The first sign of trouble is often a visual disturbance such as seeing dots or flickers of light. For 45 million people, that’s how chronic headaches begin.
In an effort to find some relief, Americans spend $4 billion annually on over-the-counter headache medication, according to the National Headache Foundation.
But relief may never come. In fact, some medications can actually cause more pain. It’s a phenomenon called rebound headache, and it’s just one type of headache about which caregivers want to teach the public during National Headache Awareness Week June 6-12.
“Rebound headaches are a big problem, and they’re hard to treat,” said Stephen Morgan, MD, of Mountain Empire Neurological Associates in Bristol. “It’s a chronic problem that interferes with daily functioning.”
Douglas Wright, MD, of Associated Neurologists of Kingsport said patients battling rebound headaches need to “break the headache cycle” by getting medicines out of their system.
“Over-the-counter headache drugs, except for the anti-inflammatories, can get people in more trouble than they help,” Dr. Wright said. “For the occasional headache sufferer, the person who may get one a month, they may be OK. But I tell people to stay away from them.”
To prevent headaches in the first place, Dr. Morgan suggests exercise.
“Aerobic exercise helps with a variety of different headaches,” he said. “For muscle contraction headaches, yoga can be helpful. Some people have problems with caffeine, which causes rebound headache, and cigarette smoking correlates with all types of headache.”
Diet also affects the frequency of headaches, Dr. Wright said. In addition to caffeine, some preservatives, flavor enhancers and tyramene – a naturally occurring substance in foods such as chocolate and cheese – should be avoided.
“We want to find ways to get rid of the daily medications that people have to take,” Dr. Wright said.