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50 million Americans get headaches at least once a week. While emotional tension, staring at a computer screen, sinus infections, and, all are expected to cause headaches, sometimes the reason for headache pain is not what you would expect

Your Headache Isn't All In Your Head

Epidemiologists tell us that nearly 50 million Americans get headaches once a week or more. More women than men are affected. While emotional tension, staring at a computer screen, sinus infections, and, in women, PMS all are expected to cause headaches, sometimes the reason for headache pain is not what you would expect. Here are 10 examples of surprising things that can give you a headache.


1. Stinky cheese

Cheese, especially aged cheese, is a concentrated source of the chemical tyramine, a trigger for migraine headaches in susceptible individuals.

2. Perfume

People who have especially discerning senses of smell often get headaches when they encounter pleasant odors that are new to them. The nerves that transmit aroma sensations can also transmit pain sensations. Typically it is a new pleasant scent that triggers headache pain.

3. Sleeping too much

Sleeping too much, like sleeping too little, is a common trigger for a condition called familial hemiplegic migraine, which causes facial paralysis along with severe head pain.

4. Sex

Women tend to say "I've got a headache" before a proposed sexual encounter, but men tend to get headaches after sex. Intense vasodilation in the penis releases chemicals that also dilate blood vessels serving the head. Men who get after-sex headaches also tend to get runny noses and literally to see blue after orgasm.

5. Fluffy, Fido, and Filly

Dander from the coats of cats, dogs, and horses can trigger a range of allergic symptoms including headache, usually just a few minutes after exposure. The animal does not have to present in the same space as the headache sufferer to cause symptoms, just their dander.

6. Shampooing

Leaning back over the hairdresser's sink to get a shampoo without adequate neck support can cause headache—and in rare instances, trigger a stroke by cutting off circulation to the brain.

7. Skin cancer treatment

Dermatologists often remove precancerous actinic keratoses of the skin by applying liquid nitrogen. When the liquid nitrogen is applied to the face, an "ice cream headache," similar to the pain experienced when eating ice cream too fast, but much more intense, can result from the treatment. Fortunately, the pain subsides as soon as the face warms back to normal temperature, usually in less than 5 minutes.

8. Hot soft drinks

Fizzy soft drinks that have not been refrigerated, or that have been heated like coffee or tea, can cause the same kind of headache pain as drinking iced beverages or eating ice cream. The pain caused by the hot carbonated beverage disappears as soon as the face and mouth cool.

9. Tylenol

About 5% of people who use Tylenol (acetaminophen) to control pain elsewhere in the body will experience headache pain. People who get headaches after taking Tylenol usually also have nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.

10. Neck massage

A 35-year-old man with a history migraines got a neck massage to try to stop an attack. Instead of stopping the attack, the massage session caused him what he called the worst pain of his life. In the emergency room, doctors discovered that the massage had caused a blood clot that lodged in his sinuses, requiring emergency surgery.

If you get headaches after you encounter one of these common triggers, avoiding the cause can spare you the pain. Any new pattern of headache pain, however, should be checked out by a doctor.