As someone who struggles with migraine, you’re all too familiar with the feeling of desperation that overcomes you when an attack strikes. You feel like you’d do anything to get some relief. Seriously, you’d sell your soul if it meant you could get rid of this debilitating pain.
Of course, you hope that your medication will do its job, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case. What else can you do when no amount of bargaining and pleading is going to kick that migraine attack to the curb?
There are a ton of home remedies and alternative treatments out there that you can try. But, there are some other things you should have stocked and on hand in your migraine relief toolkit when those just aren’t working.
We asked all of you what trusty things you use to ease your migraine pain, and you answered. Consider this your migraine-beating shopping list. Stock up now, and prepare to show your next migraine who’s boss.
Hot and cold compresses
Many people with migraine swear by applying different variations of heat and cold to their bodies (particularly at the base of the neck and the temples), so you’ll want to have some hot and cold compresses ready to go. “I find it helpful to have the disposable [ice packs] that you pop to activate, to keep next to your bed so you don't have to go to the freezer in the middle of the night,” says Dr. Sara Crystal, neurologist and Cove Medical Director. Hot and cold gel face masks are another easy option.
Whether you go the hot or cold route (or both), make sure to use them in moderation. The National Headache Foundation recommends leaving cold packs on for only 15 minutes at a time, and taking a 15-minute break before reapplying. And, make sure you don’t fall asleep with that heating pad—no matter how good it feels.
If you’re somebody who experiences photophobia or photosensitivity (those are fancy terms for extreme sensitivity to light) when you’re saddled with a migraine attack, an eye mask can be a lifesaver. When even the light from your phone seems blinding, having an eye mask ensures total darkness so you can hopefully get some rest and relief.
Sometimes it seems like the whole world knows when you have a headache—and it chooses that exact time to kick up the decibel level. Your partner makes a smoothie. Dogs won’t stop barking. The garbage collection truck barrels down your street. All you want is silence, but the planet isn’t cooperating. Even some cheap, disposable ear plugs will muffle some of that unwanted noise.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, 85% to 90% of people who deal with migraine also experience sensitivity to light. If you’re tired of existing with your head buried under your covers, grab some blackout curtains to hang in your bedroom. No matter the time of day, they’ll keep your space nice and dark.
Since you can't take your blackout curtains everywhere (unfortunately), some kind of glasses are an essential part of every migraine toolkit. Avulux lenses, for instance, filter out blue, amber, and red light, all of which can trigger light sensitivity, while allowing through the green wavelengths that don't cause head pain. Independent studies have been conducted to show Avulux glasses can effectively manage light sensitivity, including light-triggered pain and light intolerance, during a migraine attack.
Any dark polarized sunglasses will work in a pinch, but if you want to manage light sensitivity without the darkness and color distortion of wearing sunglasses all the time, glasses designed specifically for migraine can help.
While there isn’t a ton of science out there to back up its healing effects, Tiger Balm is a topical ointment that came highly-recommended by several migraine sufferers. It’s available as a gel, rub, or spray, and can be applied wherever you need to relieve muscle tension—like on your temples, behind your ears, along your jawline, and down the sides of your neck.
Travel neck pillow
All you want to do is sleep that pain away, yet you can’t get comfortable. You could invest in a fancy cervical pillow for your bed, but many people swear that even a cheap airplane neck pillow will do the trick (yep, even if you’re not traveling anywhere). Place it under your neck when you lie down to ease some of your neck tension.
We know—eating is the last thing on your mind. But Cove Medical Advisor and neurologist Dr. Cristina Wohlgehagen warns that you don’t want to skip meals. Even eating some small, healthy snacks can help combat nausea and keep your energy up. Whether it’s peanut butter, a few almonds, some hard-boiled eggs, avocado, or something else, make sure you have some nutritious snack foods in your pantry and fridge.
Large water bottle
The Mayo Clinic says that drinking plenty of fluids (particularly water) can help ease some of your migraine pain. Make sure that you have a large water bottle that you can keep right next to you. It’ll help you stay hydrated, without having to get up to refill a glass every few minutes. Cove Medical Advisor and neurologist Dr. Alexander Mauskop says you could also look into an infuser water bottle so that you can add some fresh ginger or mint leaves. You can boost the migraine-fighting power of your drink by adding an electrolyte or vitamin-based mix, like Cove Beam or Oasis.
As Johns Hopkins Medicine explains, there isn’t enough research or evidence to determine the effectiveness of essential oils for improving human health. But hey, plenty of people love them and it certainly can’t hurt to give them a try. Peppermint, lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus are some of the favorites among migraine sufferers. Dr. Mauskop says you could also try Cove's Essential Oil Roll-On, a handy roller stick applicator with peppermint and lavender essential oil.
Even with your eye mask and blackout curtains, you can only exist in the dark for so long. When you actually need to see something? The last thing you want to do is turn on that blinding overhead light. Dr. Mauskop recommends the Allay Lamp, which uses a natural band of light and is designed specifically for headaches and light sensitivity.
We’ll admit that there isn’t a ton of science to back this one up, but some people recommend indulging in some popsicles when you’re dealing with a migraine attack. There are even those who go so far as to force a “brain freeze” to banish their headaches. Will it work? We make no guarantees. But hey, if nothing else, at least you got to enjoy a nostalgic childhood treat.
As strange as it might seem, acupressure (applying pressure to specific points on your body) can help provide some pain relief. Maybe you’ve heard people mention the LI-4 spot, which is the highest point of muscle on your hand where your thumb and index finger meet. Use firm pressure to massage that area for about five seconds. If it works for you? Dr. Mauskop says to check out Aculief, a wearable device that will apply consistent pressure to that point.
Like Aculief, Sea-Band makes products that take the work out of acupressure. Their wristbands are made to relieve nausea (and morning sickness) without the need for medication, but they’re also a good way to safely boost the effectiveness of your preferred anti-nausea medication.
If your attacks are worsened by strong smells, a common migraine symptom known as osmophobia, a nose clip can be a cheap and effective way to avoid this trigger. You can find plenty of nose clips on shopping sites like Amazon. They’re typically marketed for swimmers and people who snore, but almost anything that’s safe and can hold your nose closed should do the trick.
Letting tension build up in the muscles in your head and neck can be a big migraine trigger. Massage balls like these help you work out that tension on your own when you can’t head to the spa. Many of them can also be heated or cooled for a little extra relief.
When you feel a migraine attack coming on (or worse, you already have a full-blown one), we certainly can’t blame you if the last thing you want to do is make an emergency trip to the nearest store. So, our best advice is to stock up on some of these essentials right now (and if you're a parent, these too).
If and when your next migraine headache hits, you’ll be prepped and ready with some top recommendations from your fellow sufferers.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Header photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash