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10 Holiday Headache Triggers

'Tis the season to be jolly and full of good cheer.

But for many migraine and headache sufferers, it's also the time of year when everything related to the season—from scented candles to Christmas lights to shopping—can trigger cluster headaches, stress-related pain, and days of agony.

Here are the most common holiday headache triggers, and what to do about them.

1. Trigger: Alcohol

What to try: The only way to avoid a pounding head and queasiness the morning after is to drink in moderation, or to stay away from alcohol entirely. 

But with all sorts of seasonal celebrations going on, it’s easy to overindulge.

Alternating your drinks with water or another nonalcoholic beverage can help you slow down and stay hydrated.

2. Trigger: Stress

What to try: Certain stress-related traits, including rigidity, reserve, and obsessivity may make you headache-prone.

If that sounds like you, the holidays will only make it worse!

Now is the time to use your end-of-year flexible spending account funds to sign up for relaxation training.

A little coffee, tea, or cocoa can actually help headaches, but too much can trigger them

- Dr. Audrey Halpern, neurologist

3. Trigger: Pine scents

What to try: Avoid it! Seasonal scents including pine and cinnamon are a big headache trigger for some, making common spaces (offices, churches) a challenge.

4. Trigger: Caffeine

What to try: Moderation. A little coffee, tea, or cocoa can actually help headaches, but too much can trigger them, New York City neurologist Dr. Audrey Halpern, says.

"I find that when I drink less coffee, my sinuses are a lot happier," says blogger Lauren Levine. "I think this is because caffeine dries everything out. I find that my headaches are less frequent when I'm drinking green tea and water instead of tons of coffee (which is how I normally operate). It's difficult but definitely worth it."

5. Trigger: Holiday foods

What to try: Some foods are known to trigger headaches for many people—and others (especially those rich in magnesium) seem to help prevent them.

Try to avoid red wine, beer, MSG, chocolate, aged cheese, sauerkraut, and processed meats like pepperoni, ham, and salami. Eat more spinach, tofu, oat bran, barley, fish oil, olive oil, white beans, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

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6. Triggers: Holiday lights

What to try: If you're prone to migraines, you're more sensitive to lights than other people. Try not to stare too long at that Christmas tree or snow glare!

7. Trigger: Perfume samples

What to try: For some, perfume isn't just an annoyance, it can trigger real pain. Avoid the beauty counters in big department stores if you can.

8. Trigger: Being home

What to try: The good news is you're off work. The bad news is that headaches can happen when you take a break from your routine, says Dr. Alexander Mauskop, founder and director of the New York Headache Center and co-author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Migraines.

Ease into the change by keeping your sleep time as normal as possible—you'll end up feeling more rested than if you stay in bed until noon.

9. Trigger: Flying

What to try: Traveling over the holidays? It could aggravate your sinuses.

If you're congested or suffer from frequent sinus infections, but can't miss your flight, use decongestant nasal drops or a spray before takeoff to keep your sinuses clear.

10. Trigger: Sleepless nights

What to try: More zzzs, please. One large study found that those who slept an average of six hours a night tended to have significantly more severe and more frequent headaches than those who got more zzs.

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