Headaches – Tension, Cluster, Migraines

CONDITIONS / Sunday, June 1st, 2014

MigraineHow to best manage your headache will depend on the type of headache you have.  There are three main headaches.  Tension, Cluster and Migraines.  Sinus headaches and hormonal headaches can also sometimes occur.

This table summarises strategies that can help with headaches.  It does  not include medicine recommendations, which needs to be discussed with your doctor.

  Tension Migraine Cluster
Manage Stress  and anxiety Yes(1) Yes (7)  
Reduce Alcohol   Yes -especially wine  (7) Yes (1)
Stop Overdoing it (mental and physical exhertion) Yes Yes  
Reduce Noise Yes  Yes  
Reduce Light   Yes  
Avoid strong smells such as fragrances, solvents and perfumes   Yes  (1) (7) Yes (8)
Reduce intake of food chemicals - amines, MSG and sometimes salicylates   Yes (2,3)  
Avoid/reduce exposure to Tobacco   Yes Yes (1)
Check for medicine side effects    Yes  
Correct Posture and stretch massage neck and shoulders frequently while working on computers Yes     
Quiet Rest and relaxation  breaks Yes (11)  Yes (7)  
Stop pain killer over use    Yes  
Manage Allergies    Yes (7)  
Reduce Caffeine Intake  Yes  Yes  
Reduce Movement during headache    Yes   


These are the most common headache. Symptoms of a tension headache include:

  • dull head pain
  • pressure around the forehead
  • tenderness around the forehead and scalp

The pain is usually mild or moderate, but it can also be intense. In this case, you might confuse your tension headache with a migraine, which is a type of headache that causes throbbing pain on one or both sides of your head. However, tension headaches don’t cause all the symptoms of migraines, such as nausea and vomiting. In rare cases, a tension headache can cause sensitivity to light and loud noise, similar to migraines.

Tension headaches usually respond quite well to over the counter medications like Aspirin ibuprofen or panadol.  (Pandol is the safer option for people with problems with salicylates)

Reducing stress, yoga, getting enough sleep, having regular relaxation breaks and not pushing yourself past your individual activity and concentration limits can help with the prevention and management of tension headaches.


These are the least common.

These cause excruciating pain. The severe, stabbing pain centers around one eye, and eye tearing and nasal congestion occur on the same side. The headache lasts from 15 minutes to four hours and may recur several times in a day.  This type of headache always occurs on one side of the head

Cluster headaches have been associated with alcohol consumption, and are more likely to occur in heavy smokers. [1]


Research shows that a complex interaction of nerves and neurotransmitters in the brain act to cause migraine headaches. Migraines areIntense throbbing headaches occurring on one or both sides of the head. [1] The pain can be  accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, and aversion to light, sound, and movement.

Migraine headaches can be triggered by stress.  Food chemicals such as MSG,  amines (e.g.histamines and tyramines) such as red wine, chocolate, and aged cheeses and even salicylates can trigger dietary migraines. [2]   Which are thought to impact at least 30% - 40% of people with Migraines. [3]

For women, a hormonal connection is likely, since headaches occur at specific points in the menstrual cycle, and can be triggered by the use of oral contraceptives, or the use of hormone replacement therapy after menopause.  30% of people with migraines also have allergies, which when not managed can release excess histamine [6] - a possible contributor to dietary histamine intolerance.

Helpful things you can do if you are experiencing a migraine or headache

  1. Stay Hydrated (drinking filtered water is best)
  2. Rest in a quiet place free from stimuli like noise, light and scents
  3. Calm your anxiety about your symptoms by practising mindfulness
  4. PACE yourself - do not overdo movement
  5. Medication can be helpful if you take it early enough. But relying on medication too much can lead to rebound headaches.  

Some Preventive Measures you can take

  1. Practise stress management techniques regularly
  2. Exercise but not too intensely 
  3. Try a diet reduced in amines, MSG -glutamate and salicylates 
  4. Reduce your exposure to fragrances, loud noises, light glare, and products high in Volatile Organic compounds like Solvents (use low VOC waterbed instead)
  5. Manage Allergies



  [1] http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/headache

[2] Patients with dietary migraine are usually sensitive to several substances, including natural salicylates, amines, MSG and certain food additives, in varying combinations - http://www.sswahs.nsw.gov.au/rpa/allergy/research/migraine.pdf

[3] http://www.nhs.uk/ipgmedia/national/migraine%20action/assets/migraineandfood.pdf

[4] WEBMD Migraine and Headache Centre

[5] Headaches-Medline Plus

[6] http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20698417,00.html#curbing-your-allergies-0

[7] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/home/ovc-20202432

[8] http://patient.info/health/cluster-headaches-leaflet

[9] http://www.epilepsy.org.au/sites/default/files/PDFS/E360/Dec_2009/EA360_2009_12_p6.pdf

[10] http://www.healthline.com/health/tension-headache#SymptomsofaTensionHeadache3

[11] https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000421.htm



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