Headaches are never pleasant, but a headache while driving is not only uncomfortable but can pose a threat to life. Over half of the adults who drive have complained of experiencing a headache when they are driving. This is more common in people who are chronic migraine sufferers, due to several triggers they may come across. The headache is often debilitating and pounding in character, lasting more than 2 to 3 hours if left untreated.
Symptoms of driving headaches
The symptoms of headache usually depend upon the trigger and the type of headache the driver is experiencing, most common symptoms are;
- Throbbing or pulsating headache
- Pain in the temples and back of the head sometimes radiating to the neck and shoulders
- Pain behind the eyes
- Nauseating feeling
- Blurred vision and dizziness
- Loss of focus
- Photophobia and phonophobia
Causes of driving headaches
There are several possible causes of headaches while driving, some of these include:
Poor posture and position
This is the most common cause of driving headaches. Driving for a long duration of time requires sitting for hours straight without getting to stretch yourself. Sitting with a hunched back or in a slouching position for an extended duration can cause a tension headache to develop as this position exerts a lot of pressure on your upper part of the spine. Thus, causing compression of nerves at the base of the skull leading to headaches.
Another common cause is driving without your glasses. People with poor visual acuity, often forget to use their glasses or contact lenses while driving. This puts lots of strain on their eye muscles, causing pain behind the eyes. The constant strain and pressure develop into a headache which becomes debilitating in a matter of time.
Driving in the sun or at night
Driving on a particularly sunny day or at night when the lights from other vehicles are causing glare can cause a headache to develop. In either of the cases, you try to squint to look through the glare and focus on the road ahead. This constant requirement of eye concentration and focus may cause your eyes to tire faster, ending up in a headache or a migraine in people who are migraine sufferers.
Low glucose levels can trigger the release of hunger hormones, which raise your blood pressure and cause the blood vessels to shrink. This restricts the blood supply to the brain and scalp resulting in a severe pounding and debilitating headache. Driving for extended periods without a snack break can lead to a headache.
In people who often experience a headache after long drives, the cause is dehydration. Temporary shrinkage of the brain in response to dehydration causes a headache which mostly resolves soon after drinking water or any other drink.
Riding in a high-speed vehicle
Thrill seekers may drive out of speed limits often for the adrenaline rush it gives. However, the passengers can develop a headache due to constant strain and tension if they don’t enjoy such adventures. This constant strain can cause a pounding headache that may take some time to go away.
Those who have seasonal allergies or are allergic to smoke and dust may end up sneezing so much while driving that they develop a headache. Such people should wear a mask while driving in such conditions or drive with their windows closed.
Strain on muscles
People who drive with complete focus and attention are often caught clenching their jaw or grinding their teeth unintentionally. Constant strain and pressure on the temporomandibular joint can cause tension to develop in these muscles resulting in TMJ headache. Keeping your mind free of worries is very important for the complete safety and protection of the drivers.
What may trigger a headache while driving?
People with chronic headache conditions can develop a headache, due to several triggers they may come across:
- Bright lights at night
- Strong glare from the sun on a particularly sunny day
- Blaring horns in traffic
- Driving in a slouching position for a long duration
- Environmental pollutants like dust and smoke
- Heat or humidity.
It is very important to pay attention to headaches when you are driving. People who drive to work daily and experience these headaches often should consult their physician, as the headache itself may not develop into a complication but the underlying cause can be complicated into a serious illness such as:
- Tension headaches can be indicative of cervical spine issues
- Headaches due to hypoglycemia can be due to prediabetes
- Headache behind the eyes can be pointing toward poor vision
- Daily headaches may also be a cluster headache.
Once you have figured out your trigger you can easily prevent a headache from developing. Some basic preventions that everyone should take while driving include:
- Avoid sitting in a slouching position
- Do not drive for a long duration of time without taking any break
- Never drive empty stomach
- Keep yourself hydrated during driving
- Adjust your seat in a comfortable position before starting your journey
- Do not drive without your contact lenses or glasses if you have poor vision
- Wear sunglasses on a sunny day
- Avoid driving at night unnecessarily
- People with spine issues should use a neck collar or a backrest on long journeys.
Management of driving headaches
Dealing with the headache while driving can be very frustrating and should be addressed properly if you are facing this problem every other day. Your physician will take into account your signs and symptoms to draft out a diagnosis for you so that proper treatment can be started. Some of the investigations that may be required include:
- A complete blood test
- Visual acuity test
- Blood glucose levels
- X-ray for head and neck.
- Over-the-counter, painkillers work well for any headache
- People who suffer from my grains should take an accident or any other prescription medication
- Muscle relaxants for neck pain or tension headache.
- Hydrate yourself on a long journey
- Take snack breaks
- Schedule your trips properly, if you have trouble driving at night, avoid it completely
- Try relaxing techniques such as yoga to relieve your muscles from strain and tension
- Sleep properly before embarking on a long journey
- If you are traveling for a long duration of time take small breaks for stretching and snacking
- Never drive if you are already having a headache and experience a chronic headache condition.
When to consult a doctor?
Headache while driving is often due to a trigger and is relieved after taking some rest. If you begin to experience headaches every other day and are accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vision problems, hypoglycemia, backache, and dizziness you should consult your physician as soon as possible.
Why do I get a headache when driving?
The main cause of headache while driving is poor posture and position however some other causes can be dehydration, poor vision, and spinal issues.
Should I drive if I am having auras?
No, driving while having visual or any other sensory auras can be extremely unsafe. Avoid driving or traveling in such conditions instead take complete rest.
Can I be experiencing a headache due to high car speed?
If the high speed worries you or bothers you this can be a cause of constant strain on your muscles which may later develop into a headache. Avoid driving out of the speed limit for safety purposes.
Every time I drive at night my head begins to hurt, what may be the cause?
Constant glare from flashing brake lights, signals, and headlights from oncoming traffic may leave you squinting for a clear vision and focus on the road ahead while driving. Squinting for a long duration exerts pressure developing into a headache.