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
  • Wroots

    But why (in my case) do I have an average of two headaches a year? When I go home to visit my parents for three or four weeks I don’t drink coffee because they don’t have a coffee maker of any kind. They are black tea drinkers and easily consume a dozen cups each a day. During my stays with them I never suffer from coffee/caffeine withdrawal. I dare say my headaches are caused by something else. Urban stress, for example.

  • astrummagister

    No, but when you are addicted to heroin, you use Methodone, a narcotic, to help reduce the need gradually and eventually break the addiction.

    Haven’t seen any caffeine addicts selling their children for a cup of joe. I think your outrage is just slightly misplaced.

  • Bazzwold Jiffers

    i went out and drank ten pints of lager followed by 5 double brandies, i had a strong coffee before i went to bed which i believe gave me a massive headache the following day

  • Alex

    Tea contains caffeine. do you drink tea while visiting your parents?

  • Wroots

    Yes, but no more than when I am at home. In fact, I generally drink more tea than coffee, and always only lightly “mashed” (stewed or steeped), and always with milk.

    I’d drink herb teas if only I could stand them without sugar. Don’t suggest honey or maple syrup as a sweetener because I dislike both! The great thing about sugar in tea is that, unlike bee and tree products, it doesn’t alter the taste. That said, I try to avoid sugary things. I guess I’m stuck with tea and coffee. 🙂

  • DMcG

    Many people get seasonal migraines (myself included). I’ve noticed that it’s usually Spring time and Fall that I’ll get a migraine or two. It can be just temperature changes, atmospheric changes, more time with sun in your eyes…All these things can trigger a migraine. Allergies can be the culprit as well in the spring time. It’s very common.
    Just because caffeine helps stop the headaches doesn’t mean it started due to withdrawals. Caffeine actually helps most types of headaches because it dilates the blood vessels(Vasodilator). So the fact that it works for you is probably just because it’s a well known headache cure…not because you are having withdrawals.

  • DMcG

    It’s a bit more complex than that. It is actually both a Vasodilator and vasoconstrictor depending on the type of cells it is interacting with. So the label of good/bad depends on what your ailment is…

  • DMcG
  • Wroots

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve also noticed that the headaches are seasonal with Spring being the problem for me. As well as temperature and atmospheric changes, blood pressure (mine is low) and pollen could come into the equation too. I am prone to having a headache when a storm is building but once it breaks the headache goes away.

  • Penelope

    hi Wroots, have u tried liquorice tea? it’s naturally sweet and u shldnt need to add sugar or honey.

  • Wroots

    I am a big fan of medium hard and salty Dutch licorice but I find the soft, too-sweet variety commonly found in North America not to my taste at all. I tried licorice tea once but, paradoxically considering that I find licorice too sweet, I still had to add sugar.

    Licorice as a herbal remedy has many good points but it also comes with warnings – just like caffeine! http://www.drugs.com/cdi/licorice.html

    Sigh.

  • misty everts

    I’m a big soda drinker!!! Getting married in 10 months so i m not drinking soda anymore. Only been 3 days, but I’m starting to have headaches. Any suggestions?

  • Ted

    Try excedrin or use coffee or tea. You have a withdrawal headache so the solution is to break the addiction or to have caffeine.

  • Leo

    I was reading comments about adicction below and had to laugh. Any adicction is bad some are worse than others and it depends on the person. Heroin is worse than coffee but if your coffee habit stops you from feeding your family or going to work then it’s just as bad. Moderation is key to every thing in life. Water is healthy but if you drink too much water you can die.

    Sounds like smart people trying to prove how smart they are. I’m glad they finally had enough of them selves. Article is great by the way. I know caffine stops head aches I just wanted to get off caffeine for a while so I wanted to know which pain reliever was OK to use. Thanx for the help.

  • Tiffanie Few

    I am so addicted to caffeine it used to be hard to admit but after a argument with my husband about it and me saying I can quit with my energy drinks and excedrin anytime. He told me to put my money where my mouth is lol so I did and it has been the worst 3 days of my life day 1 my head and whole body hurt so bad I felt nauseous and could barely walk! Wth…. I never knew caffeine could have that much power over me!!! But I have quit before and it was never this bad! Needless to say I had to sneak a excedrin yesterday and just had to pop another 1 from the bottle I had hidden in my car when he wasn’t looking! Lord help me never should have went cold turkey!!!

  • Ted

    Cold turkey isn’t the answer for everyone. See or detox guide. 🙂 https://www.caffeineinformer.com/my-caffeine-detox

  • Tiffanie Few

    Oh yeah I definitely know but I was being hard headed and trying to prove a point that he was wrong lol! I did a detox clense last time I quit! But like I said I was in denial to him that I was addicted lol

  • lolo

    How to detox from caffeine ? I stop drinking black tea every morning , and now i have a strong pain in my left eyes , i went to see the doctor , everything is fine, i took tylenol but still hurt.

  • Ted
  • fivel386

    Ice is a vasoconstrictor and may help while the ice is in contact with your skin but heat is better. Heat is a vasodilator just like caffeine. A hot pack will feel better, work better, and help you to fall asleep.

Last Modified: November 10, 2017

References

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  • 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