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Our experts on the dos and don’ts of this debilitating type of headache
Boots pharmacist Scot Taylor says:
‘Migraines are characterised by a moderate or severe headache, usually on one side of the head. They may also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light and sound. All of which means they can be pretty debilitating.
Dehydration, high humidity and rising temperatures are some of the common triggers, which is why migraines may feel worse in the summer. Some people find their period, tiredness and certain types of food and drink can also be contributing factors.
Migraines tend to start in early adulthood and affect three times as many women as men, which is thought to be due to hormonal changes. Around 10-30% are preceded by an “aura”, during which there are specific visual warning signs, such as seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines or coloured spots.
Over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may help ease symptoms (avoid taking these too often, though, as this can make them worse). If they don’t work, or your migraines are getting worse, see your GP to discuss other treatments.’
Dr Shazia Afridi, a consultant neurologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, says:
‘About 15% of the world population are affected by migraines. As well as the aura Scot mentioned, other warning signs that may occur up to a day before can include yawning, irritability and a craving for sweet food. Increased sensitivity to light during an attack means that, with daylight until late evening, summer can be challenging – so wear sunglasses outdoors if you’re in the midst of one.
The best way to help manage migraines is to keep a regular sleep pattern and avoid skipping meals. Also, try to limit caffeinated drinks to no more than two a day, as excessive caffeine may contribute to the onset of a migraine.
It’s important that you take painkillers as soon as you feel symptoms coming on – putting them off may mean it’s too late for them to work. But don’t use them for more than 10 days a month. I’d also suggest an anti-sickness tablet if you feel nauseous – some over-the-counter pills offer a combination of painkiller and anti-sickness.
If these aren’t having much impact, ask your GP about triptan medications. They work specifically on the parts of the brain involved in migraine and are for this type of pain – they come as tablets, injections or nasal sprays.
If you’re still struggling with migraines, or treatment isn’t helping to control symptoms, speak to your GP, who may refer you to a specialist.’
Words Rosie Benson Photography Getty Images