HEADACHES can come on at the worst of times – Christmas being one of them.
In particular, migraines can wipe you out and force you to lie alone in a dark room while your family enjoy themselves.
There are many triggers for migraines during the festive period with drink flowing, indulgent foods and a busy calendar.
Parvinder Sagoo, Lead Pharmacist and Medical Advisor for Simply Meds Online, said: "You may not know this, but certain festive foods could potentially trigger a migraine, so it’s best to clue yourself up on these foods so you know what to avoid or manage your intake of.
"Migraines can be described as an excruciating, debilitating and throbbing pain which gradually builds up over the course of a few hours or a few days, typically on one side of your head.
"It can become pretty intense and even doing simple acts such as walking or talking can make it worse, so most people find they have to lie down.
"You may feel nauseous and be sensitive to light or odours. A change in appetite or cravings or changes in how often you urinate can happen the day before a migraine.
"Some people see flashing lights, wavy lines or blind spots during an attack."
Figuring out what causes your migraines can be tricky, but the most common include stress, anxiety, hormonal changes and smoking.
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Sleep problems, strict diets, bright flashing lights or certain foods and beverages are also a problem, Dr Sagoo said.
If you do find yourself battling one over the holidays, Dr Sagoo said: "The best treatment is to ensure you rest.
"You should lie down in a dark room and place a cold compress on your forehead, try to also keep your eyes closed and rested. If you feel nauseous you should drink plenty of fluids such as water.
"You may want to talk to your GP for treatment options if you suffer with migraines regularly however Zolmitriptan tablets are commonly used to treat migraines.
"They are effective as they work by narrowing blood vessels around the brain to stop any pain signals."
So what can you do to prevent a migraine coming on in the first place?
1. Avoid cheese
Camembert, Boursin, Stilton – we all have our favourite on the cheese board.
Dr Sagoo warned: "Aged cheeses are one of the main foods, and of course a cheese board is a very common meal of choice during Christmas.
"If you are susceptible to migraines I would avoid this altogether, or try to avoid aged, stinky cheeses such as Camembert and blue cheese."
Aged cheeses are higher in a substance called tyramine, which is a well-known source of migraines.
The substance is naturally found in many foods, especially those that are fermented.
2. Avoid smoked salmon and ham
There are plenty of meats to go around in the few days of Christmas, normally above what we'd eat typically.
But cured meats and smoked fish are triggers for migraines because they also contain tyramine.
Tyramine can cause migraines in some people who do not have enough of an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO) that helps break it down.
Other foods that can lead start a pounding in your head include artificial sweeteners, which are commonly found in soft drinks, zero-sugar drinks and baked goods.
3. Watch chocolate
It's likely you have chocolate for breakfast on Christmas Day, and plenty more throughout.
But sadly, the sweet stuff can bring on migraines in some, research suggests.
Some experts believe it is simply a coincidence that people crave chocolate just before a migraine starts, therefore thinking it was the cause.
Although it is not proven, it may be best to watch it around Christmas, just in case.
Dr Sagoo said: "Again, a popular food of choice around the festive season. Try to limit your intake if you can."
Citrus food is also highlighted as a specific food by the NHS as a dietary trigger ofmigraines.
4. Avoid bubbles
By this point, you'll be wondering if it's simply the good stuff we love at Christmas that need to be avoided.
Unfortunately alcohol frequently is reported as a migraine trigger. This is because it can cause you to urinate more, therefore dehydrating the body, says Drinkaware.
Red wine is a popular drink of choice at Christmas, especially mulled red wine, but try to steer clear. You should also avoid champagne, prosecco and other fizzy white wine drinks.
Dr Sagoo said: "We know that alcohol causes havoc on our bodies and can leave us suffering with a headache the next day, but some drinks are worse than others.
"Try to stay away from red and white wine as these are considered
"Red wine is a popular drink of choice at Christmas, especially mulled red wine, but try to steer clear.
"You should also avoid champagne, prosecco and other fizzy white wine drinks.
"Some spirits are also known to trigger a migraine such as scotch, whiskey and vodka. You should also make sure you do not mix your drinks."
5. Manage work stress
For many people, working throughout December is the norm and they won't get their Christmas break until December 25 or later.
With so much going on, it's important to try and manage stress so you don't get burnt out.
Dr Sagoo said: "Stress is a common trigger for migraines and this time of year many people can cause themselves to burnout by trying to finish work and tying up loose ends before festivities begin.
"This can often mean that we work ourselves into the ground, become run down and possibly ill.
"Not only this, you are giving your body much more ammunition for developing migraine symptoms.
"Especially if this stress and the long working hours are followed by late nights and alcohol."
6. Don’t overbook yourself
It goes without saying that to keep on top of stress, you need time to unwind.
Dr Sagoo said: "People love to keep busy during Christmas and say yes to all the plans, however this can sometimes leave you feeling overwhelmed when it comes around to the holidays.
"When you’re on the go so much it can leave you to feel anxious, overwhelmed and exhausted and these are some common triggers of migraines.
"Try not to pack your diary too full and allow time to breathe so you are looking after your own wellbeing."
"Allowing yourself moments for selfcare during the holidays is imperative for not only your physical health but also your mental health.
"When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, step away from the chaos and take yourself off for an hour to get some peace.
"Perhaps take a nice hot bath or enjoy a long walk in the fresh air."
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