Migraines & 4 Essential Oils To Help Them!
Migraines and 4 Essential Oils to Help Them!
Millions of people across the world suffer from headaches every day for a variety of reasons, and they’re often not sure what to blame! There are so many causes, which include stress, fatigue, allergies, hormones, nutritional deficiencies, constipation, poor posture, low blood sugar, and alcohol or drug consumption. Then, of course, there’s the wicked combination of a couple of those causes.
If you suffer from frequent headaches and struggle to find an effective treatment, there are no shortage of natural headache remedies out there. But perhaps you haven’t tried the one option, the one principle ingredient/s that can make the biggest difference? I’m talking about essential oils. The most common headache treatment is a painkiller, but these pills come with a host of ugly side effects, like kidney and liver damage; plus they don’t deal with the root of the problem.
Essential oils serve as headache treatments because they safely and effectively treat the headache trigger, getting to the root of the problem instead of minimizing the pain temporarily. Plus, when using essential oils for headaches, there are no nasty side effects and you are in complete control of your dose — adjusting it for the type of headache you experience.
A migraine can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on just one side of the head. It’s often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can cause significant pain for hours to days and can be so severe that the pain is disabling. Warning symptoms known as aura may occur before or with the headache. These can include flashes of light, blind spots, or tingling on one side of the face or in your arm or leg. Medications can help prevent some migraines and make them less painful. Talk to your doctor about different migraine treatment options if you can’t find relief. The right medicines, combined with self-help remedies and lifestyle changes, may help.
Migraines often begin in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. Migraines may progress through four stages: post-drome, aura, headache and post-drome, though you may not experience all stages.
One or two days before a migraine, you may notice subtle changes that warn of an upcoming migraine, including:
- Mood changes, from depression to euphoria
- Food cravings
- Neck stiffness
- Increased thirst and urination
- Frequent yawning
Aura may occur before or during migraines. Most people experience migraines without aura.
Auras are symptoms of the nervous system. They are usually visual disturbances, such as flashes of light or wavy, zigzag vision.
Sometimes auras can also be touching sensations (sensory), movement (motor) or speech (verbal) disturbances. Your muscles may get weak, or you may feel as though someone is touching you.
Each of these symptoms usually begins gradually, builds up over several minutes and lasts for 20 to 60 minutes. Examples of migraine aura include:
- Visual phenomena, such as seeing various shapes, bright spots or flashes of light
- Vision loss
- Pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg
- Weakness or numbness in the face or one side of the body
- Difficulty speaking
- Hearing noises or music
- Uncontrollable jerking or other movements
Sometimes, a migraine with aura may be associated with limb weakness (hemispheric migraine).
A migraine usually lasts from four to 72 hours if untreated. The frequency with which headaches occur varies from person to person. Migraines may be rare, or strike several times a month. During a migraine, you may experience:
- Pain on one side or both sides of your head
- Pain that feels throbbing or pulsing
- Sensitivity to light, sounds, and sometimes smells and touch
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Lightheadedness, sometimes followed by fainting
The final phase, known as post-drome, occurs after a migraine attack. You may feel drained and washed out, while some people feel elated. For about 24 hours, you may also experience:
- Sensitivity to light and sound
When to see a doctor
Migraines are often undiagnosed and untreated. If you regularly experience signs and symptoms of migraine attacks, keep a record of your attacks and how you treated them. Then make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your headaches.
Even if you have a history of headaches, see your doctor if the pattern changes or your headaches suddenly feel different.
See your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if you have any of the following signs and symptoms, which may indicate a more serious medical problem:
- An abrupt, severe headache like a thunderclap
- Headache with fever, stiff neck, mental confusion, seizures, double vision, weakness, numbness or trouble speaking
- Headache after a head injury, especially if the headache gets worse
- A chronic headache that is worse after coughing, exertion, straining or a sudden movement
- New headache pain if you’re older than 50
Though migraine causes aren’t understood, genetics and environmental factors appear to play a role.
Migraines may be caused by changes in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway.
Imbalances in brain chemicals — including serotonin, which helps regulate pain in your nervous system — also may be involved. Researchers are still studying the role of serotonin in migraines.
Serotonin levels drop during migraine attacks. This may cause your trigeminal nerve to release substances called neuropeptides, which travel to your brain’s outer covering (meninges). The result is migraine pain. Other neurotransmitters play a role in the pain of migraine, including calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP).
A number of factors may trigger migraines, including:
- Hormonal changes in women. Fluctuations in estrogen seem to trigger headaches in many women. Women with a history of migraines often report headaches immediately before or during their periods, when they have a major drop in estrogen.Others have an increased tendency to develop migraines during pregnancy or menopause.
Hormonal medications, such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy, also may worsen migraines. Some women, however, find their migraines occur less often when taking these medications.
- Foods. Aged cheeses, salty foods and processed foods may trigger migraines. Skipping meals or fasting also can trigger attacks.
- Food additives. The sweetener aspartame and the preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG), found in many foods, may trigger migraines.
- Drinks. Alcohol, especially wine, and highly caffeinated beverages may trigger migraines.
- Stress. Stress at work or home can cause migraines.
- Sensory stimuli. Bright lights and sun glare can induce migraines, as can loud sounds. Strong smells — including perfume, paint thinner, secondhand smoke and others — can trigger migraines in some people.
- Changes in wake-sleep pattern. Missing sleep or getting too much sleep may trigger migraines in some people, as can jet lag.
- Physical factors. Intense physical exertion, including sexual activity, may provoke migraines.
- Changes in the environment. A change of weather or barometric pressure can prompt a migraine.
- Medications. Oral contraceptives and vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin, can aggravate migraines.
Several factors make you more prone to having migraines, including:
- Family history. If you have a family member with migraines, then you have a good chance of developing them too.
- Age. Migraines can begin at any age, though the first often occurs during adolescence. Migraines tend to peak during your 30s, and gradually become less severe and less frequent in the following decades.
- Sex. Women are three times more likely to have migraines. Headaches tend to affect boys more than girls during childhood, but by the time of puberty and beyond, more girls are affected.
- Hormonal changes. If you are a woman who has migraines, you may find that your headaches begin just before or shortly after onset of menstruation.They may also change during pregnancy or menopause. Migraines generally improve after menopause.
Some women report that migraine attacks begin during pregnancy, or their attacks worsen. For many, the attacks improved or didn’t occur during later stages in the pregnancy. Migraines often return during the postpartum period.
Sometimes your efforts to control your migraine pain cause problems, such as:
- Abdominal problems. Certain pain relievers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), may cause abdominal pain, bleeding, ulcers and other complications, especially if taken in large doses or for a long period of time.
- Medication-overuse headaches. Taking over-the-counter or prescription headache medications more than 10 days a month for three months or in high doses may trigger serious medication-overuse headaches.Medication-overuse headaches occur when medications stop relieving pain and begin to cause headaches. You then use more pain medication, which continues the cycle.
- Serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome is a rare, potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when your body has too much of the nervous system chemical called serotonin.While the risk is considered extremely low, taking migraine medications called triptans and antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may increase the risk of serotonin syndrome. These medications naturally raise serotonin levels, and it is possible that combining them could cause levels that are too high.
Triptans and SSRIs or SNRIs may be used together, but it’s important to watch out for possible symptoms of serotonin syndrome such as changes in cognition, behavior and muscle control (such as involuntary jerking).
Triptans include medications such as sumatriptan (Imitrex) or zolmitriptan (Zomig). Some common SSRIs include sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Sarafem, Prozac) and paroxetine (Paxil). SNRIs include duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor XR).
Also, some people experience complications from migraines such as:
- Chronic migraine. If your migraine lasts for 15 or more days a month for more than three months, you have chronic migraine.
- Status migrainosus. People with this complication have severe migraine attacks that last for longer than three days.
- Persistent aura without infarction. Usually an aura goes away after the migraine attack, but sometimes aura lasts for more than one week afterward. A persistent aura may have similar symptoms to bleeding in the brain (stroke), but without signs of bleeding in the brain, tissue damage or other problems.
- Migrainous infarction. Aura symptoms that last longer than one hour can signal a loss of blood supply to an area of the brain (stroke), and should be evaluated. Doctors can conduct neuroimaging tests to identify bleeding in the brain.
Until recently, experts recommended avoiding common migraine triggers. Some triggers can’t be avoided, and avoidance isn’t always effective. But some of these lifestyle changes and coping strategies may help you reduce the number and severity of your migraines:
- Transcutaneous supraorbital nerve stimulation (t-SNS). This device (Cefaly), similar to a headband with attached electrodes, was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a preventive therapy for migraines. In research, those that used the device experienced fewer migraines.
- Learn to cope. Recent research shows that a strategy called learning to cope (LTC) may help prevent migraines. In this practice, you are gradually exposed to headache triggers to help desensitize you to them. LTC may also be combined with cognitive behavioral therapy. More research is needed to better understand the effectiveness of LTC.
- Create a consistent daily schedule. Establish a daily routine with regular sleep patterns and regular meals. In addition, try to control stress.
- Exercise regularly. Regular aerobic exercise reduces tension and can help prevent migraines. If your doctor agrees, choose any aerobic exercise you enjoy, including walking, swimming and cycling. Warm up slowly, however, because sudden, intense exercise can cause headaches. Regular exercise can also help you lose weight or maintain a healthy body weight, and obesity is thought to be a factor in migraines.
- Reduce the effects of estrogen. If you are a woman who has migraines and estrogen seems to trigger or make your headaches worse, you may want to avoid or reduce the medications you take that contain estrogen. These medications include birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy. Talk with your doctor about the appropriate alternatives or dosages for you.
So How Do Essential Oils Treat Headaches?
Unlike pain relievers that are commonly used to treat headaches and migraines today, essential oils serve as a more effective and safer alternative. Essential oils provide relief, aid circulation and reduce stress. They also have a ton of other health benefits and boost your immune system instead of wreaking havoc on your vital organs.
Every headache has a trigger. One major cause of headaches is hormonal changes in women. Fluctuations in estrogen can trigger headaches in many women, especially immediately before or during their periods when estrogen levels drop.
Some women develop migraines during pregnancy or menopause due to hormonal imbalances. Hormonal medications can even worsen headaches, so using essential oils as a gentle and natural treatment is recommended. Lavender and rosemary oils, for instance, are soothing oils that relieve pain and ease tension. Both oils are used to treat PMS symptoms and hormonal imbalances, including headaches and migraine attacks.
Another major headache trigger is stress, which can be reduced by using lavender and peppermint oil aromatically. Changes in sleeping patterns can also lead to a headache — luckily, lavender works as a mild sedative that helps people suffering from insomnia or a lack of sleep.
Headaches may also be the result of intense physical exertion, allergies, sinus pressure, certain foods and sensory stimuli. All of these triggers can be minimized or even eliminated with essential oils. No wonder they have been used for thousands of years — these miracle oils have the ability to treat just about any health condition.
Top 4 Essential Oils for Headaches
Peppermint oil uses and benefits include its long-lasting cooling effect on the skin, ability to inhibit muscle contractions and role in stimulating blood flow in the forehead when applied topically.
Applying peppermint essential oil topically across the forehead and on the temples effectively alleviates a tension headache. In a 1996 study, 41 patients (and 164 headache attacks) were analyzed in a placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover study. The peppermint oil was applied topically 15 and 30 minutes after a headache began.
Participants reported pain relief in their headache diaries, and peppermint oil proved to be a well-tolerated and cost-effective alternative to usual headache therapies. There were also no adverse side effects reported after peppermint treatment. (1)
Another important study was conducted in 1995 and published in theInternational Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology. Thirty-two healthy participants were evaluated, and essential oil treatment was investigated by comparing the baseline and treatment measurements. One effective treatment was a combination of peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil and ethanol.
Researchers used a small sponge to apply this mixture, which has a muscle-soothing and mentally relaxing effect, to the participants’ foreheads and temples. When peppermint was mixed with just ethanol, researchers found that it reduces sensitivity during a headache.
Lavender essential oil has a variety of therapeutic and curative properties. It induces relaxation and relieves tension and stress — working as a sedative, antidepressant, anti-anxiety, anxiolytic, anticonvulsant and calming agent. There is also growing evidence that lavender oil serves as an effective treatment of neurological conditions and disorders.
According to researchers, aromatic and topical use of lavender oil affects the limbic system because the main constituents, linalool and linalyl acetate, are rapidly absorbed through the skin and are thought to cause central nervous system depression. For this reason, lavender oil can be used to treat headaches caused by anxiety disorders and related conditions.
Lavender oil benefits include relieving feelings of restlessness and disturbed sleep, two symptoms of headaches. It also regulates serotonin levels, which helps minimize pain in the nervous system that can lead to migraine attacks. (3)
A 2012 study published in European Neurology found that lavender essential oil is an effective and safe modality in the management of migraine headaches. Forty-seven participants were investigated in this placebo-controlled clinical trial. The treatment group inhaled lavender oil for 15 minutes during a migraine headache. The patients were then asked to record their headache severity and associated symptoms in 30-minute intervals for two hours.
The difference between the control and treatment groups was statistically significant. From the 129 headache cases in the treatment group, 92 responded entirely or partially to lavender oil inhalation. In the control group, 32 out of 68 recorded that headache attacks responded to the placebo; the percentage of responders was significantly higher in the lavender group than the placebo group. (4)
To reduce muscle tension, boost mood, aid sleep and relieve stress, diffuse five drops of lavender oil at home or in the office. You can also apply lavender oil topically to the back of neck, temples and wrists to relieve stress or tension headaches. To relax your body and mind, add five to 10 drops of lavender oil to a warm-water bath and take deep breaths so the sedative properties begin to take effect and reduce headache tension.
Eucalyptus works as an expectorant — it helps cleanse the body of toxins and harmful microorganisms. It also opens the nasal airways and eliminates sinus pressure that can lead to a nasty headache, all while promoting emotional balance and boosting mood.
A clinical trial published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine states that inhaling eucalyptus oil can decrease a person’s pain and blood pressure. The study involved 52 patients who recently underwent total knee replacement surgery. Eucalyptus oil treatment promoted emotional stability in the patients, reduced edema formation and had anti-inflammatory effects. These pain-reducing and relaxing effects can be beneficial to people suffering from tension headaches. (5)
A 2011 study conducted in Israel evaluated the efficacy of eucalyptus oil when used on patients with respiratory conditions that can lead to cough, sore throat and tension headaches. Patients reported that eucalyptus oil improved breathing and reduced runny nose.
Researchers reported that the oil showed anti-inflammatory effects when used to treat respiratory conditions. It exhibited antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties that alleviate sinus pressure caused by an inflammatory response. (6)
Dilute two to four drops of eucalyptus oil with a carrier oil, and apply it topically to the chest, back of the neck, temples and forehead. This eliminates nasal buildup and clears your airways — alleviating the sinus tension that leads to a headache or migraine attack.
Rosemary essential oil has been used in folk medicine to treat headaches and poor circulation because of its stimulating, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It has a calming effect and improves personal orientation and alertness.
Rosemary oil also reduces stress and emotional triggers that can cause headache attacks. It also aids digestion and soothes an upset stomach, which can be a symptom of a severe headache. (7)
An interesting 2013 study published in Addiction and Health evaluated the efficacy of rosemary oil as a form of herbal therapy for the alleviation of withdrawal syndromes in patients with a history of opium abuse. Some opium withdrawal symptoms consist of dysphoric mood, nausea, muscle aches, headaches, fever and insomnia. Rosemary treatment proved to reduce these symptoms when taken internally for four weeks. It reduced tension and muscle jerks, alleviated pain, improved sleeping patterns, and treated convulsions. (8)
Take one drop of rosemary oil internally by adding it to tea, water or soup when experiencing headache or migraine attacks. To reduce headache pain, mix two drops of rosemary oil with two drops of peppermint oil and one teaspoon of coconut oil, and rub it into the temples, forehead and back of neck.
How to Use Essential Oils for Headache Relief
A migraine is a severe and painful type of headache associated with throbbing pain, nausea and heightened sensitivity to light. Migraines can be triggered by stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation and hormonal changes. Massage lavender or peppermint oil into the temples and back of neck to relieve migraine headaches and ease feelings of nausea and anxiety.
These are called “stress headaches,” and they’re characterized as dull, constant pressure or pain. Tension headaches are typically brought on my feelings of pressure. Use eucalyptus or peppermint oil topically on the temples, forehead and wrists to alleviate stress and reduce tension. To ease the mind, add 5–10 drops of lavender oil to a warm-water bath, or follow this recipe for my Homemade Healing Bath Salts.
When the membranes of the sinus cavities become inflamed and swollen, you may experience pressure in the forehead area where these cavities are located, resulting in a sinus headache. Use eucalyptus oil topically on the chest, top of nose and temples to open up the nasal passages and relieve sinus tension.
This is pain that’s caused by low blood sugar levels. Combine equal parts lavender, rosemary and coconut oil, and apply topically to the back of neck, temples and forehead. Or take 1 drop of rosemary internally with a smoothie or cup of soup.
Possible Side Effects of Essential Oils for Headaches
When using these essential oils for headaches, especially in sensitive areas like the nose and forehead, it’s best to dilute the oil first. If you have never used an oil before, do a quick patch test on a small area of skin before applying to larger areas.
If you use these oils internally, remember that a little goes a long way — 1–2 drops should do the trick, and don’t exceed a four-week period without taking a week off from internal use.