Comfort measure basics

We have a collection of information so vast that even those of us who work here often use the search engine to find answers to your questions. So one day, out of curiosity, I searched for “comfort measures” expecting to find dozens of features on this topic. I was surprised to find only a few references to the term and not a single article devoted to the topic. On behalf of all of us who have overlooked this important issue, please accept my apology. Now, let’s fix that oversight.


We have talked about the importance of having a toolkit and even given you tips on what to put in it. Most of what’s in a toolkit are comfort measures. It’s easy to remember daily medications, abortives, and even rescue medicines. Most of us also remember to add an ice pack or a microwavable rice bag. Beyond these basics, it’s easy to get stuck.

So what exactly is a comfort measure?

A comfort measure is anything you can use that helps you feel more comfortable while waiting for the medical treatments to take effect and the migraine attack to pass.  These tools don’t stop the attack. They can help you relax, reduce the intensity of symptoms, and give you the confidence to cope should you get hit when you least expect it. Comfort measures give you a sense of control. Plus, they can be used without limits or restrictions. No one ever developed Medication Overuse Headache from using too many ice packs!

I meet migraineurs all the time who have no idea they can do something other than take a pill to help ease their pain and suffering. Even for the most seasoned veteran, it is hard to think of these things in the moment. That’s why it’s so important to have all your available options in one place.

How do you know what you should include?

When I was first building my toolkit, I thought about all the times I was caught by surprise and then asked myself:

  • What did I wish I had with me?
  • What would have made the experience more tolerable?
  • What would have eased my discomfort?
  • What did I ask to borrow or send someone out to purchase?

I also asked my family for their input. Often they remembered something I had forgotten. Our answers helped to fill my toolkit.

Everyone is unique, so every toolkit will be unique. The important thing is to have a lot of options. Anything that has ever helped goes in. The more options available to you in the middle of an attack, the more confident you will feel, and the more likely you will get through the attack before running out of options. A toolkit can get pretty large, so you might discover the need for an “at home kit” with everything in it, a “car kit” that’s a little smaller, and “portable kit” with smaller versions of what’s at home or in the car.

Here are some ideas to help get you started:

Something to keep you warm: a favorite blanket, heating pad, rice bag, house slippers, fuzzy socks, sweater, hat, gloves, tea bags for making hot tea

Something to keep you cool: ice packs, portable fan, wide-brimmed floppy hat, cooling essential oils (peppermint, eucalyptus, spearmint, wintergreen), a water bottle, scarves or belts to fasten ice packs to your head, wet wipes, BeKool strips, spray bottle

Something to ease your tummy: peppermint or ginger candies, peppermint or ginger tea, lemon-lime soda (Sprite, 7-Up, Ginger Ale, etc.), plain or vanilla yogurt (if it’s not a trigger), ice packs, anti-nausea wrist bands, emesis bags, peppermint essential oils, Vicks (to block noxious smells), Better Breathers, snacks that are easy to digest

Something to lower the volume or brightness: ear plugs, sunglasses, sleep masks, wide-brimmed hat or ball cap, headphones, iPod or MP3 player

Something to relax you: a soft pillow, your favorite music or guided meditation, audio book, a neck pillow, portable massager, TENS unit, Thermacare wraps, sore muscle rub

Something to keep you hydrated: bottled water or electrolyte drink mix

Something to help you communicate with others: A complete list of medications, names and phone numbers of all your doctors, emergency contact info, list of allergies

Then there are comfort measures that don’t take up any space at all.

I have a few apps on my smart phone that provide guided meditations and hypnosis. I also have a growing collection of Pandora stations, a migraine tracker, a medication dose reminder, a flashlight app, and of course, a built-in brightness dimmer. My phone also has a feature that allows me to pre-load frequently used text phrases. I use this to communicate with my family when I am hiding out in my migraine cave and need help, a glass of water, some food, or just a little company.

Get creative!

All of these things can help you get through the attack with a minimum of stress and drama. It really doesn’t even matter what you include as long as it helps you, so get creative.

Some of the strangest things in my toolkit are baby teething snacks. They dissolve quickly and are easy to digest. If you haven’t checked out the baby aisles recently, you might be as surprised as I was to discover that teething snacks have come a long way in 20 years. There are also little fleece blankets that can be rolled up as a neck support or used to cover just that one leg or arm that’s cold when the rest of your body is burning up.

Can you think of any strange or unique comfort measures?
Share your tips so we can all learn from each other!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (10)
  • MahtaMouse
    3 years ago

    I’m going to be going to Europe soon (my first trip) and I worry about migraines. I don’t think I will be able to take one of my saviors; a heating pad I wrap around my wrists and set to hot. So I want to know if I will have any trouble with TSA, etc if I try and take those liquid filled gel things that get hot when you bend the disc inside?? Anyone know?? If I have to pack it in my suitcase instead of carry on, will it explode/leak due to air pressure??

  • MahtaMouse
    3 years ago

    Thank you. I’m just coming off a 13 day cluster headache and migraine jag, so I’m really worried about this upcoming trip. Thankfully it’s with my brother and not a tour or I’d really be panicking about what if… thanks for your advice.

  • Tammy Rome author
    3 years ago

    I have several of these. I took a few in my carry-on bag when I flew in June without any problems. If you’re not sure, you can always contact the airline or TSA. You may also be able to take your heating pad wrap if you purchase an outlet converter so it can be safely plugged into European electrical outlets. Best of luck and enjoy your trip. May it be free of migraine!

  • 23r1c5h
    3 years ago

    I have only begun to start to build my toolkit as I have been restricted mostly at home – I rarely go out unless it’s to the doctor’s office. This article is giving me some good ideas on what to add to mine, thank you so much for posting it.

    I do have some comfort measures when I am home. My first is a very soft, black fleece robe that I put on at the first signs of an impending attack. It keeps me warm without overheating me but it makes me feel like I am getting a hug from someone I love or they are holding me as I lay down when I am alone. I use it only for migraine attacks, the rest of the time it hangs on a chair that’s within arms reach should I need it.

    I also have two migraine buddies that are my constant companions from the time an attack starts until it’s over. I have an American Staffordshire Terrier/Southern Louisiana Swamp Curr dog named Butters who will eventually become my service dog. She has a very good track record for knowing when an attack is coming and let’s me know, usually within 10-20 minutes. Once I am in bed, she eases onto the bed with me, curls herself next to my legs and puts her head on my hip and she will stay there until I have to move, usually to go to the bathroom in which she follows me. If the attack is especially deep, she’ll curl into my stomach with her head on my pillow and she won’t budge until I move.

    The other is my beloved OJ, a cross-eyed Siamese/Himalayan that’s 14 years old and has been to hell and back with me. Whichever side Butters isn’t on, my OJ takes the other side and I am wrapped up in a lot of warmth and love.

    I don’t know what I would do without my migraine buddies, they keep me sane and fill me with a sense of hope.

  • MahtaMouse
    3 years ago

    Stacey… Your butters and OJ made me smile and think about my old chocolate Lab, Sundae. One day while writhing on the couch in the midst of a migraine, she stood for 4 solid hours on her back paws, front paws over me protectively, softly growling at the road workers she could hear outside. Every time I had to run to throw up, my daughters later said she would follow me and wait outside the bathroom door and dry heave in sympathy 😀 I miss my baby girl!

  • ChristieS
    3 years ago

    I have a tote bag that I got on a cruise to Cozumel that contains my toolkit. Looking at the bag makes me remember the trip. I have in there a fleece throw that’s very soft, a horseshoe pillow for my neck, a box of BeKool strips, and my anti-emetic (phenergan) and my various and sundry migraine meds. I can’t take triptans due to family history of heart disease, so I have hydrocodone, Midrin, and Fioricet in there depending on how bad it is. I also keep a pair of wrap around 100% UV blocker sunglasses. I’m going to put some peppermint patties in there also, as that tends to help my nausea. Very interested to see what others list in their toolkits!

  • julesjmf
    3 years ago

    However, sometimes they don’t — or they take longer to work — so these comfort measures are so important! Of course the common techniques like lying down in a dark, quiet room are helpful for many people, including myself. This is a difficult topic, though, because there’s so much variability from person to person about the migraine experience — what exacerbates or doesn’t help one person may be easily tolerated or even helpful to another. Luckily, triptans work for me most of the time. When they don’t work, though, or aren’t working quickly or well enough, here are some of the things I find useful:

    A soft ice pack on my head — pressure often also feels good, so I love the Migracap. But using a soft scarf to tie on a gel ice pack is a great idea, too.

    Medications that help with whatever symptom is bothering me — antiemetics like Zofran (ondansetron) and Phenergan (promethazine) are mainstays for me. Sometimes Benadryl (diphenhydramine) helps with nausea, too. I usually can’t sleep when a migraine is bad, so the Benadryl helps with that so that I’m more likely to doze off when the pain subsides some.

    When I can’t sleep and the pain is very bad, I need a distraction. I’ve never tried the meditation apps/podcasts, but I will! I’m a big reader, so if my photophobia isn’t too bad, sometimes I will try to read — I like using my kindle with the lowest level of backlighting. Usually I can tolerate that light better than any kind of other light. Sometimes the nausea and pain are too bad for any kind of light, so my favorite distraction and comfort technique is to listen to an audiobook. The best one is something that I’ve read/listened to before so that I can easily lose myself but don’t have to worry about focusing too much. I have all of the Harry Potter books in audio format just for this purpose.

    Hope some of those suggestions help someone else!

  • julesjmf
    3 years ago

    Ooops! I left out the first sentence: Medications usually work for me.

  • Joann
    3 years ago

    Not really something that I can carry with me but one of my strangest comfort measures is just standing in the shower under the hottest water I can tolerate. When the hot water is rushing over my head I have some brief seconds of relief.

  • marycr8on
    3 years ago

    I don’t think that’s strange at all, Joann. I don’t use the shower, I fill the bathtub and submerge myself with just my nose and mouth out of the water. I think for me, it’s the pressure of the water that relieves my migraines some. It feels good while I’m in there, but not long after I get out, the migraine is back.

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