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What Can You Do to Stop a Migraine?

How do you stop a migraine once it has begun? Triggering an ice-cream headache may help. Acupuncture may also help prevent migraines.

People who suffer from recurrent migraines will take strong measures to prevent them. But what if the pain has already started? How do you stop a migraine? There is now a wide range of medications that can help, some primarily for prevention and some for treatment. Nondrug approaches work for some people and avoid the risks of medication side effects.

Ice-Cream Headaches Might Help:

Q. I have read that an ice-cream headache could stop a migraine, and I have tried to use this method. Migraines have plagued me for 40 years. I have tried triptans, but they caused side effects.

The trouble is, I can’t seem to get an ice-cream headache on demand. I’ve tried an ice cube against the roof of my mouth, gulping a cold drink or taking a big bite of ice cream, but no ice-cream headache and no relief. Do you have other recommendations for migraines?

Other Ways to Stop a Migraine:

A. Though many people have reported that triggering an ice-cream headache at the first hint of a migraine can ward it off, this doesn’t work in every instance. Like you, some migraineurs tell us they cannot induce brain freeze.

Other nondrug approaches include herbs like butterbur and feverfew, which are taken as prevention rather than treatment. Riboflavin and magnesium may also help. Some people benefit from acupuncture.

Would Acupuncture Help Stop a Migraine?

Q. You’ve written about people using brain freeze to stop a migraine headache. I want to tell you another thing that worked for my daughter, who used to suffer two or three debilitating migraines every month. Imitrex stopped working and she could do nothing but sleep the migraine off for a couple days.

She has a high stress job in promotional products, and a loving boss lady, who is almost a second mom to her. My only child, now 59, has not had a migraine now for several years because her boss gave her a Christmas present.

The gift was a session at an acupuncturist near their office. The acupuncturist inserted a tiny metal ring-type earring in a particular spot in the cartilage of her ear. Blessedly, the migraines went away completely for about five years.

Then the migraines started to creep back. I did some research online, and sent her back to the same place she got the ear ring. They added a small ball weight to the ring, and that did it. She’s not had a single migraine since then.

Auricular Therapy Has Scientific Support:

A. What a fabulous story! We were delighted to find that there has been some research on the use of “auricular therapy” for migraine. Auricular therapy refers to acupuncture of specific spots on the ear. One review summarized studies showing that auricular therapy has benefit for managing migraine (Current Pain and Headache Reports, May 2, 2024).

In addition, an analysis from China suggests that pain relief results from triggering the auricular vagus nerve (Zhen Ci Yan Jiu, April 25, 2024). This branch of the vagus nerve lies near the surface of the skin, making it accessible to stimulation (Frontiers in Neuroscience, April 29, 2021). Research has indicated that stimulating this nerve can alleviate pain.

Other Options:

Some people get relief by going to the opposite extreme of an ice-cream headache: they eat hot, spicy soup or gumbo. Other possibilities include the FDA approved migraine prevention headband called Cefaly. Readers have reported that sipping ginger beer or eating pickled ginger can reverse a migraine if taken early enough. One person was enthusiastic about swallowing a spoonful of yellow mustard to stop an ice pick headache quickly, but we have no idea if that would help stop a migraine.

Learn More:

You’ll find more details on these options in our Guide to Headaches & Migraines. This online resource also discusses the use of the prescription medicines to stop a migraine.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Williams KA, "Auricular therapy for migraine." Current Pain and Headache Reports, May 2, 2024. DOI: 10.1007/s11916-024-01261-3
  • Zhu H-H et al, "Possible mechanisms of auricular acupoint stimulation in the treatment of migraine by activating auricular vagus nerve." Zhen Ci Yan Jiu, April 25, 2024. DOI: 10.13702/j.1000-0607.20221262
  • Verma N et al, "Auricular vagus neuromodulation—A systematic review on quality of evidence and clinical effects." Frontiers in Neuroscience, April 29, 2021. DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2021.664740
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