Headache-Proof Your Home
Home sweet home
The place where you can put up your feet, relax, and...get a headache? Even those who aren’t especially prone to pain can be susceptible to the triggers that hole up in your house.
Thankfully, you (and your head) don’t have to be held hostage: "You can considerably cut down on the number of headaches you get by controlling factors such as the lighting and smells," says neurologist Brian Grosberg, MD.
Here, four simple ways to turn your abode into a headache-free zone.
Lower the lights
If you’re one of the 30 million Americans who get migraines, overly bright lights at home can be a big problem. The brains of folks who suffer from these intense headaches are often extra sensitive to sensoryinput, and the glaring lightfrom bulbs oreven sunlight can cause head-splitting pain, explains Deborah Friedman, MD, a neurologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
The flickering quality of fluorescent lights can likewise bring on pain, adds Peter Goadsby, MD, director of the Headache Center at the University of California–San Francisco.
The fix: Incandescent bulbs
While there’s no perfect lightbulb option, dim incandescent bulbs (the lower the wattage, the better) are generally preferable to halogens and fluorescents because they emit a steadier, more muted light.
Install dimmers so you can darken a room when you feel a headache coming on, Dr. Goadsby advises. And hang blinds or shades to shield you from any streaming sunlight.
Ditch hidden allergens
More than half of all homes have six or more detectable allergens inside, research shows. If you suffer from allergies, those sniffle-and-sneeze triggers can lead to headaches, too.
Why? Irritants such as dust mites (microscopic creatures found in house dust), dander, and mold "inflame the nasal passages, which releases a pain-signaling chemical that can trigger a headache," Dr. Grosberg explains. Also, allergy-related congestion can cause a painful buildup of pressure in your nasal passages and sinuses.
The fix: Air purifier
Invest in a quality vacuum and an air purifier with HEPA filters, says Jonathan Bernstein, MD, an allergist at the University of Cincinnati. HEPA filters can remove up to 99% of airborne allergens like cat dander.
Regularly run a dehumidifier to keep your home’s humidity levels between 30% and 50%, a dry zone at which dust mites and mold are less likely to thrive.
Launder bedding weekly in hot water, and slip microfiber allergen-blocking encasements over your pillows, mattress, and box spring, advises Jackie Eghrari-Sabet, MD, an allergist in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Eliminate strong smells
Believe it or not, the air quality inside most of our homes is worse than it is outside—levels of about a dozen common pollutants such as formaldehyde are two to five times higher indoors, largely because of inadequate ventilation.
Masking odors with scented candles and air fresheners often makes matters worse, as many of these products contain the same volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are in paint fumes andfloor varnish, according to new research. Intense aromas of any kind irritate the trigeminal nerve, which runs from your nose to yourbrain and is responsible for most headaches,Dr. Goadsby explains.
The fix: Better ventilation
Crack your windows regularly, choose unscented, nontoxic cleaners, and trash products that area few years old—their containers can begin to leak, emitting a stink, Dr. Grosberg says.
Pick low-VOC paints and avoid buying furniture made from particleboard, because it may release the VOC formaldehyde. If you have smells you can’t control (like cigarette smoke coming from a neighbor’s condo), use an air purifier with a carbon filter, which cuts down on headache-causing odors.
Control your glowing gadgets
The super bright screens of some glowing gizmos (laptops, tablets) carry the same hazards as bright lights—their white glow can overstimulate the brain, Dr. Friedman says. Also, sitting at thecounter or on the sofa hunched over your iPhone or laptop may bring on muscle-related throbbing.
"Having bad posture while you use electronics can crunch the neck muscles, sending pain signals up into the brain, triggering a headache," Dr. Friedman explains.
The fix: Adjust settings
Adjust the brightness setting on your gadgets so they don’t bother you, and get a glare-reducing filter for your monitor.
Settle into a seat with good back support and make sure your laptop or e-reader is at eye level, advises Alan Hedge, PhD, director of the Cornell Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Laboratory in Ithaca, New York.
One final tip: "Taking a break every 20 minutes will loosen up the muscles," adds Hedge, "and dramatically reduce the likelihood of gettinga headache."