8 Lesser-Known Headache Triggers You Should Avoid

Nix the head pain before it starts.

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Anyone who’s had to leave work early or ditch plans with friends because of a headache knows how debilitating they can be—even seemingly “minor” non-migraine kinds. Of course you can take an OTC painkiller to help make the pain go away, but it’s much better to sidestep the headache in the first place if you can. It turns out that many common daily habits can trigger headaches especially in those prone to them. Try to minimize these headache causes in your life to prevent the pain.

  1. Skipping meals or fasting. Headaches are a common response to intense hunger, so regular meals (including breakfast) can keep aches at bay.

  2. Not sticking to a sleep routine. Sleeping too much, too little, or at irregular times of the day can make you more susceptible to headaches.

  3. Using perfume or strong fragrances. You can’t do much about your co-worker’s cologne obsession, but you can monitor your own use of fragrances. Perfumes, heavily scented soaps, strong candles, or scented cleaners can all trigger headaches.

  4. Overexerting yourself physically. Going “too hard” at the gym if you’re out of shape or during very hot days can invite headaches. But that doesn’t mean you should skip your workout. Regular aerobic exercise can actually help prevent headaches from other triggers, too.

  5. Not protecting your eyes. Bright sunlight, screen glares, flickering lights, and fluorescent lamps can all cause pain to the eyes. Wearing sunglasses outside, setting up your desk area to avoid screen glare, and using light bulbs that emit green light may prevent headaches. (Learn how to set up your desk for ergonomics here.)

  6. Not managing stress well. Among people with migraines, 70 percent name stress as a trigger, according to the American Migraine Foundation (AMF). Prioritizing, time management, exercise, and stress-relieving activities can all reduce stress and potentially prevent your headaches. (Here are relaxation techniques besides meditation you can try.)

  7. Not drinking enough water. About a third of people with migraines can trace their pain to dehydration, according to AMF.

  8. Consuming certain foods and drinks. Food triggers for headaches vary by person, but the most common ones are caffeine, alcohol, certain cheeses, MSG, cured meats (like bacon), chocolate, and artificial sweeteners. If you think your diet might be causing headaches, keep a food diary to help identify your trigger.

Tweaking these lifestyle habits may reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches. (Bonus: no side effects.) If your headache pain is debilitating or getting worse, speak to a doctor to see if you are suffering from migraines and what you can do about it. (Here is more information on diagnosing and treating migraines.)