Anatomy of a Caffeine Headache: Causes, Remedies, Prevention

A caffeine headache has been experienced by just about anyone who consumes caffeine on a regular basis.

headache causes

This caffeine-induced headache usually starts behind the eyes and then works its way up the front of the forehead as it further develops, becoming quite debilitating.

For some, this can trigger a migraine, but for most people a caffeine headache is moderately painful and varies in severity depending on the cause.

Top 5 Causes of a Caffeine Headache

  1. Caffeine withdrawal
  2. Varied caffeine consumption
  3. Caffeine overdose
  4. Caffeine sensitivity
  5. Caffeine allergy

How to Remedy an Aching Head

The number one cause of a caffeine headache is caffeine withdrawal.

Even a small decline (30-100mg) in the amount of caffeine a person usually consumes can result in a mild headache.

People who miss their daily dose, consume less than their average, or who are detoxing from caffeine will most likely experience this type of headache.

For those trying to cut caffeine altogether cold turkey, the withdrawal symptoms can be debilitating. That’s why for advanced level detoxes from caffeine, we recommend a cheap and effective caffeine detox program like Wean Caffeine.wean caffeine

As many of you have experienced, you don’t need to be an addict to experience the negative effects of caffeine

People who consume caffeine in a hit or miss fashion tend to have more caffeine-induced headaches than those that have the same amount every day.

Also, for those that consume too much caffeine in a short amount of time often experience a headache as a common caffeine overdose symptom.

Finally, those who are ultra-sensitive to the caffeine molecule or who have an “allergic-like” reaction to the substance, can also experience a headache. However, this type of caffeine headache the least common.

caffeine-headache

 

If you aren’t intentionally quitting caffeine, the best remedy for a caffeine withdrawal headache is to consume more caffeine.

As soon as a person begins to feel a tightness behind the eyes, he/she should evaluate their recent caffeine consumption and then consume an adequate amount of caffeine to stop the withdrawal.

Pain relievers such as Excedrin also include caffeine and can remedy the caffeine withdrawal headache faster since they also have added pain relievers.

For those that are purposely detoxing from caffeine or for those that have consumed too much caffeine, we recommend the following.

Most of the time a caffeine headache will peak in severity and then gradually get better as the body adjusts to having no caffeine.

I find that most of the time pain killers dull the pain and a good night sleep takes care of the rest.

Note: For those that had a moderate to severe addiction to caffeine, the headache could last for several days, but is usually worse the first 24 hour period without caffeine.

how to avoid a caffeine headache

The Two Best Methods for Prevention

For those that want to prevent a caffeine headache, there are basically two ways to keep a caffeine headache from developing.

  1. Consume about the same amount of caffeine every day. – Don’t vary consumption by any more than about 50mg each and every day, even on the weekends.
  2. Consume zero to very little caffeine– Eliminate caffeine from the diet completely. Usually, people who have very small amounts, such as what’s in a serving of dark chocolate, won’t experience any problems with developing a caffeine-induced headache.

By understanding how a caffeine headache develops, how to remedy it, and how to prevent it; this type of headache doesn’t have to be an issue for most people.

Being aware of the caffeine content of your favorite products as well as being mindful of how much you have consumed are your best defenses against getting caffeine-induced headaches.

Helpful Tools

1. Our caffeine content database can help people keep track of their caffeine consumption and be aware of how much caffeine they are consuming daily by drinking their favorite beverages.

2. Download a caffeine-tracking app. This smartphone application allows users to easily track their daily caffeine consumption.

3. Our Guide to Quitting Caffeine provides a step-by-step plan to quit or cut back on caffeine without all the painful withdrawal symptoms such as headaches.

Get Help Quitting Caffeine

Reduce your caffeine intake without pain and discomfort.

See our new 10-step plan
  • Ed Stearns

    To say water is poison is a joke. Water is a chemical but you don’t die from water intoxication in that sense, you dies as your cells cant expel water fast enough and burst. It’s akin to drowning, not a chemical reaction.

    When you stop any drug there is a detox process; DETOXIFICTION. You could never ingest caffeine again and be better for it, if you don’t drink water you will die in a short amount of time. BTW, love how you didn’t address decalcification at all, esp in regard to osteoporosis.

    “…it’s a darned sight better than accusing someone of being a representative of the caffeine industry just because his or her opinion is different to yours. That’s just plain childish.”

    So wen you say “our” research it’s some independent process not for profit? OK.

    ” In any case, I find all this nitpicking over one substance the height of absurdity when you consider that every breath we take in cities is laden with poisons in vehicle emissions.”

    I hear idiots defend smoking the same way; about right, one poison defending another. Nitpicking over one substance, as in heroin, crack, meth are just one substances formed by a combination of other substances. Ridiculous. Anthrax is one substance.

    OK, so few die from caffeine but how many lose calcium, undergo detox and severe headaches, have their SA and AV nodes altered and possibly get injured or die from that?

    Detoxification: ” is the physiological or medicinal removal of toxic substances from a living organism, including, but not limited to, the human body and additionally can refer to the period of withdrawal during which an organism returns to homeostasis after long-term use of an addictive substance.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detoxification

    Caffeine: “When people consume caffeine, it functions as a central nervous system stimulant, temporarily warding off drowsiness and restoring alertness.” “Caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug, but unlike many other psychoactive substances, it is legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world.” “Part of the reason caffeine is classified by the Food and Drug Administration as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) is that toxic doses, over 10 grams per day for an adult, are much higher than the typically used doses of under 500 milligrams per day: an over twentyfold difference.” “Drug dependence, an adaptive state associated with a withdrawal syndrome upon cessation of repeated intake,[12] can occur with chronic caffeine use.”
    Ok, so caffeine is a drug, it’s toxic, it kills some bugs, it affects the CNS in humans. OK, so it doesn’t often kill but it does cause major discomfort like any drug if stopped. Toxic, poison, habit-forming……yea, not a bad thing at all.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caffeine

  • Penelope

    Hello Wroots and thanks for getting back to me. I would be most grateful if you would enquire with your retired botanist friend – sounds like a very knowledgeable person. Kindest regards.
    PS: even the list of 8-12 plants would be a good start for me to look at if you can post a link. Cheers,
    PPS: have just spent the entire day at a mind body spirit exhibition today and feel very inspired.

  • Wroots

    Hi Penelope,

    I came across this site and thought you would find it useful: https://botanistinthekitchen.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/hollies-yerba-mate-and-the-botany-of-caffeine/

    These seem to be the most important botanical sources of caffeine: Coffee, Tea, Cocoa, Yerba Maté, Guarana, Khat, Cola or Kola, Cassine, Yoco.

    Yerba Mate seems to be gaining in popularity and it has quite a high caffeine content.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerba_mate

  • Wroots

    This is a PS to my last response. If you look up “mateine” you’ll find a similar argument going on there as to whether yerba mate contains caffeine. According to some sources mateine is the same as caffeine: tea contains theine (tea+eine): mate contains mateine (mate+eine), and coffee contains caff+eine (which maybe should have been called coffeine instead). 🙂

  • Wroots

    You seem determined to misread what I write and comment on what you think I said rather than what I actually said.

    One point before I end this discussion, it is not (clean) water in itself that is poisonous to the body, but too much water is. This is why it is called “water poisoning”. The reasons why too much water is poisonous to the body is explained here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-drinking-too-much-water-can-kill/

    There are innumerable natural and human-made substances in common use that are deemed safe in prescribed quantities but can be lethal in higher doses. A “safe level” (not poisonous) of a medication might be two teaspoons a day, but taking a litre twice a day would turn it into a poison that would likely kill you. In other words, it’s not the substance per se but the quantity that renders it toxic.

    And one correction: You say “So wen you say “our” research it’s some independent process not for profit? OK.”

    Your sentence doesn’t really make sense but nowhere in my comments have I written “our” research. First you accused me of being a representative of the caffeine industry (whatever that might be), and now your fallback position is that I am somehow engaged in some non-profit process.

    I assure you that I have nothing whatsoever to do with any for-profit or not-for-profit research or any commercial or independent process on any topic at all. In similar situations in the future, instead of allowing your imagination to run away with you and accusing people you do not know of things you seem to randomly pull out of a hat, perhaps you could try the more mannerly approach of asking them directly. Of course, people might not always respond truthfully, but wrongful accusations are just as bad as lies.

    One thing you might want to think about is when you devalue healthy debate by making accusations such as those you levelled against me, you come across as a bully and end up by actually devaluing your own position on the topic. Your arguments are quite black and white, but nothing is ever as clear-cut as that. On the caffeine/coffee issue, there are many pros and cons residing in the grey areas in between, and research is ongoing. Remember the grey areas for caffeine is neither all good nor all bad!

  • Ed Stearns

    I’m not misunderstanding anything you’re saying. As I wrote, if you drink too much water your cells will absorb water faster tan they can dispel it, as a justice major at university I’ve known this for 2 decades, which, as I stated, is why they limit water in death row cells. From your site:

    “Most cells have room to stretch because they are embedded in flexible tissues such as fat and muscle, but this is not the case for neurons. Brain cells are tightly packaged inside a rigid boney cage, the skull, and they have to share this space with blood and cerebrospinal fluid, explains Wolfgang Liedtke, a clinical neuroscientist at Duke University Medical Center. “Inside the skull there is almost zero room to expand and swell,” he says.”

    You site supports what I was saying. See, here is your statement now:

    “…it is not (clean) water in itself that is poisonous to the body, but too much water is.”

    My previous statement BEFORE you wrote this:

    ” Water is a chemical but you don’t die from water intoxication in that sense, you dies as your cells cant expel water fast enough and burst.”
    So you parroted what I wrote as you were saying I don’t understand you; clearly you repeated what I wrote. Not to mention drinking too much water and intaking a drug, a stimulant that can kill or more tan likely cause harm and psychological issues are world’s apart. You could never intake an MG of caffeine and be as well or better for it, don’t drink water daily and you have issues and will die if you don’t correct it. There is no daily required or recommended intake of caffeine.
    As for your research, it may have been another genius promoting the use of drugs like caffeine; I’ve been arguing with so many lately. Or you may have deleted that post, doesn’t really matter. We have mindless garbage advocating legalizing marijuana too, so join the gang. Gotta be doped as sobriety is so awful.
    As for your diatribe on the benefits of caffeine, caffeine *can* be beneficial but a the same time living caffeine-free is defiantly beneficial. No one has ever been ill from caffeine deficiency, there’s no ‘caffeine scurvy’ going on anywhere. Same garbage arguments about dope, they say it’s medicinal. Many other medicines can be used in it’s place *IF* it really is medicinal. There’s nothing you can show me that without caffeine anyone will suffer, plenty the other way tho. Face it, we Americans just like to walk around all fucked up, maybe that way we can tolerate our ultra-conservative government a little more easily; that I get.

  • Wroots

    In your last sentence you make yet another erroneous assumption about me. I am not included under the general heading of “We Americans”. Before you jump to “then you must be Canadian”, I’ll add here that I am not a North American.

    Re “No one has ever been ill from caffeine deficiency.” Er…isn’t that one of the things being discussed on this page? If one has too much coffee over an extended period of times they can go through withdrawal if they stop drinking the beverage and suffer from the ill-effects of caffeine deficiency.

    I agree with you that many people drink more coffee than is good for them, but I remain of the opinion that two cups of coffee a day (300mgs) are not harmful to most people and could even be beneficial. I make 1/4 cup of expresso coffee most days. I add half of this amount (1/8th cup) to 7/8ths cup of boiling milk to make a latte twice daily. I don’t think I qualify as being over-caffeinated.

  • Ed Stearns

    See, in reading your posts, what’s the most inane is that you keep making it about you, about me, about a typo with one word; you’re the king of ad hominem (look it up). I prefer to discuss the drug you are busy defending and I’m busy denouncing as harmful.

    I don’t care where you live, if you’re homo sapiens then caffeine adversely affects you.

    The following is hilarious, it supports methadone use for heroine addicts:

    “Re “No one has ever been ill from caffeine deficiency.” Er…isn’t that one of the things being discussed on this page? If one has too much coffee over an extended period of times they can go through withdrawal if they stop drinking the beverage and suffer from the ill-effects of caffeine deficiency.”

    Right, so we have two ways to go here: 1) Don’t shoot heroine and stop. 2) When you shoot heroine and decide to cut back or quit, replace it with methadone.

    Hey I have a third: DON’T SHOOT HEROINE. Just replace the word ‘heroine’ with caffeine and you’ll get it. That’s so lame to say that caffeine is good as a step-down from caffeine when if you never drugged yourself with caffeine in the first place you’d be fine.

    2 cups a day: Probably not but still you have decalcification and SA/AV node issues. Again, not addressing you or making you center stage, caffeine is a drug and it’s unnecessary.

    I skydive. Anyone saying skydiving is safe and without risks is an idiot; I feel the same about caffeine. I’m not trying to outlaw it, I’m just sick of idiots saying how it’s not a drug, it’s not bad when clearly it is. If it’s your guilty pleasure; enjoy, I just don’t want to hear/read lies about it not being toxic.

    The pro-dopers are assholes in the same light. People compare cigarette smoke to auto emissions; we can live better w/o cigs, we would cease to exist w/o transportation. Yea carbon monoxide is deadly, not going to work is more deadly; living w/o cigs is healthy.

    Finally, I’ll digress onto another area of rationalization. Eating animals causes much pain and is horrible. Many people using your logic will either say Jesus put them here for us to exploit or that it isn’t that bad. So we live in a world of rationalizations and this caffeine debate is just that. I’m not a black-n-white person as you claim, perhaps you can shed light on the positive aspects of the drug called caffeine and how it doesn’t decalcify bones, interfere with SA/AV nodes and these 13: https://www.caffeineinformer.com/harmful-effects-of-caffeine

    Their references are the American Diabetes Association, Mayo, University of Nevada School of Medicine and other unreliable sources like yours.

  • Penelope

    thanks for the update Wroots. Very interesting.

  • Penelope

    Again, very interesting. This business (www.yerbamateaustralia.com.au) was at the mind body spirit expo I attended yesterday and they claim Yerba Mate to be the lower of black tea and green tea when it comes to caffeine (e.g. 27mg compared with 40mg) and the higher when it comes to antioxidants (Yerba mate 455mg; Green tea 307mg and Black tea 106mg). Thanks for the info. Cheers.

  • Wroots

    You’re welcome! I’ll let you know if I succeed in getting my hands on a plant list. With so many websites mentioning “60 to 100+” plants with caffeine content, you’d think a list would be available online, wouldn’t you? Maybe the plant names are being withheld because the food and pharmaceutical industries are in the process of claiming rights to them!

  • Ted

    Exactly, which is why we made this page. It shows what to look for on labels. https://www.caffeineinformer.com/which-ingredients-contain-caffeine

  • Wroots

    But as I have pointed out two or three times in my posts, you won’t find caffeine listed on the label unless it has been added; in other words, if a plant in the product has naturally-occurring caffeine content, label laws do not require it to be on the label and if any amount of caffeine has been added as a separate ingredient, it must be listed on the label. You cannot trust the labels! I suggest you read the following and advise people of this:

    “FDA regulates caffeine levels in food and dietary supplements, pursuant to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, but the requirements for each differ.

    If caffeine is added to a food, it must be included in the listing of ingredients required on food product labels. Caffeine that is not added—i.e., caffeine that is naturally present in the product, such as caffeine naturally occurring in certain herbal ingredients—does not need to be listed as an ingredient.

    Also, because caffeine—added and naturally occurring—is not considered a nutrient, manufacturers are not required to list it on nutrition facts panels. (The nutrition facts panel is considered separately from the ingredients listing portion of a nutrition label.) Caffeine is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) when used in cola-type beverages up to a level of 0.02%, or 200 parts per million.1

    Dietary supplements are not subject to these thresholds. Current regulations do not require dietary supplement marketers to state caffeine levels on product labels. Dietary ingredients—the active ingredients in dietary supplements, such as caffeine—require no FDA preapproval to be used in a dietary supplement; instead, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires FDA to prove that a dietary supplement is unsafe under the conditions of use suggested in the labeling in order to take the product off the market.2”

    The above can be found here:

    http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/article/caffeine-labeling-2-13089

  • Ted

    I’m aware of that, and what I’m trying to say is that we have identified most of the ingredients that contain the “hidden caffeine” i.e. guarana, yerba mate, kola nut, cocoa etc. on that page. Did you even look at it? Consumers can look for those ingredients and if they see them, then they can be aware that they are consuming caffeine.

  • Wroots

    Yes, I did. That’s actually the easy part. The difficulty lies in not having caffeine listed as an ingredient. Things are probably going to change fairly soon with the labelling of beverages such as colas, energy drinks, etc., and I suppose that this will eventually be expanded to comestibles and possibly even medications. Coffee is an easy target, but I wonder if people realize how much caffeine they consume in chocolate products – cookies and cakes, baking chocolate, chocolate chips, energy bars, fudge, chocolate milk, Easter eggs and bunnies, etc., not to mention medications.? Probably not.

  • Matt

    Caffeine addiction, while a real physical addiction, actually has little to no negative side effects other than the benefits of coffee (Energy, ect.) I’d look at cgp grey’s videos on coffee on YouTube if you want to know the scientific details.

  • Pat

    I suffered a mild headache on the upper side, right hand side. It became worse when I cut out caffeine, also manifesting over my right eye. It gradually subsided after 4 weeks.
    For the record I have little vision in my left eye. My right eye does all the work.

  • Bingostingo

    True! And we give these healthy things to our 2 year old kids, not caffeine.

  • Paul C

    Caffeine is a vasoconstictor. Look it up. It does not increase circulation. It decreases circulation and causes problems for diabetics and others with circulatory issues.

  • Donna K

    Look up hypnic headache. It occurs at the same time in the evenings and is releved by caffeine.

Last Modified: November 10, 2017

References

  • Images: 1 | 2
  • Smith, R. (1987). Caffeine withdrawal headache. Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics, 12(1), 53-57. link
  • Kendler, K. S., & Prescott, C. A. (2014). Caffeine intake, tolerance, and withdrawal in women: a population-based twin study. link
  • Shapiro, R. E. (2008). Caffeine and headaches. Current pain and headache reports, 12(4), 311-315. link