Pain, pain, go away. By Dawn Chen
Photo: Kurhan / www.123rf.com
Whatever your age, you’ve probably experienced a headache before. Or, you know, maybe a hundred. It’s unsurprising then, that when Nurofen commissioned a nationwide survey of 800 Singaporeans recently, they found that headaches were the most common type of pain that people experience.
Decode and understand more about that pounding in your head from Joyce McSwan, an Australian clinical consultant pharmacist who was brought in by Nurofen Singapore. She shares her expertise on managing headaches below.
1. Headaches are usually caused by lifestyle factors
“In today’s digital era, the heavy usage of digital communication devices causes tension to build up in various parts of the body – especially the neck muscles, which will lead to headaches,” says Joyce. Some external factors that cause stress include poor posture, heavy usage of digital communication devices, stress, polluted environments, certain medications, diet and poor sleep. Internal factors like hormonal changes during your period can also cause headaches.
2. Headaches don’t always mean there’s something wrong with your body
Most headaches are primary headaches, which mean they’re not related to any underlying cause. Joyce explains: “Primary headaches make up a big proportion of headaches where you will not find any structural abnormalities within the brain. It is often caused by lifestyle factors. Many of these headaches are due to the body sending electrical signals to the brain to inform it of its stress. When ignored, this continuous bombardment causes the signals to disperse widely. This so-called dispersion activates and sensitises not only pain pathways but pathways responsible for automatic functions, sleep-wake cycles, biorhythms, emotions and mood.”
Simply put, you don’t have to immediately worry that something’s wrong with your brain when a headache strikes. Oftentimes, getting sufficient rest and stressing less helps.
3. When it comes to headaches, prevention is really better than cure
According to Joyce, the best way to manage headaches is to prevent them from arising in the first place. “If you have identified a specific trigger, modifying your lifestyle is the best way of headache prevention,” she says.
“For example, neck strains can respond positively to exercise and physiotherapy and these should always be tried first. Exercise is an important form of pain control as it causes the brain to release endorphins – a powerful and natural pain reliever. Unfortunately, not all triggers are identifiable or avoidable, hence the need for medication.”
For quick relief, over-the-counter meds can help alleviate the pain and provide temporary comfort.
4. But don’t overdo painkillers
Yes, you can actually become addicted to painkillers. “Pain relievers are designed to reduce the intensity of pain so that you can function,” says Joyce. “Keep within the dose range that is indicated on the packaging and follow instructions when taking the medication so that it works effectively.”
5. Consider seeing a doc if OTC meds don’t work
Don’t just spam painkillers if your headache isn’t getting better. “If the medication is ineffectively managing the pain after the maximum dose has been reached, exceeding the dose is not safe or better. Consulting with a pharmacist or doctor is important as there could be better or more targeted treatments for the type of pain you experience,” says Joyce.
Overall, identifying the type of pain and finding appropriate treatment options usually means that higher doses are not needed. If you have self-guided your treatment without success then a health professional should be consulted with.