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Headaches are tough. They’re tough to live through and they can be tough to help homeopathically speaking because there are so many variables in headaches.
I woke up with a cracking headache the other day. This headache was so bad that I, the homeopath who has not had so much as a Tylenol in 10 years, considered for just a brief moment, taking some over the counter (OTC) medicine.
Why not take that route? It’s so easy! What harm can it do?
Let's take a quick look at why OTC meds might not be the best option.
If you take any conventional meds, prescribed or otherwise, I highly recommend you spend a little time at drugs.com. They do a nice job of explaining the “side effects” and other important information that one should know when one is ingesting medicinal substances. (All of the below information comes from drugs.com unless otherwise noted.)
The two most common OTC meds for headaches are acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) and NSAIDs (a.k.a. ibuprofen, e.g. Advil).
Acetaminophen use in the US is shockingly high. 40% of adults reported using it monthly and 23% weekly. Acetaminophen is the most common cause of acute liver failure. Acetaminophen is also the most common cause of both intentional and unintentional poisoning in the US (Dimitropoulos 2014).
Finding statistics on who uses ibuprofen and how often was not so easy. The nearest I came was to find that “approximately 70% of people 65 years or older use NSAIDs at least once per week” (Fine 2013).
NSAIDs and acetaminophen both:
Ibuprofen: Very common (10% or more): Nausea (up to 57%), vomiting (up to 22%), flatulence (up to 16%), diarrhea (up to 10%)
Ibuprofen: Very common (10% or more): Hemorrhage (up to 10%), hypertension (10%), hypotension (10%)
Using these OTC meds frequently for headaches can also result in rebound headaches (Freeland 2020).
For years, doctors have been recommending acetaminophen over NSAIDs during pregnancy, but now we’re learning that exposure to this is linked to higher rates of ADHD and autism (National Institutes of Health 2019; Alemany et al. 2021; Cleveland Clinic 2022).
An added risk of using acetaminophen is that it is commonly added to other drugs (e.g. Theraflu, Alka-Seltzer Plus Liquid Gels, Vicodin, Percocet). If you take a Tylenol in addition to taking one of these other meds, it could result in a fatal overdose (Bates 2016; Harvard Health Publishing 2018).
After just a short while looking into these “safe” OTC medicines, I realized this could become a very long article, so I will stop here. (I really didn’t even look into risks for children (Ogilvie et al. 2012), though I’m sure they are just as bad, if not worse than for adults.) I will say this, though: I am even more pleased with my decision to not take the well trodden OTC painkiller route after my little internet exploration. Risking gastrointestinal bleeding or liver disease to get rid of a headache? No, thank you. I’ll pass.
What route did I take? I took the road less traveled… Homeopathy, of course!
Before I get to the homeopathic remedies for headaches, please note that some headaches definitely warrant medical assistance:
As I mentioned in my article Garbage In, Garbage Out, everybody experiences headaches differently. Your headache is not the same as your neighbor’s headache.
Why do we get headaches? Good question. The reasons are plentiful: Stress and tension can cause headaches. Emotions can cause headaches. Crying can cause headaches. Drinking alcohol can cause headaches. Certain foods for certain people can cause headaches. The weather can cause headaches. Hunger can cause headaches. Physical issues, like sitting at a desk all day, can cause headaches. Dehydration can cause headaches (see, Summer Fun #5: Dehydration). Menses can cause headaches. Homeopathy in all its wisdom takes all of these possible causations into consideration when selecting a remedy. (Some of these conditions are chronic situations and seeking the advice from a professional homeopath may be necessary to help figure your headaches out.)
As in everything homeopathy, the symptoms, or how you experience the headache, are the key to finding the right remedy for you.
NOTE: A 30c potency is a good place to start. If no change occurs, repeat the remedy 15-20 minutes later. If there is any amelioration, stick with the remedy. We are not looking for perfection, we are looking for improvement. If you are NO better after a couple of doses, take another look at the symptoms and try another remedy. As I said earlier, headaches can be very tricky, especially when you are in the middle of one. (If you have somebody nearby who can help you figure it out, all the better.) Don’t get discouraged. The long-term benefits of kicking the OTC habit are worth it. If you have to succumb to an OTC, try and take note of what you were feeling and see if you can match up a remedy for the next time you get a headache.
Please note also that this is not an exhaustive list of headache remedies, nor is it an exhaustive list of symptoms for each remedy listed. This is just a quick look at a few common homeopathic headache remedies which should be readily available in most household homeopathic kits or in your local health food store.
Bryonia is the “grumpy bear” remedy. Grumpy because every movement you make hurts — it even hurts to move your eyes. It hurts to be touched. Every noise somebody else makes hurts. A splitting headache — as if the head would split right open or pain right across the forehead. Thirsty, thirsty, thirsty for big gulps of water. Constipation may be present. Firm pressure on the head can help as can a nice, cool cloth across the forehead. Bryonia is an excellent flu remedy and is also good for injuries and back pains, neck & shoulder pains; too much sun and coughing.
Belladonna — sudden onset. Throbbing, pounding pain. In the temples or extending from temple to temple. Fullness in the head — a congestive headache. Your head may hurt so much that it hurts to touch your scalp. A couple of keynotes for Belladonna in any condition: sudden onset. Hotness. Redness. (See, Summer Fun #1: Sun.) They don’t want any noise or light or anyone to bump that bed you’re on. A Belladonna headache feels better with pressure — pressing on your head can help the pain. Headaches from coughing or sneezing.
Gelsemium: Headache with the sensation as if there were a tight band around the head. A distressing headache. Pain beginning in the neck and extending up and all over the head. A good remedy for headaches with the flu. Can’t keep the eyes open. Headache from nervousness — anticipatory anxiety. Or, a headache that came on after hearing bad news. They feel better when keeping their head raised up when lying down. Their brain may feel sore. A fascinating symptom of Gelsemium is the headache can feel better after urinating. They want to be left alone, but unlike Bryonia, they have no thirst.
Ignatia: Headaches from emotions: shock, sadness, grief, worry or anger. From the outside, they may seem oversensitive to the pain; they may even be hysterical. Pain as if a nail is driven into the side of the head. Or, a headache felt along the sides of the head. A heavy feeling in the head. Pulsating sensation over the eyes. They may have a very focused headache, just in one spot. Strong smells, especially tobacco smoke, can bring on a headache. Wrapping the head up may feel good.
Natrum muriaticum: headaches from grief and disappointed love. Headache as if being hit by dozens of tiny hammers beating on your brain. A bursting headache. A heavy sensation in the back of the head. May feel a band or hoop sensation around head. Headache as if from a blow to the head. Feels as if they must lie down. A headache on one side of the head. Eyes are sensitive to light and there may be visual disturbances. They are worse from the sun.
Nux vomica for headaches from too much (see, Too Much!) — too much alcohol, too much sugar, too much sun, too much work, too much food. Too much can also mean not enough of something else: not enough sleep, not enough emptying of the bowels (constipation). Headaches from toxic substances, street drugs as well as prescription or over the counter medicines. Or, a headache that feels as if it’s from intoxication, without imbibing the toxic substance itself. Unable to raise the head. Head feels swollen. These people can be miffed — angry and frustrated. The pain can be in the back of the head or over the eyes. As if a nail has been driven into the top of the head. Headache all over the head. Splitting headache. Dizziness, especially on rising. The head may be sensitive to cold air or drafts of air. Headache from tooth pain. Nux vomica is also good for colds and stuffed up noses, so if your headache is coming from that, this could be a good choice.
Pulsatilla: Headache from overeating, especially fats. Hormonal headaches. Headaches experienced during puberty. Throbbing. Heavy head — hard to hold it up. A bubbling sensation in the head or noises in the head. Bending the head to one side may feel good. They must lie down while keeping their head raised. A one-sided headache. Oversensitivity, weepiness and craving company and with no thirst — all big keynotes for Pulsatilla. They feel better in open air and while rubbing their head or from wrapping their head. Coughs make it worse. Shooting pains or wandering pains.
Sanguinaria: A “sick headache” with nausea and possibly vomiting. The pain is focused in or around the right eye. It can be a quick pain — a flash of pain on the back of the head. The eyes may feel like they’re being pressed out. Forehead pain, just above the eyes. The pain improves from sleep. Nausea. Dizziness. Vomiting and feeling better from vomiting. Bursting pain.
Silicea. Lingering headaches following an illness. An occipital headache, sitting right there at the back or your head or, starting in the occiput and traveling up and over the head. May feel nauseous and vomit. Cold, clammy sweat on the forehead. Talking makes them feel worse. Constipation and straining can cause this headache. A headache from cold exposure to the head. Head pain resulting from a toothache. May feel better from binding the head. Conversely, a headache that has been brought on from having the head bound may respond well to Silicea. Like Gelsemium, the headache can improve with urination.
Children with headaches may respond well to Calc phos 3x. Older children may respond well to Nat Mur or Ignatia.
So, what did I take for my headache?
Bryonia first, which removed the debilitating pain and I could then focus more clearly on what I was feeling. Almost immediately, I noticed how nauseous I was. Was I nauseous before? Maybe, but it certainly wasn't pronounced enough for me to notice it. Then, sitting by an open window trying to get some work done, the nearby construction noise was absolutely intolerable — really irking me. Aha. Irritability and nausea = Nux vomica. Within an hour, the bulk of the headache was gone and by afternoon I felt absolutely good to go -- as if I never even had a headache.
Was it harder to take homeopathy rather than popping an OTC? Maybe, but only because it required me to think about my symptoms. But, to me, it was absolutely worth it. With homeopathy, there are no side-effects, no rebound headaches, no possibility of long-term damage (Habs and Koller 2021; American Association of Homeopathic Pharmacists 2022). And, bonus!, homeopathy has been known to help uproot the underlying cause of the existing condition, thereby lessening the frequency and intensity in the future, especially in chronic conditions.
"I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost
Julia Coyte, CHom
Classically Practical homeopath
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And, so it begins. The season of family, friends, food, festivities and, less desirably, the crud.
What follows is an account of one family suffering from the crud. I know this family well and often help them homeopathically through quick text exchanges. Knowing she has a good home kit of homeopathic remedies, I addressed her questions and their symptoms with common remedies.
Note: sitting down and taking the full case is definitely a better way to approach any situation, but this is how things go sometimes. She didn’t request a “full” acute consultation, she just wanted to address her symptoms as they popped up.
A friend called last week with her 1st grader suffering a nasty, yucky cough. She got over it pretty quickly, but she managed to share it with her little sisters. The littlest one wasn’t sleeping for a few nights and since little ones aren’t known for entertaining themselves quietly when they aren’t sleeping, her mom didn’t sleep either and she, too, succumbed to the crud.
In an ideal world, the right remedy will take care of the whole enchilada all at once. But, with colds and flus you often have to chase the symptoms. One remedy takes care of the first problem and then the symptoms change and move and are looking for attention elsewhere.
The mom texted with her symptoms: “What do I take for right sided nasal congestion that is also plugging my right ear? It’s a gross one. I tried to get on top of it before it fully took over and was unsuccessful.”
My answer: homeopathic Sanguinaria canadensis.
I knew from her oldest’s symptoms that an icky cough was part of this picture and Sanguinaria is a good cough remedy in general. It is highly indicated in a hacking cough, an irritable cough, a tickling cough and even whooping cough.
Sanguinaria also is noted for ear pain and ear discharges and excessive mucus and/or tickling in the larynx, trachea or throat. The lungs may be filled with gunk and the discharges may be stringy or have an odor
The headaches of Sanguinaria can be accompanied by nausea or have pain above the eyes and can be specifically associated with the right side. Gastric headaches, throbbing headaches and migraines can all be helped by homeopathic Sanguinaria.
The Sanguinaria did its thing and she was feeling better than she had been earlier in the day, but her ear was still troubling her. It turns out her ear was hurting more than she mentioned at first and said that earlier in the day she found relief from resting her ear on a heating pad*. This made me think of Belladonna, another right-sided remedy that is indicated in ear pain that is better from warmth. Not long after, she texted that the crackling was much improved.
* This is a very common occurrence, where what would be important symptoms are left off “the list” for one reason or another. Perhaps it is that another symptom is taking precedence or the symptom in question was worse and seemed to have disappeared and not worth mentioning, but then rears its head again.
The next morning, the ear pain was gone but the congestion had shifted to her left nostril. Arsenicum album or Apis popped into my head and she texted that she had the Arsenicum album near by and “it seemed to do the trick.”
I didn’t hear from her again and I just happened to text this afternoon to see how she was doing and she was not well. She now thought she had developed a sinus infection. In addition to that, her middle child was still sleeping poorly, coughing and “when she blows her nose it’s like she could blow it forever and never run out of snot.” Her daughter was also “fairly emotional” and “overly sensitive” about things that normally wouldn’t bother her.
This was the first I had heard about this daughter and suggested Pulsatilla. Pulsatilla is well known for sadness, weeping easily and changeable moods. Children who can benefit from Pulsatilla are often in need of comforting and feel better for consolation. Pulsatilla is also known for discharges of all kinds from all over the body: ears, eyes, lungs, nose and more. A non-irritating, bland, discharge which may be thick or slimy or yellowish/greenish. Pulsatilla is not the only remedy that is known for a copious discharge, but when you add in the over-sensitivity, then Pulsatilla makes a lot of sense. Very soon after, another text arrived saying her daughter was already sounding less cruddy and was “snotting and coughing” less than before.
As for the mom, she was suffering sinus pressure and a pretty bad headache. The mucus was no longer free flowing but it was sticking around causing the sinus pressure and the headache and causing pain at the base of her neck and down the shoulder blades.
Kali bich is one of the best remedies for headaches from sinus pressure and also for sinus infections. Again, in very short order, another text arrived saying she was “feeling so much better.” A few minutes after that she phoned from her car (she felt well enough to go out and do what she needed to do!) and said she could “feel the tension leaving her body.” Her face pain was gone, her shoulders were relaxing and her voice continued to lighten as the conversation continued.
Could all of the mom’s symptoms be addressed more cleanly straight off the bat? Perhaps. In hindsight, Kali bich may have been what she needed from the start, but as the symptoms presented themselves, it didn’t become clear until later. Homeopathy definitely isn’t an exact science and when the symptoms are being addressed in a piece-meal fashion via short, informal texts it’s easy to miss symptoms which could be more specifically targeted if more information had been available.
Regardless, homeopathy was able to keep this busy mom going, despite her many and varied symptoms and is a good example of how symptoms can be addressed and responded to when you have a stash of common remedies at your disposal.
At this point, the dad has not succumbed. He has been taking Cold Calm** as a preventative. So far, so good!
Julia Coyte, CHom
Classically Practical homeopath
** I have no affiliation with this company, I just like their product.
Once upon a time, when somebody sneezed or coughed, we all assumed it was either a cold or allergies and we really didn't think very much about it. Now, if you're in public and you have to sneeze or (heaven forbid!) cough… hold it in -- don't even go there!
Allergy season has returned to our neck of the woods. Headaches. Sneezing. Runny noses. Blocked up sinuses. Tickling in the throat. Yuck.
Let's look at a few homeopathic remedies that might be of assistance.
Allium cepa is a go-to remedy for runny noses which burn and eyes that water blandly and can present with a dull frontal headache.
Arsenicum album -- for burning discharge from the nose and the eyes and eyelids may be puffy. Here's a potentially important piece of the allergy puzzle with this remedy: Complaints return annually. (While this is more of a classical homeopathic approach to allergies, Arsenicum album can certainly be applied in a practical or therapeutic way, as well.)
Euphrasia focuses on the eyes. Opposite to Allium cepa, Euphrasia has a bland runny nose and burning eyes. The eyelids may also itch and burn.
Natrum muriaticum can have a profuse watery discharge from the eyes and the nose and what comes out of the nose may have an egg white consistency. Taste and smelling may be an issue as well as a tickling in the pit of the throat.
Nux vomica -- obnoxious, relentless sneezing as well as irritation in the nose and eyes. Grumpiness might just be a part of this picture, too.
Sanguinaria can be very helpful for sinus issues and facial pain and headaches from the blocked sinuses.
Wyethia also has the runny nose and sneezing, but it also has the peculiar symptom of an itchy palate -- requesting your tongue's assistance in rubbing back and forth trying to scratch that itch.
There are many, many homeopathic remedies to address the many, many allergic symptoms. If you need help deciding what remedies may best suit your symptoms, or if you are prone to allergies in general, homeopathy can help to strengthen your system and lessen this burden.
Contact classicallypractical.com to see if homeopathy can help relieve your seasonal allergies now and in the future.
Julia Coyte, CHom
Classically Practical Homeopathy
Julia Coyte, CHom
I am passionate about homeopathy and I love sharing this passion. Having a working knowledge of homeopathy shouldn't be kept a secret. If people have the ability to help themselves, their children and their friends when they have minor ailments, life just gets better for everyone. That is the purpose behind Ruminating on Remedies.