Common headache triggers (and how to avoid them)

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A deadline is looming, your officemates are chattering, the phone won’t stop ringing and the boss is pestering you for a project while you try to squint past that afternoon glare coming off your computer screen. And then, it hits: An office headache.

We’ve all been there at one time or another – one study found that more than 47 million American adults had experienced a severe or debilitating headache within the previous three months. The obvious option is the one we usually gravitate toward. Open your drawer, take out an aspirin, Aleve or other anti-inflammatory pill and pop one. It’s a popular choice: the makers of Bayer aspirin alone pocketed a $25 billion profit last year.

But the better choice, experts say, may be to identify what’s triggering your headache and take a more preventative approach. With the plethora of potential triggers in an office, though, singling out yours may take some work.

Common headache triggers include stress, your lunch, lighting issues and caffeine, but can also include seemingly innocuous cause, too.

Headaches, in the most simplistic terms, is a constant painful sensation felt in your head. Getting more specific, neurologist now think there are at least a dozen different kinds of headaches, brought on by irritation of brain chemicals, blood vessels, nerves and the tissues surrounding your brain.

Stress headaches  – the most common type – can be brought on by (duh) the stress of your job and the pressure you feel to complete tasks in an ever-faster environment. Experts suggest organization, better scheduling your work or simply asking for help to help alleviate those pressures.

Other headaches can be caused by poor posture: Slouching at your desk may feel more comfortable in the short term, but those hunched shoulders, craned neck and poor back support could be feeding your recurring tension headaches. Doctors suggest sitting back in your chair, paying particular attention to your posture or adjusting your monitor’s height to help prevent those triggers. That last tip is also good for cutting screen glare.

What you had for lunch could also the problem. Some cold cuts, cheeses and even wine are particular culprits. Tyramine is often a trigger for migraine headaches, and can be found in all three. Blue cheese, cheddar and Parmesan cheeses, especially those that are aged, are particularly high in the substance, while cold cuts have the added kicker of nitrates, which are also known headache triggers. And if you have some vino with lunch, you can turn a minor headache into a real head-throbber. Alcohol boosts blood flow to the brain, which can make headaches’ pain more intense.

But should you skip lunch altogether to avoid these pitfalls? No, experts say. If you do, your blood sugar will dip, which is another headache trigger. Nor should you try to alleviate that hunger headache with a quick candy bar, they say “” a Three Musketeers or any sweet will get your blood sugar up quickly, but is quicker to wear off and leave your blood sugar even lower.

The answer is to have a healthy lunch, avoiding tyramine-laden options.

You might also want to skip those trips to the coffee machine. Caffeine, while found in many headache medications, is often the problem with recurring headaches if you imbibe too much of it. Experts suggest moderation instead of going cold turkey, though. Quitting suddenly, setting off caffeine withdrawal, can make things worse.

Finally, you should consider giving up those smoke breaks, too. Nicotine causes blood vessels in your brain to narrow, and exacerbate a looming headache.