It's All In Your Head

No wonder truck drivers get more headaches than other professionals. Drivers are exposed to exhaust fumes, changes in weather, sleep deprivation and stress – to name just a few headache starters – on a daily basis.

“I normally get about two headaches a week,” said Jim Hughes, an owner-operator who drives for Crete Carrier. “Nerves are the main cause. It is stressful dealing with dispatchers all day and trying to make sure you make your deadline.”

A recent study by Bristol-Myers Squibb Company put truck drivers at the top of the list of professionals who suffer the most with headaches. According to this study, 42 percent of truck drivers reported suffering weekday headaches. The drivers surveyed said the No. 1 cause of headaches was bumper-to-bumper traffic. Bad weather was the second major headache causer in their lives.

“I get a headache every time I am out there,” said Vern Stoms, who hauls for Caldwell. “It’s normally caused by the traffic. It just becomes too stressful.”

Truck drivers are not alone. According to the National Headache Foundation approximately 28 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches alone, with an annual loss of 157 million workdays, and an excess of $4 billion spent annually on over-the-counter headache medication.

Almost all headaches are classified as primary headaches, such as tension, cluster or migraine headaches. A small percentage of headaches are secondary, meaning they are the result of a medical condition.

Certain “triggers” activate the process that causes headaches, but they can be avoided.

The American Council for Headache Education identifies some of the most common headache triggers:

Dietary factors include skipping meals and certain foods, such as, chocolate, processed meat, aged cheese, alcohol, and caffeine. Headaches are also triggered by changes in sleep patterns. These include oversleeping and sleep deprivation.

There are several environmental triggers that can cause headaches. Weather changes from extreme heat or extreme cold may do it. Bright lights, possibly from oncoming traffic, cause headaches. Odors and pollution from smog, chemicals or exhaust trigger headaches. Stress, no matter it’s source, is also a major headache trigger.

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“I get headaches all the time,” said Tracy Wilson, a driver for Celadon. “It feels like a constant dull pain, and they are usually caused by stress.”

Ironically, even finishing your job can be a headache trigger. The ending of a stressful task, such as finishing a long haul, may actually cause a headache when you return home.

Keep a diary of your headaches because it can help you identify which triggers affect you, so they can be avoided.

ACHE suggests you contact a doctor immediately if any of the following apply to you:

  • You have three or more headaches per week.
  • You take a pain reliever everyday or almost everyday.
  • You require more than the suggested doses of over-the-counter headache medication.
  • You experience stiff neck and/or fever with your headache.
  • You feel dizzy, unsteady, or have slurred speech, weakness or changes in sensation associated with your headache.
  • Your headaches began after the age of 50.
  • Vomiting accompanies your headache.
  • Your headaches keep getting worse and won’t go away.
  • You experience confusion or drowsiness with your headache.

The American Chiropractic Association suggests several simple steps to ease the pain of your headache.

If you spend a long time in a fixed position, such as behind the wheel on a long haul, take a break every 30 minutes to one hour and stretch your head and neck in a full range of motion. Avoid teeth clenching. Teeth clenching can cause tension in your jaw joints, causing the onset of a tension headache. Chewing bubble gum cause you to clench your teeth. Drinking lots of water can help prevent dehydration, which also causes headaches. Low-impact exercise can help with the pain associated with primary headaches.

If you get a headache on the road, the National Headache Foundation recommends simple remedies for headache pain, taken from the Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies.

These remedies include applying ice to your head, putting a warm rag on the back of your neck, taking a warm shower, massaging your scalp and relaxing your neck by rolling your head.

What Kind of a Headache Do You Have?

Tension-Type Headaches
These are the most common headaches, affecting 75 percent of all headache sufferers. The pain usually feels like a dull ache on both sides of the head. They are commonly caused by stress.

Migraine Headaches
Migraines affect 25 to 30 million people in the U.S. alone. Migraines cause a deep throbbing pain on one side of the head and usually accompany nausea, vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light and sound. The condition is more common in women and is usually hereditary.

Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches are relatively rare. These headaches are more common in men. The pain is extremely severe, but each attack is brief. The pain centers around the eyes and may cause the eyes to water. These headaches come in clusters, sometimes lasting for weeks or a month. Alcohol often triggers these attacks.

Rebound Headaches
Rebound headaches may occur among tension-type and migraine sufferers. They are the result of misusing prescription or nonprescription pain relievers. If pain relievers are overused, headaches may “rebound” as the last dose wears off. This is a good reason to call your doctor.

Source: American Council for Headache Education

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