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Take Two Aspirin, Call the Doc in the Morning?

Getting Rid of Headaches Now Can Mean Using Aromatherapy, Acupuncture or Massage Therapy


From time to time, Health will look at a common ailment and its remedies from three perspectives: traditional Western medicine and two alternatives. Today, how to treat a common headache.

The MD View . . . for Adults

Dr. H. Aaron Aronow, neurologist at Midway Hospital, Los Angeles, and associate clinical professor of neurology and internal medicine at USC School of Medicine:

The first step in treating chronic headaches, Aronow said, is to take thorough history, physical and neurological exams.

For minor headaches, triggers may be foods, activities, alcohol, certain stressful situations, outside temperature changes or muscle contractions.

Aronow takes what he calls a multiple modality approach, using a variety of treatments for sufferers who have headaches for at least six months.

He may prescribe aromatherapy, physical therapy for head and neck, biofeedback training, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy or acupuncture and herbal therapy. He may also prescribe various kinds of medications, usually tranquilizers or muscle relaxers.

The MD View . . . for Children

Dr. Eyal Ben-Isaac, pediatrician, Childrens Hospital Los Angeles:

He takes a thorough history from both parent and patient to see if there are any triggers to pediatric headaches, such as too much sunlight, stress at home, or sitting in front of a television or video screen for too long.

"Assuming everything is normal, we try to remove the stressors," he said. For children who don't get better when stressors are removed, there is a long list of pain relievers for minor to severe headaches, among them non-aspirin pain relievers.

The Homeopath View . . . for Adults

Michele Iqbal, doctor of homeopathy at Capitol Drugs, West Hollywood, a pharmacy that offers traditional and homeopathic drugs:

For a true homeopathic remedy, you must match the headache to the remedy, Iqbal said. For a constant dull headache, she'd prescribe gelsemium, which is jasmine made homeopathically potent. If the headache is pulsating and the person feels hot and "the head feels like it's going to burst," she suggests aconite, which is derived from monkshood, "a poisonous plant that is harmless and powerful in homeopathy."

For women or girls who have PMS headaches, magnesia phosphorica is the usual remedy.

For headaches that derive from acute problems such as grief or trauma, Iqbal recommends a higher dosage; for chronic problems, she suggests a weaker dosage for a couple of months.

"The best time to go to a homeopathic practitioner is when your regular doctor says, 'I can't do anything for you,' " Iqbal said. "If you have a serious problem, such as cancer, HIV, things you need surgery for, do not go to a homeopath.

"These remedies aren't meant for the times in life when the biochemistry breaks down," she added, but "to keep everything in balance throughout your life so that those things won't develop."

The Homeopath View . . . for Children

For stress headaches, Iqbal prescribes gelsemium, aconiate or arsenicum. Belladonna is another common homeopath remedy for flu, high fever and headaches. And for teething problems, Iqbal recommends chamomilla, derived from chamomille.

The Aromatherapy View . . . for Adults

John Steele, aromatic consultant, Life Tree Aromatix, Sherman Oaks:

"The simplest thing for a headache is lavender," said Steele, an aromatic consultant for 20 years. Any true botanical lavender will do, but Steele prefers what he calls "the Swiss army knife of aromatic oils"--Lavender Mailette, a multiuse herb.

"Essential oils are like wines--there are lower grades and there are fine grades. There are oils like Thunderbird and oils like a good Chateau." Lavender Mailette, found in the French Swiss Alps, is very rich in esters or aromatic molecules. "Esters are extremely relaxing; they are also anti-spasmodic and analgesic."

To apply, place three drops of oil on your fingertips and massage into your temples, forehead and scalp. Take two or three more drops and do the same for the neck muscle that goes from the shoulder to the head. Put three or four drops into a tissue and inhale.

For an acute headache, add one drop of peppermint oil to the mix--but, Steele warns, wash your hands afterward because peppermint oil will sting your eyes.

"The smell of lavender is very pleasing in and of itself," said Steele of the triple action of relaxation, pain relief and pleasure. "You don't get a sensory hit if you just pop an Advil."

Both oils can be purchased in some pharmacies and aromatherapy stores.

The Aromatherapy View . . . for Children

For children 3 and older, use the same technique as for adults, but only one drop of lavender.

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