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Headache treatments

If you have a headache there are things you can do to manage or prevent the condition.

  • Relax and rest in a quiet, well-ventilated room. Keep the window open if possible to allow fresh air to circulate.
  • Make sure the room isn’t too hot or too cold.
  • Use a cold damp cloth such as a flannel or an ice pack on your head. You can make an ice pack from a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel. Although you can refreeze the peas as many times as you like, you must not eat the peas after they have defrosted.
  • Splashing your face with cold water.
  • Drink plenty of water during the day, unless you have an existing medical condition which means this is not possible.
  • To prevent dehydration, always make sure that you drink more fluids after exercising or when the weather is hot.
  • Eat regularly to avoid your blood glucose levels dropping, as this may cause a headache.
  • Massaging your neck, shoulders, jaw or scalp can help relieve the pressure of a tension headache.
  • Regular exercise can help prevent tension headaches.
  • If you spend a lot of time sitting down, try to get up and move around for a few minutes at least once an hour. Sitting in the same position can put pressure on your neck muscles and cause headaches.
  • Try not to use headache medicines too often as frequent use can lead to ‘rebound’ headaches, causing the medicines to become less effective.
  • Certain foods or drinks, such as those containing chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol, or tobacco products may cause headaches. So can not using them if you do so regularly.

A headache diary may help you to detect headache triggers, that is, the things in your life that seem to regularly cause headaches.

Continue your usual daily activities as soon as your headache symptoms begin to clear up.

If you are in pain, get advice on which pain medicines you can take. Your pharmacist may also recommend prescription medicines which may be used for the short term treatment of a headache. Some medicines may not be suitable if you are pregnant or taking other medicines, or for children with headaches. Always follow the instructions on any medicines you take.

If you are getting a lot of headaches or concerned talk to your doctor.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your headaches, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: July 2015

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