Don’t you just hate it when you get headaches or migraines?

Well, in the movie Concussion – a 2015 American sports medical film that’s based on the 2009 GQ expose Game Brain by Jeanne Marie Laskas –  it’s quite clear that what the professional football players in the film are suffering from is more than just a headache. Dr Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a  Nigerian forensic pathologist, fights against efforts by the National Football League (NFL) to suppress his research on the brain damage suffered by professional football players.

But for the rest of us who suffer anything from mild to moderate tension headaches to painful, throbbing migraines, what can be the causes of our afflictions?

Here are six surprising reasons you can get a headache or migraine:

1. Computer usage

Prolonged usage of the computer can lead to eye strain and headaches. Credit:

Prolonged usage of the computer can lead to eye strain and headaches. Credit:

Staring at the computer screen the whole day can put an enormous amount of strain on your eyes. There’s even a term for eye issues associated with heavy screen time – it’s called Computer Vision Syndrome. This strain, plus the variation in light and brightness of the screen, stresses your retina and the nerves behind your eye. This situation can cause headaches. It’s also likely that your sitting posture while using the computer might not be the best too.

How to fix it: Take regular breaks away from the screen – 10 minutes per hour of usage is a good guideline. Take a walk, look at the scenery outside, or talk to a colleague or friend. You should also get an anti-glare shield for your computer screen and remember to sit up straight.

2. Scent allergy

Pumping fuel can cause headaches? Credit:

Pumping fuel can cause headaches? Credit:

Different people have different reactions to scents and some have bad allergies. The most common smells that trigger reactions – most commonly a bad headache – include gasoline, tobacco and perfume, says Dr Alexander Mauskop, the director of the New York Headache Center. So, if you develop a headache after being in the petrol station, you know you’re most likely reacting to the gasoline.

How to fix it: Short of wearing a mask everywhere you go – one that’s connected to your own oxygen supply, no less – you can bring along a small vial of essential oils. Lavender, which has been shown to prevent stress and encourage relaxation, or peppermint, which has been found to help reduce pain, are two possible ones. Take a whiff when you feel a headache coming on.

3. Hairstyle

A high and "tight" ponytail. Credit:

A high and “tight” ponytail. Credit:

Women with long hair are probably more familiar with this – tension headaches caused by “tight” hairstyles, such as a high ponytail or a chignon. These hairstyles, when done up too tightly, pull on the scalp and causes stress and tension.

How to fix it: Loosen the hairdo. This action alone can bring immediate relief for some women. And try to find a looser hairstyle that will suit you.

4. Hormone headaches

"That time of the month" can be hard on women. Credit:

“That time of the month” can be hard on women. Credit:

PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) is real! Hormonal shifts are thought to play a role in triggering migraines or headaches. For women, shifts in hormones happen once a month during the period before and during menstruation. A 2012 study in the Journal of Headache and Pain found that nearly half of women who suffered from migraines were likely to experience the pounding pain during their periods. Estrogen levels drop right before the start of menstrual flow. Pre-menstrual migraines can happen during or after the time when estrogen and progesterone drop to their lowest levels.

How to fix it: Most women take painkillers and try to manage the issue symptomatically by sleeping in or using aromatherapy. In severe cases, a woman might need to consult a doctor for possible hormone therapy.

5. Smoked meats

Bacon might be yummy but watch what you're eating as it can be a cause of headaches. Credit:

Bacon might be yummy but watch what you’re eating as it can be a cause of headaches. Credit:

Hold the bacon, luncheon meat and ham! Processed meats often contain tyramine, as well as food additives such as nitrites, which may trigger headaches in some people. Another type of food that contains tyramine is aged cheese, including brie, blue cheese, parmesan and cheddar. Tyramine forms when certain types of protein break down and the longer a type of food is aged, the more tyramine it contains.

How to fix it: Trial and error will inform you of your tolerance level to smoked meats and cheese – you just have to be disciplined to not overeat!

6. Dehydration

Drink up to prevent migraines and headaches. Credit:

Drink up to prevent migraines and headaches. Credit:

That dull ache you get in your head right after a night of heavy drinking? Yup, that hangover headache is most likely caused by dehydration. Although why dehydration causes headaches isn’t completely understood, one common theory is that the drop in blood volume caused by dehydration decreases the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain. Dehydration also reduces the amount of electrolytes in the body. These factors can, together, cause the dreaded throbbing pain.

How to fix it: Drink up! Plain water, that is.


Well, medically, a concussion is defined as “a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions”. A concussion can cause unconsciousness and effects are usually temporary but can include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and co-ordination, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Concussion poster.

Concussion poster. Credit: Golden Village

Catch Concussion when it opens here on January 14, 2016 to find out if Dr Omalu manages to get the NFL to take concussions, and ultimately player safety, more seriously.