Anyone who’s experienced migraine understands how this intense, throbbing headache can reduce your ability to concentrate, sleep, and even accomplish everyday tasks. What’s more, a migraine can appear at any time, and often without warning. In fact, severe head pain tends to rank 4th or 5th among reasons for emergency room visits.
According to research cited in the National Library of Medicine, about 15% of Americans experience episodes of migraine. If you’re one of them — and suddenly feel a migraine coming on — consider these tips to help manage discomfort and inconvenience from your head pain:
Since the 19th century, cold compresses have been a recognized and popular at-home migraine treatment. It's thought that cooling packs work by constricting blood vessels, decreasing neurotransmission of pain and potentially offering some relief during a migraine episode.
To make a cold compress at home, simply place ice in a plastic bag — or grab a small bag of frozen peas or other vegetables from your freezer. Next, soak a large washcloth with cold water, and wrap it around the ice or frozen vegetable bag to create a cold pack. Hold the entire pack against the area of your head pain for up to 20 minutes.
Several wearable cold-compress products available on the market can also be chilled and wrapped around the head or neck.
A common migraine symptom is sensitivity to bright lights, or photophobia. While scientists continue to study this area, it is thought that the neurons of the thalamus, located deep within the brain, react to light exposure by generating pain sensations and discomfort.
In the aura stage of migraine, some people also report zigzagging patterns, blind spots, or flashes of light.
If you have this type of light sensitivity, an effective approach to migraine treatment may include finding a dark room to relax in. Many people with migraines report that lying down and relaxing in a dark room for 20 to 30 minutes offers some relief.
It’s easy enough to switch off the bedroom light at nighttime, but you may need to get a bit more creative by day. Installing blackout blinds can be a great way to darken your room whenever needed. Wearing an eye mask is also a simple way to block out light that’s causing sensitivity.
Surprisingly, caffeine is often a common ingredient in pain medications. It's thought to restrict blood vessels and reduce blood flow, a vasoconstrictive response that can be effective in reducing headaches. And coffee is readily available — or quick-and-easy to prepare — almost anywhere.
Many people combine use of a caffeinated drink with an over-the-counter medication — evidence suggests that caffeine may increase the medicine’s power or help some people absorb their medication more quickly.
But there’s a drawback: if you consume caffeine daily or near-daily, it may actually become less and less effective in treating your migraine. Also, regular caffeine consumption can narrow the blood vessels — then if consumption suddenly stops, those blood vessels may enlarge, increasing blood flow to the brain and spurring migraine in sensitive people.
Of course, all bodies are unique, and here’s another caveat: for some sensitive people, any amount of caffeine might have the opposite effect and actually bring on head pain. So, while many people report that caffeine gives them relief, your experience may be entirely different.
When you feel migraine symptoms, it may be tough to get an appointment with a medical professional at a moment's notice. If sudden pain is causing discomfort, try using acupressure or massage to self-treat your symptoms.
Acupressure applies pressure to certain areas of the body to release muscle tension and alleviate pain. A popular spot to try is the LI-4, the point between the index finger and thumb on the left hand. Use your right hand to rub the spot in a circular motion for about five minutes to see if it decreases your head pain.
Another acupoint for pain relief is the PC6. A 2012 study found that applying pressure to this point — located three fingers up from the wrist — can help reduce some migraine symptoms, such as nausea.
Sometimes, massage can also work for instant migraine relief. One study suggests that rubbing your temples with menthol can reduce head pain; others indicate you can achieve similar effects with lavender oils.
Besides potentially providing speedy migraine relief, some people who get migraines schedule regular massage as part of a preventative process to manage their pain.
If or when other treatment methods fail, several types of effective medications are available to treat migraine. Some are available over the counter (OTC), some by prescription to halt or prevent migraines.
OTC medications include headache relief tablets such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. The effectiveness of their anti-inflammatory properties largely depends on the individual using them.
When OTC drugs aren’t successful, triptans can be a very effective prescription medication for many people with migraines. Although they won't prevent migraine, they offer relief once symptoms begin.
Finally, CGRP receptor antagonists such as Ubrogepant (Ubrelvy), Rimegepant (Nurtec ODT), and Atogepant (Qulipta) are prescription medications that you can use to prevent or treat migraines. Clinical trials suggest they can provide relief from symptoms of a migraine attack, or reduce the number of migraine and headache days per month if taken regularly.
These 5 tips may give you a measure of pain relief in the short term — but long-term relief is the ideal scenario. Migraines are heritable, and understanding why you experience these attacks will move you closer to resolving them.
Take our quiz to get a migraine treatment plan individualized to you — no more trips to the doctor or prescriptions that don't work. DNA-informed treatments can help you find a tailored approach that works more quickly to treat or eliminate your migraine.