If you or someone in your family suffer from frequent headaches, it may be time to take a closer look at your indoor environment.
You might blame the daily commute to work, your stressful lifestyle or perhaps that extra glass of wine you had last night but the truth is, the cause of your headache may well be a lot closer to home. Bright lights, strong smells and indoor pollutants are among the common causes of headaches and they can hit you wherever you live. But if you suffer from regular headaches, there are simple ways to help make your property a headache-free zone.
Common headache cause #1: Irritants in the air
No matter how clean you are, the chances are that the air inside your home is more polluted than the air outside. Chemicals in cleaning products, furnishings and carpets can create gases that cause headaches. If you have an aircon, it may keep your home cool in summer and warm in winter but it won’t provide fresh, clean air.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are common culprits when it comes to headaches. The air freshener you use to make your home smell nice is full of VOCs and could be doing you more harm than good, especially if you’re a headache sufferer, says headache specialist Jerome Dixon.
“Strong odours can cause headaches but trying to mask a smell with room deodorant means you’re really doubling up on irritants,” explains Dixon. “And if you have one of those automatic air sprays that delivers a squirt of perfume every minute or so, the effect is constant.”
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Solution: how to reduce household irritants
If strong smells cause your headaches, deal with the odour rather than trying to cover it up. One way to do this is to use the extractor fan on your stovetop. Keep cool with a fan or natural breeze from an open window. Open doors and windows to ventilate your home and dilute indoor pollutants whenever possible. Maintain the filters on your air conditioning system by cleaning them twice a year at the end of summer and the beginning of spring.
Common headache cause #2: Your tech space
Glare from computer screens, tablets and smartphones can give you a headache, especially if you’re clocking up many hours of screen time a day. “With more people working from home offices, there is a growing need for creating better work spaces at home,” says ergonomist Glen Smith.
Posture is also an issue for people with headaches, especially if your sitting position forces you to tilt your head or slump your shoulders. “This can lead to headaches as the muscles in the neck become tight,” says Smith.
Solution: how to headache-proof your home work space
Adjust your chair so the seat is tilted forward slightly to encourage the natural curve in your lumbar spine. Have the backrest angled so that it provides support without pushing you forward. The top of your computer monitor should be directly in front of you at eye level and your elbows should clear the desktop when your arms are hanging at your sides. This will ensure you don’t have to hunch over when using your keyboard.
Common headache cause #3: Allergens
Inflammation from exposure to allergens in your home can activate the trigeminal nerve in your brain and cause nasty headaches, says allergist Peter Smith. Dust mites, cigarette smoke, perfumes, cold air from your air conditioning system, as well as the paints and glues used in some carpets and furniture, can also lead to headaches for people with allergies. “Mould is another headache trigger for some people,” explains Smith.
Solution: how to minimise headache-causing allergens
Get anti-allergy covers for your mattress and pillows and regularly wash bedding in hot water. Choose low pile carpet and vacuum them at least once a week with a quality vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. Opt for window blinds that are easily wiped down, or consider window shutters and eliminate the need for indoor curtains or blinds.
Declutter your bedroom and living areas to cut down on dust – a peaceful and uncluttered bedroom will also provide you with a place to escape the stress and sensory overload that can also cause headaches. Keep bathrooms and kitchens mould-free by cleaning with vinegar and bicarbonate of soda.
Get rid of indoor plants – or at least avoid those that can cause headaches. These include jasmine, gardenia and mock orange plants. Particularly avoid planting the California bay laurel, also known as the ‘headache tree’, because it activates the nerve receptors that cause headaches. Don’t allow smoking in or near your home.
Common headache cause #4: Your lighting
Bright overhead lights are common headache triggers, as is fluorescent tube lighting, which produces subtle flickering. Even natural daylight can cause a problem, says Smith. Staring into the sun can cause cluster headaches and migraines – and if you’re focused on something else, you might not even be aware you’re doing it.
The position of your desk or chair could be the cause of your headaches, even if it’s not directly facing a window. “Some people sit in a position where sunlight is hitting one eye, which can cause headaches on one side,” says Smith.
Solution: how to adjust your home’s lighting
Install dimmer switches wherever possible. Position yourself to face away from direct sunlight and install adequate window coverings. Horizontal blinds give the best protection because you can angle them to direct light towards the ceiling. If you have vertical blinds, make sure they angle sunlight away from you. Use a dimmable LED desk light rather than a bright overhead light.
Also try one of these headache solutions
PILLOW If your headaches are the result of neck issues, the right pillow can help. Choose a quality memory foam or adjustable pillow to help keep your spine in alignment as you sleep. A few drops of lavender essential oil on the pillow can ease a bad headache.
COLD PACKS Applied to the forehead, temples or back of the neck, ice packs can be an effective pain reliever for headache.
SCREEN PROTECTORS Available for laptops, tablets and mobile phones, these
reduce glare and minimise eye strain. Buy online directly from your device manufacturer or ask at your local electronics store.
iHEADACHE This handy app keeps a headache diary on your phone and allows you to track symptoms, triggers and medication, as well as providing information about the frequency, length and intensity of your headaches.