(Nurse Amy says: This article is not meant to infer that essential oils are proven remedies to treat any medical condition. Do your own research and reach your own conclusions)
In the first part of this series, we discussed several healthy life-style changes that may help reduce the frequency, duration and/or severity of headaches in general. Let’s describe the most common types of headaches so that you can tell the difference between them:
The Most Common Types of Headaches
Migraine headaches are debilitating and can run in families. There are over 80 different drugs that have been used with variable success to treat this condition. Migraines are characterized by a combination of several of the following:
• Throbbing pain
• Severe pain that is worsened with activity
• Nausea and Vomiting
• Sensitivity to light and sound
• Recurring episodes
• One-sided pain
• Long-lasting, up to 72 hours
• Foreshadowing (visual distortion, hand numbness, or other strange sensations; these are referred to as “auras”)
Tension Headaches are the most common type and rarely as painful as migraines. The pain is often described as a band squeezing the temples or the back of the head. These headaches may be associated with muscle contractions in those areas as a response to stress.
Cluster headaches are recurring headaches that occur in groups or cycles and affect men more often than women. They appear suddenly and are characterized by severe, debilitating pain on one side of the head. They may be differentiated from migraines by the presence of a watery eye and/or nasal congestion on the same side of the face. These headaches are sometimes treated with migraine medications.
Sinus headaches are often caused by infection. This headache causes pain behind the brow or the cheekbones. Sometimes, it is accompanied by fever. Antibiotics and antihistamines are commonly used conventional therapies.
Trigeminal headaches, otherwise known as “trigeminal neuralgia”, is caused by an artery compressing a specific nerve as it exits the brainstem. The fifth cranial nerve is the nerve that serves the face, so symptoms may include “electrical” or stabbing pain on one side. This type of condition (essentially a “face-ache”) is sometimes caused by actions such as washing your face or brushing your teeth. If bad enough, surgery is sometimes used to deal with this issue.
Rebound headaches may be related to withdrawal from over-the-counter drugs like aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen, as well as some prescription medications. Pain reliever overuse appears to interfere with the part of the brain that controls pain messages to the nerves, worsening headache pain. Rebound headaches may be variable in their symptoms, but should decrease over time after the withdrawal has worn off.
Treatment for Headaches
Let’s explore some treatment measures for consideration in grid-down scenarios. Most are natural remedies that could be available in a time when no modern medical facilities or prescriptions exist.
Treatment should begin at the first sign of an impending headache. Hoping a headache will just “go away” is the worst action you can take. Once headaches start they usually get much worse before they disappear. Headache sufferers sometimes deny the terrible realization that “here it comes again.” Don’t be fooled another time, act quickly to stop it in its tracks.
First, if possible, get into a dark, cool and quiet area. If you are outdoors get away from loud people or activities. Find a place to lay down with your head slightly elevated. Be as comfortable as possible and breathe slowly. Calm yourself with meditation techniques, as stress reduction may help decrease the pain.
A hot bath or shower is very relaxing. Add a few drops of peppermint, lavender and/or eucalyptus to the steamy bath water for steam inhalation. Put a sign on the door that says “do not disturb!” Nothing breaks the peace and relaxation like a loud knocking or yelling at the door. Make sure to inform your family of why you are asking for this time alone. Including them in your plans will make for a better chance of peacefulness.
Another method of steam inhalation of essential oils is to heat up some water to create steam, but not to a boiling point. Remove the water from the heat source and pour into a bowl. Add a few drops of one or more of these essential oils: peppermint, lavender, rosemary or eucalyptus to the hot water. Place your head close to the steamy water and place a towel over the back of your head. Breathe slowly and deeply.
Cool compresses on the forehead and/or neck, will decrease the pain sensation when applied, and may help alleviate the headache.
Fill a bowl with:
• 1 quart of water
• 2 drops of peppermint essential oil,
• 1 drop ginger essential oil (optional)
• 1 drop of marjoram essential oil (optional)
Place two to four washcloths into the water, wring them out and place into your freezer or an ice chest. Of course if this is a grid-down scenario you may only have air-temperature water, but at least try to get the coldest water you can find. After the cloths are cold, place one on your neck and one on your forehead (be careful not to get any water into your eyes). As an aside, some people feel warm compresses are better for their headaches; see what works for you.
Eat a healthy snack or meal. Low protein intake or low blood sugar levels can cause headaches. Make sure you are having regular healthy meals and drinking enough water. Dehydration can also cause headaches. You should always make sure you’re well hydrated at all times.
Another strategy involves pressing on the skin between your thumb and index finger; this is a “pressure point” that is said to help stop a headache. Try tapping between your eyes gently or press upward with your thumb on the roof of your mouth.
Massage therapy is well known as a therapeutic treatment for headaches. Massage is very relaxing and it may help release muscle tension that is causing your headache.
Herbal teas made with lavender, feverfew, chamomile lemon balm, valerian, passionflower, or peppermint, have been shown to help headaches in some people. Add some raw unprocessed honey and a little lemon for flavoring. You could also try adding 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to a tea or a glass of warm water and add the raw, unprocessed honey for flavor. A caffeinated tea or drink may help some people with their headache, especially with migraines.
Another option is to apply 2 drops of undiluted peppermint or lemongrass essential oil in a massaging motion to your temples and back of the neck (avoid touching your eyes with your fingers). You can also try a cold and cough herbal salve, which usually contains peppermint or wintergreen. When applied to your chest or back of the neck, peppermint is especially cooling and soothing.
Various other herbal products have been used to treat headache pain. Try an herbal tincture made with ingredients such as:
I have a tincture called “Pain Away” with the above ingredients at a dosage of 1-2 droppersful in water or juice 2-4 times daily. As an alternative, one or two drops (only) of a cayenne pepper tincture at 90,000HU can be added to a tea or juice. Just remember tinctures are by nature very bitter and may taste horrible; don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Since modern medicine IS available to us now, my other suggestions to try are standard pharmaceuticals like Ibuprofen, Sudafed and Claritin. These can be stockpiled in quantity for disaster situations.
Since a lot of my headaches are related to allergens, Claritin helps stop the allergic reaction and the Sudafed decreases sinus congestion. Ibuprofen relieves some or all of the pain. This is my personal formula when combined with the methods outlined above like herbal teas, peppermint cold compresses, a hot bath and a temple peppermint massage.
Headaches can be debilitating and interfere in your daily activities. Before modern medicine becomes unavailable, I suggest you try some natural remedies for yourself. Every individual’s response is different, but you might just find a method or combination of methods that gives you real relief.
Are YOU ready to deal with medical issues when the you-know-what hits the fan? With the 2nd edition of “The Survival Medicine Handbook”, you’ll have a head start on keeping it together when things fall apart. Here’s the book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Umecjhnxs9w