Factors that Worsen Headaches Factors that Worsen Headaches

By Dr. Mao, L.Ac., D.O.M., Ph.D, Dipl. C.H., ABAAP

Ouch, one thing is certain - headaches are painful. Sometimes people get a headache as a result of catching a cold, staying up too late, or getting a hangover after drinking too much. One in six Americans experiences chronic headaches that can be caused by sinus problems, muscle tension, eye strain, jaw clenching, hunger, anxiety, a virus, or allergies. Headaches can be experienced at the front of the head, the temples, the back of the head near the neck, and on the top of the head. Factors that worsen headaches include poor eating habits, stress, and lack of sleep. Headaches can occur during the day or in the evening, while you are active or at rest. In complicated cases like cluster headaches, migraines, or neurological conditions the headache may also be accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting.

According to Chinese medicine theory, pain is the body's signal that there is a blockage of Blood and Qi energy. Causes of the stagnation include developing colds, depression, or trauma to the energetic pathways as a result of physical injury. By identifying the underlying cause of headaches, we at Tao of Wellness deliver targeted therapies to our patients, including acupuncture for pain relief, herbal medicine for inflammation and muscle spasms, diet therapy to eliminate allergies, and meditation to reduce stress and tension.

The following are home remedies for headache, but be aware that headaches are sometimes caused by serious medical conditions like brain tumors, a hemorrhagic stroke, or glaucoma so if you experience debilitating headaches that don't respond to simple OTC medications be certain to call your doctor. If you experience sudden excruciating pain in your head, it may very well be a medical emergency so you will need to call 911 and get to an emergency room as quickly as possible.


The smooth flow of Blood and Qi energy rely heavily on what we consume on a regular basis - the foods we eat eventually end up in our energetic pathways and in our blood in the form of energy. Proper eating habits can help maintain a good flow of energy and blood to the head, preventing headaches. Eat wholesome foods free of preservatives, additives, and other artificial ingredients because artificial colors and preservatives such as sulfites in wine, processed meats, and dried fruit can cause headaches.

Eat regularly in frequent small quantities. Do not eat on the run or while under stress. Do not eat late at night or lie down immediately after eating.

Avoid greasy and fried foods; when oils are heated they produce chemicals that can cause headaches. Spicy, stimulating foods and heavy starchy foods should be avoided as well. Drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages can raise blood pressure and cause headaches, although sometimes caffeine can temporarily relieve a headache. Giving up coffee abruptly can cause withdrawal headaches at first. Drinking alcohol can also cause headaches.


I do not recommend vigorous exercise during headache episodes because exercise can worsen the condition. Taking a walk in fresh air will help stimulate blood flow and increase oxygenation to the head. Gentle walking can nip the headache in the bud before it starts - as soon as you feel a headache coming on, step out into the fresh air and go for a 10-minute walk, breathing deeply and vigorously. A regular regimen of moderate cardiovascular and stretching exercises can help maintain good health and proper circulation.


Some medications can cause headaches, including birth control pills, antihistamines, vasodilators such as nitroglycerin, isosorbide dinitrate, antiarrhythmic agents such as quinidine, digoxin, and ergotamine. Hormone therapy can also cause headaches. Consult your physician for alternatives.

If you are prone to headaches, avoid caffeine, recreational drugs, and alcohol. Lack of sleep is another major cause of common headaches and so are the common cold, and injuries to the neck. High blood pressure and blood sugar fluctuations can cause headaches and should be regulated and controlled.

If you or someone you know is suffering from chronic headaches, Chinese medicine can help. A licensed TCM practitioner can possibly help reduce your symptoms and potentially eliminate your condition altogether.

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