Headache-Proof Your Home

Dimming the lights, nixing indoor allergens, and trying these other strategies in the house may help prevent headaches from occurring in your 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.

If you suffer from headaches, your headaches could be triggered by certain conditions in your home.

"You can considerably cut down on the number of headaches you get by controlling factors such as the lighting and smells," neurologist Brian Grosberg, MD, director of the Hartford Healthcare Headache Program in Connecticut, told Health.

However, keep in mind that not everyone with a headache will find that these environmental factors are triggers.

Here are four different things that may be causing your headache and four simple ways to reduce these potential triggers in your home.

Bright Lights

The American Migraine Foundation estimates that at least 39 million Americans live with migraine. If you're one of them, 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 sensory input, and the glaring light from bulbs or even sunlight can cause head-splitting pain, Deborah Friedman, MD, neurologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, told Health.

The flickering quality of fluorescent lights can likewise bring on pain, said 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, you can try to switch to dim incandescent bulbs (the lower the wattage, the better), which are generally preferable to halogens and fluorescents because they emit a steadier, more muted light.

Other measures you can try are to install dimmers so you can darken a room when you feel a headache coming on, Dr. Goadsby said. And hang blinds or shades to shield you from any streaming sunlight.

Hidden Allergens

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reported that more than 90% of homes had three or more detectable allergens. 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 said.

Also, allergy-related congestion can cause a painful buildup of pressure in your nasal passages and sinuses.

The Fix: Allergen Removal

To reduce potentially-triggering allergens in your home, invest in a quality vacuum and an air purifier with HEPA filters, said Jonathan Bernstein, MD, an allergist at the University of Cincinnati. HEPA filters can remove up to 99% of airborne allergens like pet 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, said Jackie Eghrari-Sabet, MD, an allergist in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Poor Air Quality and 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, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In addition, we turn to scented candles and air fresheners to keep our homes smelling "clean." However, 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 and floor varnish.

VOCs are human-made chemicals that are used and produced in the manufacture of paints, pharmaceuticals, and refrigerants, according to the EPA.

VOCs irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and cause headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Some of them can cause cancer.

One 2015 study in the Journal of Hazardous Materials noted that scented candles release various VOCs including both pleasant aromas and toxic components both before lighting and when lit.

Some people with a history of headaches may find that intense aromas may bring on the headache. Dr. Goadsby explained that the aromas can irritate the trigeminal nerve, which runs from your nose to your brain and is responsible for most headaches.

The Fix: Better Ventilation

To reduce these potential headache triggers, try cracking your windows regularly, choosing unscented, nontoxic cleaners, and trashing products that are a few years old. Their containers can begin to leak, emitting a stink, Dr. Grosberg said.

Pick low-VOC paints and avoid buying furniture made from particleboard, because it may release the VOC formaldehyde, according to the EPA. 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 traps gas molecules on a bed of activated carbon, according to the EPA.

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 said.

Also, sitting at the counter 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 said.

The Fix: Adjust Settings

If bright screens are triggering your headaches, 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, said 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," Dr. Hedge said, "and dramatically reduce the likelihood of getting a headache."

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