It’s one in the morning, your ten-page paper is missing ten pages, and your neighbor has the latest N’SYNC hit on repeat. What could make this scenario worse? How about if your head hurts like crazy, so bad that it feels like someone pounded you a couple of times with a baseball bat. Headaches can, at times, make you totally unable to think coherently. Luckily, there are ways both to avoid and treat them.”Nearly all cases of headaches for college-aged people can be classified as tension-induced headaches,” says Jennifer Perrone, MD, a resident in a New York City hospital. It’s not surprising that the number one cause of your headache is stress. Stress from the professor who won’t bump up your grade. Stress from your high-maintenance significant other. Stress from your parents.
There could be other causes of your ill-timed headache, too. If you’re a heavy coffee drinker or ritually down a couple Diet Pepsis a day, you may be more inclined to have late night head pains. Surprisingly, the pains don’t come from too much caffeine, but a lack of it. “If you’re used to having lots of coffee or soda and then you go without any for a day,” Perrone says, “you probably will get some sort of headache as a result.”
Certain foods have been known to cause headaches. When you get a headache, ask yourself if you ate chocolate, cheese, nuts, citrus fruits, bread, or drank alcohol or caffeine. Any of these could trigger a headache.
Some people find that poor posture or grinding their teeth at night leads to daytime headaches. Menstrual cycles can spark head pain, as can other hormonal changes. Think also about any odors or bright lights in your home that may lead to headaches.
Suzanne Simons, executive director of the National Headache Foundation, warns against “missing or delaying meals, or having irregular sleep cycles.” She says if you’re taking over-the-counter pain-killers regularly to treat headaches, you should talk to a doctor. A physician can recommend specific lifestyle changes, like avoiding certain foods or using stress reduction techniques.
Besides tension and caffiene headaches, some folks suffer from the more debilitating migraine, which can be a major pain in the ass — or rather, the head. Migraines cause severe pain, and may or may not come with warning signs (the most common are visual disturbances or flu-like symptoms). There are drugs that can do wonders for migraine sufferers. Inderol, Imitrex, and Zomig are the most popular, but consult a doctor to determine what’s appropriate for you.
Whatever the cause of your headache, most are minor health concerns and can be quickly treated with aspirin or another analgesic. Advil, Tylenol, and Bayer have different effects on different individuals. One kind might work well for one person, and not at all for someone else. If you use one that doesn’t seem effective, try a different brand. And if nothing seems to work, consult a doctor or your campus health center to see if you need something more potent.
But if you’re a college student (which means you need a daily fix of Starbucks, stay up way too late, and are racked with stress), odds are you have a good old-fashioned tension throbber. There are, unfortunately, no clear preventive measures you can take, other than making sure that your doses of caffeine are, at the very least, consistent. (Aha! An excuse to drink more coffee!) And take whatever steps you can to avoid stress — try not returning your parents’ phone calls and avoiding your difficult significant other, for starters.
Matt stayed up too late and drank too much caffiene while researching the causes of headaches.
Image courtesy: purdue.edu