I still get regular tension headaches which, if left untreated, can turn really nasty. They don’t respond well to plain paracetamol or ibuprofen, but rather laugh off such puny attempts to deal with them. Regular neck and shoulder massages help keep them at bay, and indeed I’ve got one such booked for later this evening. Another non-medical thing I have found helps is a Thermacare heat-wrap, which is a specially shaped single-use adhesive pad that heats up when exposed to air and sticks directly to the back of my neck. It looks a bit stupid, so I can’t wear one to work unless I have a very high collar on, but it stays hot for about eight hours, and relaxes the shoulder and neck muscles, thus easing the tension headache at its source. In a similar vein, microwaveable wheat packs are also good, and reusable. My sister bought me one for Christmas which is shaped to drape around the neck and shoulders, and I use that at least weekly.
However, I’ve found that the best medication to take, which generally knocks on the head anything short of a migraine, is Syndol. This is a combination of paracetamol, codeine and doxylamine – the latter apparently acting as a muscle relaxant. You have to be careful with it, as the codeine is addictive, so I only use it sparingly for the very worst headaches, and I never take the maximum allowable daily dose. I was introduced to it several years ago by a colleague who absolutely swore by it, and he was right! It’s good stuff, and I generally keep some in my handbag in case of emergencies.
When I was on the cruise to Dubrovnik last August, one of the women on the trip had a terrible tension headache for days. I think it was due to the stress of keeping an eye on her mother who had Alzheimer’s, a tendency to wander off, and apparently no conception that she was on a boat – a dangerous and very wearing combination! I introduced Tessa, the daughter, to Syndol, and within half an hour she was looking much better and said that her headache had lifted magically. She, her partner and her mother were all staying on in a hotel in Dubrovnik after the rest of our party went home, so I left her with my emergency supplies of the painkiller and instructions to use it cautiously, as I could easily get more at the chemist when I got back home. I felt like a drug pusher!
For the last few months, however, there have been no supplies of Syndol available for love nor money. There has in fact been a nationwide shortage. It seems that the factory which makes it changed management, and it took months for a new licence to be issued for them to make more. I was able initially to buy a pack of Boots own-brand tension headache tablets, which had a different form-factor but exactly the same ingredients (and incidentally was a fraction of the price). But these were apparently also manufactured at the same factory, so supplies of those soon dried up as well. Disaster! I tried using just plain paracetamol-and-codeine, which was still available, but it really didn’t do the trick at all. Clearly, it’s the doxylamine which makes all the difference for me. So for the last few months I have been struggling to keep the tension headaches under control, and eking out my very last few doses of the Boots own-brand stuff.
So I was really pleased when I popped into Boots last week to see that their shelves were once again well stocked with Syndol. I bought a box straight away. They don’t yet have any supplies of their cheaper own-brand version, but I’m not going to quibble about that. It’s just good to know that I have a well-stocked medicine drawer again, and an emergency supply in my handbag once more. I absolutely hate being stuck in our Hampshire HQ, several hours away from home and my bed, with an untreatable headache. So hopefully, that should now be a thing of the past, and my quality of life should increase.