There are many possible causes of afternoon headaches, from dehydration to something more severe like an aneurysm. If you’re worried, read up on the 10 possible causes of afternoon headaches and how to prevent them.
As the name implies, an afternoon headache occurs in the afternoon. While they’re no different than other kinds of headaches, afternoon headaches can be triggered by something you did or consumed earlier in the day.
Below are 10 common causes of an afternoon headache and how to prevent them.
Afternoon headaches can be caused by hunger due to a drop in your blood sugar levels. A hunger headache can also cause symptoms like dizziness, fatigue or feeling shaky. It can also make you faint.
If you’re taking diabetes medication, you may be more vulnerable to hunger-induced headaches since some diabetes drugs can make your blood sugar levels decrease between meals.
Prevent hunger headaches by eating on a regular schedule. Follow a balanced diet, eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits and avoid eating fatty or sugary junk foods.
Dehydration headaches can also occur in the afternoon if you don’t drink enough water during the day or if you consume several cups of coffee without drinking water.
If you’re dehydrated, you may experience other symptoms like:
- Dark urine or infrequent urination
- Dry mouth, lips and throat
Alcoholic drinks can also cause afternoon headaches if you start drinking later in the day. If you have a cluster headache — a type of intense headache that often affects the front of the head — you may experience pain after consuming alcohol.
Some people get headaches when they consume caffeinated drinks like coffee. Caffeine also makes a dehydration headache worse.
On the other hand, caffeine can help prevent or relieve headache symptoms in some cases. If you consume caffeine regularly, cutting back on your coffee intake can cause an afternoon headache.
A migraine is a type of neurological headache caused by changes in nerve pathways, neurotransmitters and other brain chemicals. People with migraines may experience nausea, visual disturbances, sensitivity to light and unusual sensations.
You can have a migraine at any time of the day. Common triggers include certain smells, sights, sounds or foods.
If you have migraine headaches at the same time every day, take note of your symptoms and activities to identify possible triggers so you can avoid them. (Related: Tension headache? Hang on a minute, try these quick fixes.)
You can experience headaches from eyestrain if you stare at a computer or laptop without taking breaks. Eyestrain headaches can also be caused by uncorrected vision problems or muscle imbalances in the face or neck.
Eyestrain headaches cause pain in the front of your head. You may feel exhausted or experience worse pain if you don’t take breaks when working on your computer.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and occur when muscles in your neck, shoulders or jaw are tense. This causes pain that radiates to your head.
Tension headaches occur gradually and tend to worsen steadily over several hours. You may experience this type of headache after sitting in your car, working on your computer or staying in an uncomfortable position for a long time.
Since a tension headache makes the muscles in your neck or shoulders feel tense, massaging these muscles can help relieve your headache. However, some people report that massaging these areas can make their headaches worse.
While they’re not dangerous like headaches caused by hypertension, tension headaches can last for hours or days. Stretch your head, neck and shoulders, take frequent breaks when working on a computer and practice deep breathing to relieve tension headaches.
Allergies can cause painful pressure in your head and face.
If you have allergies, you may:
- Feel distracted or fatigued
- Feel like you’re coming down with something
- Have itchy eyes
- Sneeze a lot
Allergies are triggered when you’re exposed to an allergen. You may experience painful symptoms throughout the day.
High blood pressure
While high blood pressure (hypertension) doesn’t usually cause headaches, dangerously high blood pressure of 180/120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or above can cause discomfort. A headache caused by high blood pressure doesn’t always come with other symptoms, but you may see spots, have flushed skin or feel dizzy.
High blood pressure that causes a headache should be treated as a medical emergency. It’s also particularly dangerous for pregnant women. If your blood pressure remains at 180/120 mm Hg or higher, call a doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.
Headaches caused by serious health issues, such as a stroke or an aneurysm, can occur in the afternoon. But unlike other types of headaches, these headaches don’t usually go away and come back.
If you suffer from afternoon headaches, don’t always assume that the time of day is the trigger. You can experience severe headaches at any time of day.
A headache may require emergency medical attention if you experience:
- An intense headache that differs significantly from your usual headache pattern
- Changes in vision or pain in the eye
- Loss of consciousness
- Memory or personality changes during the headache
- A sudden popping sound in the head
- A headache after being in a car accident or getting hit in the head
- A very stiff neck with signs of infection, like muscle pain or a high fever
Treating afternoon headaches
These lifestyle changes can also help reduce the likelihood of getting an afternoon headache:
- Eat balanced meals regularly.
- Avoid common headache triggers like alcohol and coffee.
- Have regular eye exams and wear prescription lenses
- Don’t sit in hunched or strained positions
- Take frequent breaks at work
- Stretch and move around every couple of hours
- Drink water throughout the day
Prevent headaches by making healthy lifestyle changes and avoiding common triggers like alcohol and coffee.
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