Your head: It houses your brain, your smile, the windows to your soul—in other words, you can't get by without it. It's also probably the part of the body most prone to sickness and pain. Our temples get throbby, noses get stuffy, and eyes get achy and itchy. But rather than reaching for an aspirin or eye drops, try one of these natural techniques to soothe what ails you.
(Medical Note: Talk to your doctor before trying any naturopathic remedy.)
Probably the most common ailment—according to the National Headache Foundation, more than 45 million Americans suffer from chronic, recurring headaches. The ubiquitous pains can be caused by everything from hormones to hunger to bad posture to an obnoxious boss (read: stress). Before you self-treat your achin' head, Carmen Ripley, N.D., a naturopathic physician with the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, says to be sure "that the headache is not your first or worst." Meaning you've never had a headache (not many of us are likely to fall in that category) or it's uncommonly bad. "If you've suddenly got a piercing behind-the-eye pain, see a doctor," says Ripley, "because your headache could herald another, more serious problem."
Whether your headache is of the migraine variety or a regular old tension headache, Ripley recommends taking passiflora or feverfew, both of which are available in capsules. "These calming herbs relax the constricting blood vessels that are causing the headache, and they promote blood flow," she says. Another good remedy for easing head pain is to lay a cold compress across your head and put your feet in a warm bath. Then cover your lap with a blanket. "The hot-cold contrast pulls the blood away from your head, which can ease the pounding," says Ripley.
You can also try nipping a throbber in the bud by "taking two hundred fifty to five hundred milligrams of magnesium when you feel one coming on," says Ripley. "Magnesium is a good muscle relaxer. It can keep parts of your body from getting tense, which triggers the headache."
And finally, know your triggers. "Tension headaches are often caused by environment—anything from a bad chair to dim lighting at your computer screen or hunger," says Ripley. Also, certain foods, like chocolate, red wine, and coffee, are often headache culprits. Conversely, "drinking lots of water and eating foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, like fish, can prevent headaches," explains Ripley.
Stuffiness and Sniffles
To relieve congestion, try a hot-cold treatment. "Take a very hot three-minute shower, then rinse in cold water and repeat the process twice more. When you're finished with the hot-cold treatment, relax in bed," says Ripley. "Not only does this unstuff you, it also activates your immune system." And for a less labor-intensive remedy, she suggests you heat a pot of water infused with essentials oils (try lavender) and inhale the steam, or simply rub the oil on your temples, chest, and nasal passages to clear up stuffiness.
Itchy, Watery Eyes
Watery, itchy eyes plague many people this time of year as allergy season heads into full-bloom. Ripley recommends two naturopathic remedies, both available in capsule. "Stinging nettle capsules and quercitin both work like antihistamines," she says, "by stopping the allergic reaction." As for eye pain, "You can buy a homeopathic eye-drop remedy containing Euphrasia. That helps for watery eyes." If your eyes are dry and itchy, she suggests trying a clean, cold compress.
A toothache can be agonizing, and it usually heralds some other problem, like an abscess or cavity. If you need immediate relief, try drinking chamomile tea or rubbing your mouth with a gel or ointment containing chamomile. "It can work like a local anesthetic," says Ripley. "You can also try herbs like passiflora or piscidia; both are good analgesics that can ease tooth pains."