Survival tips from a 40-year veteran
This fall marks the 40th anniversary of my first migraine attack. Over the years I have learned a few things about coping with attacks in a wide variety of situations. As I reflect back, I can’t believe how long it took me to figure out some of the simplest things. Hopefully you’re a little faster to pick up on these tricks than I was. Just in case you’re wondering, here’s a list of everything I wish I’d known just a little bit sooner.
Handy home essentials
- Dramamine is an acceptable alternative to prescription anti-nausea pills. The sooner you take it, the less likely you are to vomit and it makes you sleepy, too.
- Velcro straps, long scarves, wide belts, and Ace bandages all work to fasten an ice pack (or two or three) to your head. No need to wear out your arms trying to hold the darn thing in just the right spot.
- Icy Hot, Aspercreme, BenGay, BioFreeze, Tiger Balm – take your pick. They all make nice massage lotions to ease the pain of an attack, sore neck muscles, and that all-over ache of allodynia.
- Hot or cold showers really help cut the pain. It’s even better if you have adjustable jets to concentrate the water pressure in just the right spot.
- Vibrating massagers cut the pain when nothing else works.
- Stacking medicines is more effective than triptans alone. Ask your doctor about this one before you try it. My neuro recommends adding Naproxen, Benadryl, and Zofran when taking a triptan to improve its effectiveness.
- Get to know your prodrome symptoms and understand these symptoms do not trigger the attack. Instead they tell you the migraine attack has already started. Food cravings, mood swings, hyperactivity, irritability, insomnia, yawning, neck stiffness – these are all prodrome symptoms that tell me and my family the attack is already under way.
- Sunglasses are essential accessories for any occasion
- Never run out of Sprite, 7-Up, or Ginger Ale
- Always keep the toilet clean. You never know when you will need to shove your face in it.
- Help yourself to a few extra emesis bags the next time you visit the UC or ER for a migraine attack. Stashing a few in the car may come in handy some day.
Helpful gadgets and appliances
- A power inverter is a useful car accessory. You can plug in heating pads and enjoy their warmth when traveling during an attack.
- Heated car seats and adjustable lumbar support are not luxury features.
- It is not excessive to install dimmer switches on every light in the house
- You can never have too many ice packs.
- Filled with rice, flax seed, corn, or clay – microwaveable hot packs are a necessity
- TENS units relieve pain just as well as some pain relievers without the drowsy side effects or risk of MOH
- The early bird really does catch the worm. Don’t wait to take your meds. They work a lot better when taken at the first sign of trouble.
- Silicone ear plugs muffle sound to ease phonophobia
- Weighted eye masks help you sleep
- Get tested for sleep apnea soon after you are diagnosed with Migraine. I wasted years not getting results from preventive medicine because my sleep disorder undid all the good while I slept.
- Keep all your migraine supplies in a big bag, refill as needed, and never leave home without it.
- Never, ever, ever run out of meds.
- Insist on rescue treatments to use at home so you can avoid the ER when your attacks get out of control.
- Supporters are rare and precious. Be generous with your gratitude and praise.
- Don’t be afraid to do what you must to get your migraine needs met. Whine, complain, beg, demand, whatever works – just never accept, “I can’t help you” as the final answer.
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?