'Tis the season for tension headaches.
"The frequency of headaches increases at least twofold during the holidays," according to Dr. Lee Kudrow, director of the California Medical Clinic for Headache in Encino. What's behind this seasonal headache season, which Kudrow says stretches from Halloween until January? "There are more emotional ups and downs; there are more scheduling problems." Sufferers, though, are more interested in remedies than causes. Here are two routes to relief.
Seek natural relief: Dr. Lee Kudrow, director, California Medical Clinic for Headache, Encino; developer of the "Headache Ice Pillo," a horseshoe-shaped pillow with a cold gel pack.
"I recommend the use of analgesics for the occasional, acute tension headache. But if you don't want to use medication, try biofeedback--but only if you are trained in the technique. Or, apply cold packs on the back of the neck. The coldness constricts the occipital arteries and relaxes the muscles in the back of the head, where headaches often begin. Our studies show that 80% of 'Ice Pillo' users get relief in 20 minutes.
"To cut down on future headaches, don't use pain pills frequently--never more than a couple of times a week. Long-term use of analgesics temporarily inhibits the anti-pain system."
Pop a pill--but choose the right one: Ruth Arnold-Smarinsky, pharmacist, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center; member, California Pharmacists Assn. board of trustees.
"No drugs are innocuous. Proper use and dosage are critical. For both aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol), the recommended dose is one to two tablets every four hours. No one should exceed 12 tablets in a 24-hour period. Both aspirin and acetaminophen take from 15 to 30 minutes to take effect. And a dose lasts four to six hours.
"On a short-term basis, I think acetaminophen is better not because of effectiveness, but because it has fewer potential problems such as gastrointestinal upset. But on a long-term basis, acetaminophen can be more toxic to the liver and other body parts. If you have stomach problems, buffered aspirin is easier on the stomach than nonbuffered.
"Anyone with chronic conditions requiring medication should check first with their doctor or pharmacist before taking either aspirin or acetaminophen."