Headaches are a common symptom of a hangover. There are a variety of supposed cures for hangover headaches, but there is not much scientific evidence that shows how effective they may be.
The best way to avoid developing a headache after consuming alcohol is to drink in moderation. However, if a person does develop a headache, there are ways to help manage the pain.
This article looks at whether a person can cure a hangover headache, its causes, and possible remedies.
It also looks at ways to manage the other symptoms of a hangover and when to contact a doctor.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there is no scientific evidence to prove that hangover remedies work. The organization says the only way to cure a hangover is to wait until the toxic byproducts have cleared from the body.
That means there also is no evidence of a cure specifically for a hangover headache. However, a person can ease the discomfort with some of the following tactics:
Alcohol makes people need to urinate because it suppresses the release of a hormone called vasopressin. This hormone affects the body in many ways,
Sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea are also symptoms of a hangover and can lead to further dehydration.
Drinking water slowly can help rehydrate the body and help ease a headache.
According to the National Headache Foundation, a person can also consume oral rehydration solutions to help manage dehydration. Oral rehydration solutions contain the correct amounts of glucose and electrolytes to help a person rehydrate more quickly.
A person should eat bland carbohydrates, such as toast, to minimize nausea, improve energy levels, and help return blood sugar to normal.
A person could take a pain reliever, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, as they would for any headache. However, these painkillers can increase acid release and potentially irritate the lining of the stomach.
According to Harvard Health, people should avoid taking acetaminophen. If a person takes acetaminophen while alcohol is in their system, it may worsen the toxic effects on the liver.
Alcohol in wine, beer, and liquor is made up of a chemical called ethanol. Ethanol can cause headaches in several ways, including:
- Vasodilation: This is a widening of the blood vessels, which can cause headaches for some people.
- Diuretic: Ethanol is a natural diuretic, which means it increases the amount of water and salt lost by the body. It causes the body to excrete vitamins, salt, and minerals through the kidneys, resulting in chemical imbalances and dehydration, which can cause headaches.
- Congeners: Some alcoholic beverages may contain other chemicals called congeners. Congeners give beverages their specific flavors and tastes. They can cause headaches and may contribute to the release of hormones that cause an inflammatory response in the body.
People with a hangover headache should avoid:
- “Hair of the dog”: This refers to a person drinking more alcohol during a hangover, supposedly in order to make them feel better. Adding more alcohol to a hangover will only increase a person’s hangover symptoms, although it may delay them, according to the NIAAA.
- Alcoholic beverages that are darker in color: Harvard Health notes that clear liquors, such as gin and vodka, tend to cause fewer hangovers than darker ones, such as tequila and red wine. Darker alcoholic beverages may contain congeners called methanol, which are toxic and can worsen a hangover.
- Strange foods: Hangover cure myths such as eating raw eggs, raw fish, and Tabasco sauce may give a person an upset stomach if they have a hangover. If someone usually finds these foods unpalatable, they should avoid them when hungover.
- Dehydration: Consuming liquid or eating soup can help a person rehydrate and improve their headache.
The most effective way to avoid a hangover headache is to avoid drinking, or avoid drinking in excess.
According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), a person can try the following to help prevent a hangover:
- Avoid drinking on an empty stomach: A person may find it helpful to consume a meal that contains carbohydrates or fats, which can help to slow down the body’s absorption of alcohol.
- Drink water and non-fizzy drinks: Drinking water or a non-fizzy drink between each alcoholic beverage may help. Fizzy drinks can speed up alcohol absorption.
- Drink water: A person should try to slowly drink a pint of water before bed.
A person should contact a doctor after drinking alcohol if they experience:
- excessive vomiting or vomiting blood
- having seizures
- falling unconscious
- being off balance and unable to walk straight
- changes in skin color to purple or blue
- exhaling fewer than eight times a minute
- feeling confused
There is no proven cure for a hangover headache, but there are some methods for improving the symptoms of a hangover.
These include hydrating, eating carbohydrates, and taking certain painkillers. A person should avoid acetaminophen as it can worsen the effects of alcohol on the liver. A person should take ibuprofen or aspirin with caution as they could irritate the lining of the stomach.
The ethanol in alcoholic beverages can cause headaches through vasodilation and by acting as a diuretic. Congeners are present in some alcoholic beverages, and can also cause or contribute to headaches.
People should generally avoid hangover cure myths, including “hair of the dog” and eating usually unpalatable food such as raw eggs.
A person should contact a doctor if they or someone around them is experiencing symptoms after alcohol consumption including excessive vomiting, seizures, skin turning purple or blue, or falling unconscious.