Oh God, my headache is killing me!


Most of us have experienced headaches in some form in our lives. Ever wondered about the severity and kinds of headaches? A. Radhakrishnan gives us an account of the diverse, painful world of headaches, and some home cures for it.

The escalator was broken, and the only way out of the airport was up a flight of stairs. I had a big suitcase and a sore knee.
I began dragging my bag and was making a loud thud on every step when a man behind me grabbed it and carried it to the top.
“That was so chivalrous,” I gushed, thanking him.
“Chivalry had nothing to do with it,” he said. “I’ve got a splitting headache.”

– ‘An End to Chivalry’, courtesy of Reader’s Digest

It bewilders you, it intimidates…there is this throbbing pain and your head hurts for no apparent reason. It can be debilitating and it doesn’t go away. What is it?

Cephalalgia or headache is the symptom of pain anywhere in the region of the head or neck. It occurs as migraines, tension-type headaches, and cluster headaches. Frequent headaches can affect relationships and employment and increases the risk of depression in many cases.

To elaborate, the pain originates from the tissues and structures that surround the skull or the brain, because the brain itself has no nerves that give rise to the sensation of pain (pain fibres). The thin layer of tissue (periosteum) that surrounds bones, muscles that encase the skull, sinuses, eyes, and ears, as well as thin tissues that cover the surface of the brain and spinal cord (meninges), arteries, veins, and nerves, all can become inflamed or irritated and cause a headache.

The pain may be a dull ache, sharp, throbbing, constant, intermittent, mild, or intense, and may be benign or more serious.

Three types of primary headaches exist – headaches caused by environmental factors (like migraines), headaches triggered by food or sleep, and headaches triggered by stress. I will focus more on the debilitating migraine headache.

Migraine, its causes and effects
A migraine is a severe, painful headache that can be preceded or accompanied by sensory warning signs such as flashes of light, blind spots, tingling in the arms and legs, nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound. The excruciating pain can last for hours or even days.

It can also be triggered off by an allergy to items like tea, coffee, alcohol, ice-cream, extremes of weather, negative feelings, etc., with an aversion to light, noise or odour. There could be one to three attacks in a month accompanied by muddled or slurred speech, including dizziness, cold sensation, pain in the sinuses, dehydration, loss of concentration or numbness in hands or legs.

Doctors have yet to find a cure. A migraine is caused by the vaso-dilation or expansion of blood vessels in the head while a headache is caused by the constriction of blood vessels.

A headache could be also triggered through lazy posture, i.e. slouching or stooping causes pressure on the neck and scalp muscles; leisure, which is a combination of triggers include stress, lack of sleep, missed meals and oversleeping.

Some even get dull headaches after a visit to the hairdresser. When the neck muscles are awkwardly positioned, a mechanical failure develops. Bottling up anger too makes you susceptible to headaches more than even depression or anxiety. People should learn ways to lengthen their fuses.

Sex affects men more than women. A dull ache at the back of the head intensifies with sexual excitement! A diet of processed food and poor drink choices, along with the lack of exercise mean a sluggish colon, which leads to self-poisoning of the system. And of course, drug misuse.

Some severe medical issues, such as meningitis and stroke, can also cause headaches. If you experience any of the following symptoms, be sure to call your physician immediately:

  • An abrupt, severe headache
  • A headache with fever, stiff neck, seizures, difficulty speaking, rash, weakness, or double vision
  • Headaches following a head injury
  • If experiencing headaches for the first time after the age of 50
  • Simple ways to cure headache/migraine are:

  • Squeeze the juice of a lemon in a cup of hot black tea. Sip slowly.
  • For a headache caused by heat, the crust of lemon can be pound into a fine paste in a mortar and applied to the forehead.
  • Apply freshly pared-off rind of a lemon to each temple.
  • Using your index finger and your thumb to squeeze the bridge of your nose while pressing down a little bit. Try to massage your temples alternately, but not too hard.
  • Have hot soup and try to take a nap. Darken the room and switch off all noise.
  • Getting a hot water bath is known to cure headaches too.
  • Above all, have a proper attitude to life. It is the panacea for good health.
  • The art of headache
    Did you know there is also migraine inspired art? Some historians believe Vincent Van Gogh had visual auras, accounting for some of the artistic techniques evident in his work. Migraine-related hallucinations may have inspired the surreal, imaginary world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

    Claude Monet was a painter whose works were thought to have been inspired by the bright colours he saw when he was having migraines. His paintings were full of light and are some of the most sought after by art collectors.

    Sarah Colwill suffered from migraines, which left her with a Chinese accent or a ‘Foreign Accent Syndrome’. While others are left speechless with pain, here the disturbing impact of a chronic migraine has left her voice unrecognisable to family and friends. She has a condition which damages the part of the brain that controls speech and word formation. She was diagnosed as having rare sporadic hemiplegic migraines which cause blood vessels in the brain to expand, resulting in stroke-like symptoms such as paralysis on one side of the body.

    Only around 60 recorded cases are there in the world. Other victims include BBC World Service broadcaster Anne Bristow- Kitney whose crisp English tones were replaced by a broad Scottish accent after she suffered a stroke and brain haemorrhage in 1996. Wendy Hasnip, a special needs teacher from Yorkshire began speaking with a French accent after a stroke in 1999 and Lynda Walker, a university administrator, born in Newcastle Upon Tyne woke up after a stroke to find her Geordie twang replaced by a Jamaican accent!

    To end, a unique cure…
    “I have a bad headache. I’ll visit the doctor.”
    “Don’t do that. Yesterday I had a headache, so I hurried home, gave my wife a big kiss and the headache disappeared. Why don’t you try it?”
    “Good idea. Call up your wife and tell her I’ll be right over.”


    A. Radhakrishnan

    A. Radhakrishnan is a Pune-based freelance writer, poet and short story writer, who loves to interact, make friends and encourage people to laugh.