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The Headache Survival Kit: Must-Haves to Help You Through an Unexpected Bad One

The World Health Organization says that headaches are undertreated, under-recognized, and underestimated across the planet. The statistics even show that more people complain about an aching head than any other medical issue. Yet, so many people who have problems with headaches are rarely prepared when a bad one strikes.

You could be in the middle of your workday or daily responsibilities when that all-too-familiar ache starts to creep in. You may not necessarily be able to get to a dark, quiet room or the privacy of your bedroom at home to get away from everything. Pulling together a few go-to resources to tuck away in a headache survival kit is a wise move if you have frequent headaches or migraines.

8 Headache Survival Kit Items

A headache survival kit doesn't have to be anything fancy. Get yourself a small zippered bag, an empty plastic case, or even just a zipper baggy to toss in your briefcase, purse, or car. What you keep in your kit is all up to you; only you know the things that help you when you're dealing with a bad headache. Every individual is different. However, there are a few things to consider as you build your kit.

1. Earplugs

Noise sensitivity is common among headache and migraine sufferers, and when you're out, noise can be hard to avoid. Whether it's the office chatter, the busy subway, or the classroom, all the noise can only exacerbate your headache. Having a pair of good, noise-canceling earplugs can be an all-out lifesaver in the moment.

2. A Chilled Eye Mask or Ice Pack

Cold can be soothing when your eyes are pounding, or your head feels like it's throbbing. Using a small ice pack or a chilled eye mask can be really soothing. Pick up something that can be chilled instantly by soaking it in ice water for a few moments, such as an eye mask filled with gel beads, or keep an ice pack in your lunch cooler.

3. A Heat Pack

On the flipside, heat is more soothing for some headache sufferers, and some people find relief by alternating heated and cold packs against their eyes, temples, or forehead. If this is you, your headache survival kit should have a heat-providing item, whether that is an instant hot pack that can be activated quickly with a shake or a heat pack that can be popped into a nearby microwave.

4. Water or Ginger Ale for Hydration

Headaches and dehydration are actually linked, so hydrating is always something to consider when you're hit with a sudden headache. However, some people also find it soothing to sip cold water slowly during a major headache. Plus, you may need water or ginger ale to help settle your stomach if headaches tend to be concurrent with nausea for you. It’s also important to have something to drink if you need to take medication. (Note: if you choose to keep this kit in the car, consider removing this in the winter if the weather drops below freezing)

5. Sunglasses

Fluorescent lights, the sunlight, computer screens, the flickering bulbs at the store—these things can be a nightmare for some headache sufferers in the middle of an attack. Make sure you keep a pair of sunglasses in your survival kit because you never know when you may need them. While most sunglasses will be helpful, some patients find that they are too dark when you are inside. For those patients, sometimes a specific tinted lens called an FL-41 lens might be helpful. These have a rosy color and may be better when you are indoors.

6. An Emesis Bag Just in Case

An emesis bag is specifically for people to keep on hand when they feel nauseous and may get sick. If you've ever been to the doctor or hospital with the stomach flu, they likely gave you one of these portable bags to hang onto. These bags collapse down into a portable size and shape, and they are perfect for your headache survival kit if your headaches are commonly associated with nausea or vomiting.

7. Cash

Cash doesn't seem like it would belong in your headache survival kit, but it really can be important. If you get a horrendous, immobilizing headache and need someone to fetch something for you (a cold drink, hot tea, salty pretzels, etc.), it will be so much simpler if you have a few bucks you can access straight from your kit.

8. Medication

If you have a prescription medication for migraines, an over-the-counter medicine you normally turn to, or even herbal supplements that help, your kit should have these medications in it. The idea is to have a dose of whatever you need with you no matter where you may be. (Note: if you choose to keep this kit in the car, check the temperature range of the drug, or ask your pharmacist the safe temperature range for your medication).

You may never know if a headache is just going to be a bearable ache or something debilitating, especially if you are prone to cluster headaches or migraines. Being prepared ensures that no matter where you may be when the headache strikes, you have what you need to get by and get a bit of relief.

If you would like to get involved in headache research to help find a cure for migraines and cluster headaches, consider donating to help fund the Will Erwin Headache Research Center.