Headaches: Warning Signs, Triggering Factors, Suspect Foods

Some of these tips might enable you to manage headache occurrences better.


Just prior to a headache there are early warning signs of its onset. If you can recognize early warning signs in yourself and immediately take your medication, you may reduce headache intensity and shorten its duration. Some early warning signs are listed below.

  • Visual disturbances: 
    double vision, difficulty in focusing, temporary partial blindness, dazzling display of colored lights, spots or lines
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Sensitivity to noise or light
  • Depression
  • Irritability and tension
  • Alterations in mood and outlook
  • Feeling of exaggerated well-being
  • Uncommon energy and vigor
  • Unusual hunger: desire for snacks, etc.
  • Yawning
  • Trembling
  • Feeling of weakness
  • Excitability
  • Talkativeness
  • Difficulties in speaking
  • Pains in neck or shoulders
  • Blotchy patches on skin or rashes
  • Unusual pallor, especially in children
  • Noticeable increase in weight
  • Swelling of fingers, waist, or breasts
  • Increase in frequency and volume of urination


Life styles are often associated with the cause of the headache. These triggering factors can cause headache and if recognized and avoided might stop the impending headache. The list below gives some headache triggering factors.

  • Anxiety
  • Worry
  • Emotion
  • Depression
  • Shock
  • Alcohol
  • Excitement
  • Over-exertion
  • Physical or mental fatigue
  • Bending or stooping, as in gardening
  • Lifting heavy weights or straining of any sort
  • Change of routine, e.g. holidays, shift-work, change of job
  • Late rising, especially weekends or on vacation
  • Travel
  • Prolonged focusing on TV or movie screen
  • Bright sunlight, bright artificial light or glare of any kind, fluorescent light
  • Very hot baths
  • Noise-particularly loud and high pitched sounds
  • Intense odors or penetrating smells
  • Use of sleeping tablets
  • Prolonged lack of food-fasting or dieting
  • Irregular meals
  • Menstruation and the pre-menstrual period
  • Menopause
  • High blood pressure
  • Continued use of oral contraceptives
  • Toothache and other local pains in head or neck
  • Change of climate
  • Change in weather
  • High winds


Foods are also implicated in the cause of headache. From previous experience with headaches, you may already suspect which foods are triggers for you. Here is a list of common foods that may provoke headaches.

Food Type Examples
aged cheese Cheddar, brick, Mozzarella, Gruyere, Stilton, Brie, Camembert, Boursault
alcohol beer, wine (especially red), liquor
caffeine coffee, tea, cola, certain over-the-counter analgesics and other medications
chocolate sweets, foods, drinks
concentrated sugar sweets, cookies, cake
dairy products milk, ice cream, yogurt, cream, cheeses (aged)
fermented pickled foods herring, sour cream, yogurt, vinegar, marinated meats (cold cuts)
fruits bananas, plantain, avocado, figs, passion fruit, raisins, pineapple, oranges, and most citrus
meats with nitrates bologna, hot dogs, pepperoni, salami, pastrami, bacon, sausages, canned ham, corned beef, smoked fish
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) Chinese food, Accent, Lawry's Seasonal Salt, instant foods such as canned soup, TV dinner, processed meats, roasted nuts, potato chips
Nutrasweet/saccharin soft drinks, diet foods
sulfites salad bars, shrimp, soft drinks, certain wines
vegetables onions, pods of broad beans (lima, new), pea pods, nuts, peanuts
yeast products yeast extracts- fresh breads, raised coffee cakes, doughnuts