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Sometimes you wake up with a raging headache, and there’s no question about what caused it (that extra bottle of wine seemed like a great idea). But other times, you feel like you’ve just been hit over the head with a two-by-four, and you have no idea why. Here, nine surprising headache causes that you can try to avoid (although it might be difficult).


Eating Lots of Sulfites

Cured, smoked, pickled or dried foods like aged cheeses and salami (so basically anything delicious) are often packed with sulfites, which can dilate blood vessels and trigger headaches. To identify the offenders, try keeping a food journal for a couple days until you narrow it down--and promptly find other delicious substitutes.

thirsty 21

Not Drinking Enough Water

Even if you're sitting at your desk all day, you can get dehydrated, and it can lead to a monster of a headache (among other things). The easiest solution? Keep a bottle of water nearby and sip throughout the day. Refill and repeat. 

Related: 7 Things That Might Happen If You Drink a Gallon of Water a Day



The struggle, it turns out, is very real. If you’re trying to give up caffeine (um, kudos), do so slowly--steadily decreasing your intake daily. This will help lessen the dreaded withdrawal symptoms, like your pounding headache and the shakes.


Straining Your Eyes

Quick: When was the last time you had your eyes checked? If you find yourself squinting often, get thee to an eye doctor. Squinting causes tension around the eyes and forehead, which can lead to--you guessed it--headaches. An up-to-date prescription will provide immediate relief (and you know, the ability to see things clearly).

computer screen

Staring At Your Computer Screen

Staring at a bright screen all day puts an enormous strain on your eyes--and subsequently, your head. Take a break every hour or so to give them a rest. And while you’re at it, get yourself a screen shield to help minimize the glare.


Stressing Out

Stress itself isn’t the cause of your headaches. Rather, it’s your reactions to stress (lack of sleep, poor nutrition, anxiety) that can all trigger a migraine. So whatever helps you de-stress--yoga, meditation or even just some couch time--do it. Now.

birth control

Switching Up Your Hormones

Switching your birth control can throw off your estrogen levels and bring on headaches. If it’s a recurring problem, talk to your gynecologist about your options, like trying a low-estrogen contraceptive.


Wearing Your Hair Too Tight

That slicked-back ponytail or French braid could be the cause of your headaches. If your 'do is too tight, it pulls on your scalp and creates unnecessary tension. So try loosening your hair a bit and the pain should go away on its own.

bad smell

Assaulting Your Senses

OK, this one you’re not really in control of, but you can prepare yourself. Fact is: You can be allergic to a smell. Remember when you walked past Janet’s cubicle, got a whiff of her perfume and then immediately felt the beginning of a tsunami of a headache? You’re not imagining the correlation here. Common culprits include gasoline, tobacco--and sadly--perfume. To avoid a headache, keep some lavender or peppermint essential oils in your purse. Both have therapeutic properties that promote relaxation and provide immediate relief for those pounders.

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