12 women share the #1 thing that always helps soothe a migraine
The first time I got a migraine, I wondered if someone had inserted a screwdriver into my temple and begun drilling straight into my head. As someone who had only experienced the occasional dull headache until that point, I had no idea how to handle the pain, and I struggled to find ways to soothe my migraines.
My doctors eventually found and treated the underlying medical condition that was causing my migraines. But for many of the 18% of American women (and 6% of men) who experience migraines, it’s not a matter of diagnosing and treating an illness that happens to be causing the severe headaches. They aren’t a symptom of an illness—the migraines are their own condition and, although it’s believed that genetics and environmental factors play a role, there’s no known cause for migraines.
What we do know is that migraines are debilitating. In fact, 91% of migraine sufferers miss work and can’t function normally during a migraine attack. As anyone who suffers from migraines knows, quick fixes and cures are, well, not really a thing. But there are strategies that can soothe the pain and make migraines pass more quickly.
We spoke with 12 women who suffer from migraines, and they shared their tips for coping with migraine attacks. From the best over-the-counter pain relievers to all-natural remedies, here are the migraine relief tactics these women have found to be most helpful.
“[Putting] ice packs on the back of the neck and the forehead. It’s the only real relief until I get sick and the migraine passes. I confess I’ve raided the freezer for just about everything in a pinch. But my wife drew the line at me stealing her prawns, so she bought me those gel packs you can freeze over and over. Peace reigns!”
“Vicks is the only thing that gives me any relief. Vicks on my temples and back of my neck, and three ibuprofen.”
3A hot/cold shower & prescription pain meds
“I take a long hot/cold shower. Ninety seconds of very cold, 90 seconds of very hot, and so forth. After I towel off, I use Icy Hot on my neck and shoulders, and a real old-school pain med, Fioricet.”
4A meditation podcast
“There’s an old episode of the Meditation Oasis podcast, “Relax Into Sleep Guided Meditation,” and it really does make me sleepy and calmer and distracts from the pain. I listened to it on repeat during a migraine just last weekend.”
5OTC pain relievers and Mexican Coke
“Three ibuprofen, two Excedrin Migraines (or the generic equivalent), and a Mexican Coke. The third thing might be totally psychological (and the caffeine), but this is my tried-and-true.”
“I take Gabapentin preventively, which has made a huge difference. I also get my eyes checked twice year and take a magnesium supplement daily. And when I still get a migraine, I microwave a bag of rice and put it on my face in the dark—and pray it will pass. (It usually doesn’t, but at least I have my life back the rest of the time.)”
7A cooling eye mask
“If I can, I lie in a dark room with a cooling eye mask. There have been times, with kids home, that I just have to power through (usually with the aid of the TV). 800mg of ibuprofen can help, too.”
“Peppermint oil or lavender oil, whichever I have on hand. I usually put it on my temples and take some ibuprofen. I increase my fluids, too—more water and, if I have it, some almond milk for the magnesium.”
9Tiger Balm patches
“Tiger Balm patches (like Icy Hot but works much better for me) on my shoulders and back of the neck, and/or a super, super hot bath (until you feel like your whole face is throbbing and you’re sweating!) and then sleep. When I wake up after the hot bath, the migraine is usually gone, but the whole process can take several hours.”
“The only thing that helps with my headaches is sodium. Meds don’t help, sleeping can but it takes so long, and even darkness does nothing. But sodium works every time!”
“I get Botox about every three to four months by my neurologist. The needles are very fine and barely hurt, and a trained neurologist is fairly quick doing it. I don’t mind needles, but many people squirm just thinking about them. But if it’s between the brutal pain of a migraine and a few fine needles, I’d certainly try. And Botox is generally covered by insurance if your neurologist says it’s necessary.”
“When I get a migraine, I usually vomit and can’t keep anything down. Maxalt-MLT dissolves under the tongue, and it at least takes the edge off the pain. I never leave home without it. I also take Zofran under the tongue to stop the queasiness. My migraines are often related to my cycle. This is an extreme course of action, but I had a full hysterectomy at age 38 for endometriosis, and since then I’ve had fewer migraines (I’m 39 now). I also take Zonegran preventively.
Remember that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another—so don’t get discouraged if the first few tips you try don’t soothe your migraine. It’s a process of trial and error, but (fingers crossed!) hopefully one or more of these tactics will help ease your migraine-induced misery. Be sure to talk to your doctor before trying any new meds, though, and be gentle with yourself.