I woke up with a headache today. This one goes all across my forehead, and is a squeezing type of pain. Usually when I wake up to a headache, I blame it on my sleeping position. Did I sleep on my shunt, making it not drain as efficiently as it typically does? Maybe this is all in my head (lame pun intended), but a nurse at the rehab hospital told me not to sleep on it because it wouldn’t drain as well. Since then, I’ve tried to sleep on the opposite side of my shunt. The problem I’m running into now, is that I’m getting pressure sores on the ear that I always lay on.

I can’t seem to win, here.  Skin breakdown or a headache?  Those seem to be my choices.  We don’t have a recliner, and even if we did, I can’t imagine sleeping sitting up.  I know people do it, but I don’t think I’m one of those people. 

I bought a special pillow with cut outs for the ears. In theory, you put your ear in a hole and this offsets the pressure. The problem is you must never move out of this small hole. Unfortunately, I tend to move around just enough for my ear to move onto the pillow, thus putting pressure on it again.

I consulted with a wound care specialist that I work with. She suggested using liquid bandage on my ear, but I can’t stand the way it feels, and I end up picking it off. It’s basically like putting clear nail polish on your skin. My picking just made my skin more friable.

Last night, I slept on my shunted side to give my ear a break, and now I have a headache. It’s going to last all day. I know this because I’ve been dealing with headaches for most of my life, even pre-rupture. I can tell. This one has its grip in me, and it’s not going to let go until I can sleep it off.

Over the years, I’ve tried many things to help with headaches.  Cold therapy helps my headaches significantly.  I have a cap that I wear on my head.  I keep it in the freezer.  Inside the cap, there are frozen ice packs.  The cap can be pulled down over your eyes to help keep out the light.  

I take a magnesium supplement every day.  This was suggested to me by a neurologist I saw in my 20’s.  The magnesium, in theory, decreases muscle tension and may help with tension headaches.  I figure it can’t hurt, and sometimes feeling like I’m doing “something” just helps me feel better.  

I have an acupuncture mat.  This was a failure for me.  It just hurts.  It doesn’t help with anything because I can’t stand to lay on it long enough. 

I can’t take the most common prescribed medications that are used for migraines.  Known collectively as the triptans, these medications are contraindicated in patients that have had a stroke.  They include medications like sumatriptan, marketed under the brand name Imitrex.  I took them in my 20’s and they always made me feel like a zombie who had constant paresthesia. 

I am prescribed a newer medication for my headaches.  It’s outrageously expensive, even with insurance.  I hoard it and only take it when I’m at work.  It is effective and it has minimal side effects.  I long for the day when this drug goes generic and is on more formularies.  But, for now, I only receive a few of these to use per month.  It will be many years before it is more affordable.  Another frustrating issue for brain injury patients. 

I sometimes utilize topical essential oils. Typically, these include peppermint, spearmint, and lavender oil. I also have these same ingredients in a balm. It helps minimally. But, sometimes, I’ll take minimal help over nothing.

I take several medications prophylactically or to prevent the headaches from happening. I receive IM Botox injections every three months. These do help, but there is a downside. The first two weeks and the last two weeks of my Botox cycle are typically the worst. The injury to the muscle from the injection initially causes significant muscle stiffness and causes my headaches to flare. The last two weeks might be related to the Botox wearing off.

I’d love to hear from anyone else who has headaches. What works for you? What doesn’t work for you?