We all experience headaches. A dull ache can make it hard to accomplish anything. But what is a headache and what causes it?
A headache is pain or discomfort in any area of the head. The headache may occur on one or both sides of the head, or be isolated in a specific area. Headaches can appear as severe pain, throbbing, or dull pain.
There are two types of headaches: primary headaches and secondary headaches. Primary headaches are headaches that are not caused by other diseases. These include cluster headaches, migraines, and tension headaches.
Secondary headaches are associated with medical conditions such as head injuries, high blood pressure, infections, trauma, and tumors. Side effects of drug or substance withdrawal can also trigger headaches.
A headache in the afternoon will be considered a primary or secondary headache.
This article will discuss the symptoms, causes, and treatment of afternoon headaches.
Headaches that start in the afternoon are no different from other headaches, except for their timing. Afternoon headaches are usually triggered by things that happen during the day, such as muscle tension, drinking too much coffee, or skipping lunch.
Typical headache symptoms may include:
- pain usually felt on both sides
- the pain is dull or feels like a band on the head
- Pain that may involve the back of the head or neck
- Pain is mild to moderate but not severe
You may experience headaches in the afternoon due to muscle tension, dehydration, stress, hunger, etc. Here are potential causes of afternoon headaches.
What’s causing my headaches?
Many people experience headaches in the afternoon due to dehydration. We are so busy working during the day that it is understandable to neglect hydration.
When a person is dehydrated, they also experience the following symptoms:
- dry mouth, lips and throat
- infrequent urination
- Dizziness (especially when standing)
Tension headaches occur when the muscles in the neck, jaw, or shoulders tense. This causes pain, which then radiates to the head. Tension headaches can start slowly and progress and get worse over the course of the day.
You may notice this type of headache after being in an uncomfortable position, such as sitting at a desk for too long. The muscles in the neck or shoulders may feel tight and tense.
Tension headaches, also known as “stress headaches,” occur in more than one-third of men and half of women. As the name suggests, they are thought to be caused by stress.
Tips for coping with headaches
Migraine is a type of neuropathic headache, although it may also include genetic factors. Changes in neural pathways, neurotransmitters, and other brain chemicals can trigger migraines.
In some cases, you may experience visual disturbances, light sensitivity, and abnormal body sensations during a migraine. You may also experience nausea and vomiting.
Stress and certain smells, sights, sounds, or foods can trigger migraines. Specific triggers can include:
- menstrual cycle changes
- sleep disorder
Caffeine can be one of the reasons you get headaches in the afternoon, especially if you usually drink multiple cups of coffee. Excessive caffeine consumption can lead to cognitive symptoms, depression, fatigue, insomnia, cardiovascular changes, and headaches.
It’s wise to watch your caffeine intake. If you are a coffee drinker, you may experience withdrawal headaches when you miss your usual coffee. The withdrawal headache you feel in the afternoon may be a direct result of your body noticing that it is not receiving the usual dose of caffeine.
While a glass of wine might seem like a good idea to help you relax, alcohol is a common headache trigger, especially when consumed in large amounts. The main ingredient in some alcoholic beverages can cause headaches. These substances include:
- flavonoid phenols
headache with women
In the United States, headaches account for 112 million sick days each year. While one-third of the population experiences headaches, more women than men. Hormonal differences may be one reason why women have more headaches than men.
Hormone-related headache triggers include:
- taking oral contraceptives
Certain lifestyle changes may reduce your likelihood of having a headache in the afternoon. E.g:
- Make sure to take a break from sitting in front of the computer and get up at least once an hour.
- Avoid sitting in the same position for long periods of time. Adjust your posture and position of your legs—whether flat on the floor, folded, or crossed on a chair.
- Try to stretch for at least 5 to 10 minutes every few hours.
- Drink lots of water.
- Eat regular and healthy meals that include more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and avoid processed foods.
You should also avoid certain headache triggers, such as alcohol and caffeine.
Other treatments for afternoon headaches include over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
When to see a healthcare provider
While afternoon headaches (or any time of the day) are usually not a cause for concern, they can sometimes be a sign of a more serious problem, such as a brain tumor, stroke, meningitis, or encephalitis.
Seek medical attention if your headache symptoms continue to increase in pain or discomfort for more than 72 hours.
You should call your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room if your headache is causing visual disturbances or uncontrollable vomiting.
How your healthcare provider will diagnose your headache
When you have a headache in the afternoon, it’s important to know your symptoms so you can identify the type of headache you’re dealing with, such as primary or secondary.
If you have a primary headache, knowing your symptoms can help you identify possible causes, such as dehydration, alcohol, caffeine, or muscle tension, and you’ll be better able to determine what you can do to reduce your pain.
Once you know how to identify the type of headache you’re experiencing and what’s causing it, you can eliminate triggers and find appropriate treatments, such as sitting in the same position more often, drinking more water, or stretching.
Experiencing chronic headaches in the afternoon can be challenging and intrusive. Remember, there are steps you can take to avoid triggers and avoid symptoms. You don’t have to endure constant discomfort or pain.
Know your limits and start identifying your triggers. Consider starting a symptom journal to record when you experience pain and what might be causing it. Understanding what causes headaches can be the first step in managing them.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many types of headaches are there?
Headaches range widely and fall into two main categories: primary headaches and secondary headaches. Primary headaches are headaches that are not caused by a medical condition. These include cluster headaches, migraines, and tension headaches. Secondary headaches are associated with medical conditions such as head injuries, high blood pressure, infections, trauma, and tumors.
What medicine do pregnant women take for headaches?
If you are pregnant and have headaches, it is recommended that you call your healthcare provider first. They will advise you on what is a safe pain reliever during pregnancy. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is considered safe during pregnancy, but only in low doses when needed.
What essential oils are good for headaches?
If you experience headaches, a good alternative can be essential oils:
- Lavender oil can help treat migraines
- Peppermint Oil Can Help Relieve Tension Headaches