I'm grateful to count myself lucky enough to have never experienced a migraine, but for many people, this type of pain can be downright debilitating. Even if you don't currently experience regular migraines, if you're a college student preparing for the new school year, you may be more susceptible to experiencing these very painful headaches for a variety of reasons. But if you go into the semester armed with a few expert-recommended strategies, you'll be fully prepared and understand how to live with migraines in college.
But before I get into how to cope with migraines in college specifically, it's important to understand what a migraine is, and what it isn't. According to Dr. Vincent Martin, president of the National Headache Foundation, a professor of medicine, and director of the Headache and Facial Pain Center at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, "migraine headaches [include] moderate to severe pain intensity that often [causes] nausea or sensitivity to light or noise." It's important to note that migraines are different from (but often confused with) tension headaches which, Dr. Martin tells Elite Daily over email, are more run-of-the-mill head pain, and aren't accompanied by nausea or sensitivity.
An easy way to tell if you're experiencing a migraine or a tension headache, Martin explains, is to pay attention to whether you're able to function through your usual daily routine. If things like bright lights and sudden sounds aren't really exacerbating the pain, then you're probably just dealing with a minor headache. But if the pain is so bad that you literally feel like you can't even open your eyes, that's a migraine.
Now, like I said, even if you're pretty sure you've never had a migraine in your life, Dr. Martin says it's definitely possible to experience one (or more) in college. This could be due to a variety of factors, he explains, including stress from your class workload, a diet low in nutrients (hello, crappy dining hall food), or irregular sleep habits. In other words, college is a busy time, and it can be easy to forget about the proper ways to take care of yourself when you're in the thick of it all. So don't slack on your sleep schedule or your diet, and if you feel like your classwork is getting to the point of being overwhelming, it's best to check in with your professors and/or an advisor to evaluate the issue.
On the other hand, if you already know you have a history of migraines, Dr. Martin recommends visiting your university's health center once you get to campus. "Notifying the health staff, academic advisor, and professors ahead of time will make them much more likely to work with you should you become ill," he tells Elite Daily.
Another way to ensure you're ready for the pain, should it ever come, is to create a "headache preparedness kit," Dr. Martin tells Elite Daily, which you can keep in your dorm room so you're well-equipped to manage a migraine if/when it strikes. If you have a mini fridge, Martin suggests keeping it stocked with plenty of water and power drinks, and to store the relevant medications (think ibuprofen, Excedrin, or a prescription medication from your doctor if you have one) right on top of the fridge so that everything you need is all in one place.
While a variety of different things can trigger your migraine, Dr. Martin says it's a good idea to pay special attention to whether you have any food-related triggers. "If you notice that a migraine occurs within 24 to 48 hours after ingestion of a food or beverage in greater than 50 percent of exposures, then it is likely a trigger," he says. Keeping a diary of when you're experiencing migraines and what your eating patterns look like may help you and your doctor determine the source of your pain.
Again, migraine triggers are different for everyone, but according to the American Migraine Foundation, you might want to keep an especially close eye on a couple of key tasty foods: The foundation explains that people who experience migraines frequently report alcohol, artificial sweeteners, chocolate, processed meats, and foods containing MSG (think junk food like chips and fried chicken) as triggers for their pain. If you're consuming any of these things on a regular basis, be sure to pay attention to whether your migraine pops up shortly after you're done eating. And if you notice any of these foods are triggers for you, the foundation recommends removing one food or drink at a time to see whether it makes a difference, rather than eliminating every suspected trigger all at once.
Lastly, make sure you don't try to handle your migraines entirely on your own. At a certain point, you should really seek help from your doctor, Dr. Martin tells Elite Daily. "If migraines are occurring more than three to four days per month, on average, you should probably consult with a physician," he says.
But even if your headaches occur less frequently, professional help might not be a bad idea. According to Dr. Martin, even if you're only having one or two migraines a month, if over-the-counter meds aren't soothing your pain, it's best to seek medical assistance. Above all, listen to your body, because with all the learning and personal growth that college has to offer, there's no reason to suffer in silence.