Chronic headaches take a toll on every aspect of a person’s life. Migraines alone are the sixth leading cause of lost time at a job due to a disability, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Many people turn to prescription medications or other experimental treatments to relieve the often unrelenting head pain that plagues them every month.
Despite a bevy of readily available pharmaceuticals, a multitude of headache sufferers have taken the holistic route to pain management. They have found relief using essential oils. Although not a conventional treatment, the use of essential oils dates back thousands of years. The Ancient Egyptians commonly used oils and other aromatherapy options to treat a bevy of health problems such as head pain.
Common Headache Types
It is estimated that 45 million Americans suffer from severe headaches every month. Here are just a few of the most common types of headaches.
- Tension Type Headaches (TTH): Tension type headaches (TTH) are the most common form of a headache. TTH headaches are believed to occur for a variety of reasons, but one of the most prominent causes is stress.
- Migraines: Migraines are vascular-based headaches that may cause intense pain, sensitivity to light/sound, vomiting, or nausea. They are frequently caused by hormone fluctuations in women, light changes, allergens, stress, or genetics,
- Mixed Headaches: Mixed headaches are a combination of TTH and migraine pain and symptoms.
- Sinus Headaches: When the sinus cavities in the head become inflamed due to allergies or an upper respiratory infection they can cause a sinus headache.
- Cluster Headaches: Cluster headaches happen in groups per day. The pain experienced is usually felt as a sharp pain behind the eyes. Cluster headaches are believed to be caused by stress, seasonal changes, or allergies.
How Essential Oils Relieve Headache Pain
Essential oils play a key role in preventing and alleviating headaches by reducing stress, clearing up sinus congestion, and improving circulation throughout the body. Certain oils have been shown to relax and lift away stress by providing a feeling of calmness when inhaled. Naturopathics have frequently turned to essential oils to relieve the symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and other hormonal issues in women. Hormones have also been shown to be key triggers for many women who suffer from migraines or tension headaches brought on from a woman’s monthly cycle.
How to Use Essential Oils
Essential oils are easy and safe to use. The oils can be massaged onto the temples, chest, or onto the back of the neck. You can also add five to 10 drops of oil to a warm bath and then sink into the soothing water to seek mental and physical solace from the headache discomfort. If a headache is caused by sinus congestion, placing a few drops on your upper lip can help clear up breathing problems by reducing the head and sinus pressure. Many people also use an oil warmer in their bedroom or another retreat to warm essential oils and permeate the air to create a relaxing atmosphere until the headache pain disappears. All essential oils should be diluted using a carrier oil such as almond, coconut, jojoba, or olive before they are applied directly to the skin to reduce the likelihood of irritation.
Side Effects of Essential Oils
Unlike prescription medications, essential oils do not come with a long list of unpleasant side effects. Some people may suffer from an allergic reaction to certain oils if they are rubbed onto the skin. Stinging, burning, or redness may occur. Always test a small area of skin before applying all over. Users who suffer from heart disease or breathing difficulties should always consult a physician before using essential oils. Never use essential oils on infants under one year of age, when pregnant, or when breastfeeding.
Five Best Essential Oils Used to Treat Headache Pain
1. Lavender: Lavender has been shown to successfully relieve headache pain when inhaled. In a study reported by the National Institute of Health, researchers found that migraine sufferers who breathed in the aroma of lavender oil for as little as fifteen minutes experienced a significant reduction in pain. Further studies performed in 2012 by Iran’s Mashhad University of Medical Sciences found that sniffing lavender oil at the onset of a migraine significantly reduced the likelihood of the a headache becoming a full blown migraine.
2. Peppermint Oil: Peppermint oil contains menthol which has been shown to relieve stress, relax muscles, and reduce physical tension when inhaled. For centuries, it has been used to treat headaches. In 1996, a study done in Germany and reported by the National Institute of Health found that the use of peppermint oil relieved headache pain in as little as 15 to 30 minutes.Commonly, diluted peppermint oil is applied directly to the temples to combat head pain.
3. Rosemary Oil: Rosemary oil contains abundant analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Naturopathic doctors have frequently turned to the use of rosemary oil to improve circulation throughout the body, relieve stress, relax muscles, improve sleep, and reduce pain. A few drops of rosemary oil can be applied to the skin, used in an oil diffuser, or mixed into a warm, soothing bath.
4. Chamomile Oil: For centuries, chamomile has been a common ingredient in teas. It soothes, relieves tension, and helps provide a restful night’s sleep. When applied directly to the temples, used in an oil diffuser, or mixed in a bath, it can alleviate head pain.
5. Eucalyptus: Eucalyptus oil open up sinus cavities, reduces inflammation, clears congestion, and alleviates stress. Clinical trials carried out by the National Research Foundation of Korea also found that inhaling eucalyptus oil reduced high blood pressure and eased pain. A few drops of oil can be rubbed on the chest. It can also be warmed in an oil diffuser or placed into a hot bath to create soothing vapors throughout the room.
Combining Essential Oils
You can combine essential oils to maximize their effects. Many people who suffer from sinus headaches like to mix a few drops of eucalyptus oil with peppermint oil, and ethanol to soothe the sinuses, relieve muscle tension, and reduce headache pain. Headache sufferers should experiment with the various oils to figure out the combination that best treats their unique set of symptoms.
Treating and Preventing Headaches
The best way to treat headaches is to seek the help of a physician and explore the myriad of conventional and unconventional treatment options. Many physicians like to take a collaborative approach to headache treatment plans by combining prescription drugs, essential oils, acupuncture, massage therapy, and a variety of other successful alternative approaches to provide their patients with overall pain relief and a reduction in the frequency of headaches.
Essential oils have been in use for thousands of years and will no doubt remain a viable and favorite natural health alternative for headache treatment. If you suffer from severe headaches that require traditional prescription medications, then you might want to consider adding essential oils to your treatment plan to help further reduce the frequency and severity of pain.