crucial that if your headaches persist, you should get to the root of the problem. The longer the headache persists, the more damage will be done to the underlying structures. A “multidisciplinary” assessment will need to be done. There are so many different structures in the head, face and neck, all of which can be involved in the migraine process, that no single specialist can have all the knowledge necessary to make a comprehensive assessment and diagnosis. Which structures are causing the pain and generating the pain signals is the million dollar question. 

For those patients who want to have healthier alternatives to medication, there are a number of non-drug breakthrough treatment options. These include bloodless “surgery”, minimally evasive arterial surgery, posture modifying technologies, Botox and trigger point therapy to name but a few. In most cases it is possible to get to the bottom of the problem and resolve the pain permanently. 

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