How can I make these constant headaches go away?

DEAR DOCTOR: These headaches are making my life hell!

Almost everybody gets headaches at some point, and the causes are very diverse.

Dr Flo,

I get headaches every week and I take painkillers very often to relieve the pain.

Why am I having these frequent headaches?



Dear Akim,

Almost everybody gets headaches at some point, and the causes are very diverse. In many cases, headaches are a symptom of an underlying issue.

The most common type of headache is a tension headache. Usually, the pain is on both sides of the head and it may feel as though there is a tight band around the head. It occurs due to tightening of the muscles around the neck and the scalp.

It may be triggered by fatigue, dehydration, hunger, light exposure (too little or too much), noise, congestion, stress, too little or too much sleep, or even poor posture. Tension headaches are usually not very severe, and resolve within an hour or so, with or without painkillers.

To prevent them, you need to figure out what your triggers are and address them e.g. rest, take enough water, eat regularly, get adequate sleep, avoid noisy or congested surroundings, wear ear muffs if you work in a noisy place, reduce screen time (computers, tablets and phones), make sure you work in well-lit areas, practise good posture and stress management. Sometimes taking a warm bath may also reduce the headache.

There are cluster headaches, which occur for several weeks at a time, and are very severe and do not respond very well to painkillers. The pain is usually concentrated around one eye, and there may be redness and tearing from the eye or a blocked or running nose. There are also migraines, which are severe headaches, usually affecting one side of the head, and may be accompanied by increased sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting.

Headaches may also be caused by hormonal changes, medications, too much alcohol, exposure to carbon monoxide, flu, sinusitis, and almost every illness, especially those affecting the head and neck region.

In most cases, headaches are not a serious problem, but if they persist or become worse with time, if they are very severe, if they are as a result of a head injury, or if they are associated with other symptoms like fever, drowsiness, confusion, slurred speech, stiff neck, vomiting, convulsions, etc, then you need medical attention so that the exact cause may be identified and dealt with.


Dr Flo,

Whenever I wash clothes, I get blisters on my knuckles and the sides of my fingers.

I use gentle detergents recommended by my friends, but that doesn’t keep me from getting wounds after doing laundry.

I don’t even wash a lot of clothes, just my inner garments and things like sheets and towels, which I prefer to wash myself instead of having them washed by my laundry lady. I try not to rub clothes very hard, but then again they may not get clean, especially light-coloured clothes that have stains. I can’t afford a washing machine. What should I do?



Dear Alicia,

Blisters are small swellings that form due to a collection of clear fluid or blood on the upper surface of the skin. They develop because the skin has been damaged by heat, extreme cold, friction or by chemicals (e.g. detergents), and they actually protect the underlying tissues from further damage. They can be uncomfortable and painful, and can rupture, releasing the fluid within. They can also become infected, and turn red, and accumulate pus, and this should be treated.

The only way to prevent blisters is by avoiding the cause, which in your case is the chemicals from the detergents and the friction from washing clothes. You should also invest in a good pair of gloves to use while cleaning.

Blisters will heal by themselves within a week. In that time, do not rupture them, apply cold packs to relieve pain, and you can use a soft non-adhesive dressing to cover the blister to protect it and prevent infection. If it ruptures, allow all the fluid to drain before covering it, and do not peel the skin off it. Change the dressing daily, and remove it at night.


Dr Flo,

I hear hissing sounds in my left ear occasionally. If I use ear drops from the chemist the sound goes away.

Basically it’s like wax gets melted or loosened by the drops. What causes this and what do the drops do?



Dear Bob,

Hearing sounds within the ear is referred to as tinnitus. The sound may be ringing, buzzing, humming, hissing or even beating in time with your heart (pulsatile tinnitus). In many cases, it is mild and disappears on its own. In severe cases, however, it may be accompanied by hearing loss, dizziness and poor concentration.

Tinnitus can be caused by an outer ear infection, or by a buildup of wax in the ears. That’s why you get relief after using ear drops, because either they treat an infection that may be present or they help soften any wax that may have built up. If you have a lot of wax, though, the problem is only solved temporarily. You may need to see a doctor to get the wax cleaned out.

Tinnitus can also result from exposure to loud sounds and you may notice your ears ringing or buzzing after you leave a concert, after alighting from a matatu that had very loud music or when you remove ear/headphones after listening to music at high volume. Sometimes repeated exposure to loud sounds causes damage to the inner ear and persistent tinnitus.

It can also occur due to advancing age with hearing loss, a middle ear infection (otitis media) and other diseases like otosclerosis, Meniere’s disease, thyroid disease, heart and blood vessel problems, brain tumours, and some medications. If there is hearing loss or dizziness, then you need to see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist for further investigation.