Suffering from Headaches?


Working with companies to improve their employee’s health, reduce absenteeism and increase productivity headaches are some of the most given reasons to take sick leave.

Let’s have a look at some common triggers for headaches and how you can avoid them.


Dehydration is the most common trigger for headaches and many other issues like lack of concentration, fatigue, constipation and many more. Water is the source of life and health. Drink at least 2lt of plain water (preferably mineral water) a day to stay hydrated. In climates like Thailand and if you are physically active, increase your water intake to a minimum of 2.5 to 3lt per day. Always have a water bottle with you, have a dedicated water glass on your desk and make sure your glass is always refilled. It is easier to drink large amounts of still, room temperature water than cold and fizzy water.


Smoking is known to trigger headaches and not just for the person holding the cigarette. Secondhand smoke contains nicotine, which causes blood vessels in the brain to narrow. Giving up cigarettes or reducing exposure to secondhand smoke appears especially helpful to people with cluster headaches. These are extremely painful one-sided headaches that can also cause eye and nose symptoms.

Strong Scents

Strong smells, even nice ones, can trigger migraines in many people. Why this happens is unclear, but the odors may stimulate the nervous system. The most common culprits are paint, perfume, room and car refreshers and certain types of flowers.

Hair Accessories

How you wear your hair can take a toll on your head. A tight ponytail may strain the connective tissue in the scalp, leading to a hairdo headache. Headbands, braids, and tight-fitting hats can create the same effect. If this is the cause of your headache, letting your hair down usually brings fast relief

Poor Posture

You don’t have to work up a sweat to build pressure in the head and neck muscles. Slouching at your desk will do the job, too. Common forms of poor posture include hunching your shoulders, using a chair with no lower-back support, staring at a monitor that is too low or too high, and cradling a phone between your ear and shoulder. If you have frequent tension headaches, take a good look at your work space.


A migraine trigger for some people is aged cheese, including blue cheese, cheddar, Parmesan, and Swiss. The culprit may be a substance called tyramine. The longer a food ages, the more tyramine it contains.

Red Wine

Tyramine is also found in red wine and other alcoholic drinks. Other ingredients in wine may contribute to headaches as well. Because alcohol increases blood flow to the brain, the effects may be even more intense.

Cold Cuts/processed foods

Processed meats, such as cold cuts, have two strikes against them. They often contain tyramine, as well as food additives such as nitrites, which may trigger headaches in some people. Headaches caused by food additives are usually felt on both sides of the head (in contrast to a classic migraine, which strikes one side at a time).

Skipping Meals

Hunger headaches aren’t always obvious. If you skip a meal, your head could start to ache before you realize you’re hungry. The trouble is a dip in blood sugar. But don’t try to cure a hunger headache with a candy bar. Sweets cause blood sugar to spike and then drop even lower.


In moderation, caffeine is often beneficial, in fact, it’s found in many headache medications. But chain-chugging coffee can be a cause of headaches. And, if you’re hooked on caffeine, cutting back abruptly may only make things worse. Caffeine withdrawal is another headache trigger.


Anything that boosts your stress level can make you more vulnerable to tension headaches or migraines. The exact mechanism for these headaches is unclear and may involve different factors. A heightened sensitivity of nerve pathways in the brain that relay pain may play a role.


When the temperature changes, so does the likelihood of developing a migraine. Whether it’s a heat wave or a cold snap, the change can trigger a headache. Sunny, hot days are another common culprit. Rain or changes in barometric pressure also may lead to headaches. While you can’t change the weather, you can wear sunglasses on a bright day, minimize dehydration, and avoid midday sun.

Identify your Triggers

If you are suffering from regular headaches, or if you have staff that is absent because of headaches, start keeping a headache diary.

If you can identify your most common triggers, you may be able to cut off headaches before they start. Keep a daily log of foods you eat, stressful events, weather changes, and physical activity. Whenever you have a headache, record the time it starts and stops. This will help you find patterns, so you can try to avoid your personal triggers.

Manage Stress

Many people are able to manage migraines or tension headaches through stress-busting strategies. Although you can’t control the stressful events that come your way, you can alter your response to those events. You may need to experiment with techniques such as meditation, cognitive behavior techniques and massage to find what works for you.

Stretch Your Legs

Moderate exercise is a powerful stress reliever. Walking is a great choice because it delivers an extra defense against tension headaches. When you walk, the swinging motion of your arms tends to relax the muscles in your neck and shoulders. Breaking up those knots may help diminish the root of some headaches.

Balanced Meals

Eating balanced meals throughout the day will help keep your blood sugar on an even keel. That means no more hunger headaches. Aim for meals and snacks with 50% vegetables that pair a protein with a complex carbohydrate, such as chicken breast with brown rice and vegetables.


Judith Coulson is a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist and Corporate Nutrition Professional working with companies and executive teams based in Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore.


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