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.
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.