Whether dull, sharp or throbbing, headaches are an increasing problem for young adults, one that in many cases begins early.

“Some even carry pain relievers in their school bag,” says Dr Hartmut Goebel, head physician at a migraine, headache and pain centre in Germany.

Such is the start of what he calls a “headache career” – the regular alternation of pain and pain relievers until taking a drug like ibuprofen becomes an indispensable habit.

Matters shouldn’t be allowed to go that far, though.

“You should prevent headaches from occurring in the first place,” Goebel remarks.

Most headache sufferers have either migraines or tension headaches, he points out, and says that those with the former should follow a regular daily routine.

Above all, this means going to bed and getting up at the same times each day, and also, having meals at fixed times.

“The nervous system has got to calm down,” Goebel said.

This is why it’s also helpful to take walks, get exercise or practise relaxation techniques.

And children shouldn’t always be busy. “It’s perfectly all right for them to be bored now and then,” Goebel said.

It’s important migraine sufferers know that the cause of their headaches is genetic.

“Migraines aren’t imagined or a sign of a weak character,” he noted. “They’re a serious illness, but people aren’t powerless against them.”

In contrast to migraines, anyone can get a tension headache, Dr Goebel says, by straining themselves with something as simple as sitting in front of a computer all day. “The headache should then be understood as a warning signal.”

This should be counteracted by getting up at a regular time, doing stretching exercises or going for a workout. Otherwise, the sufferer may be at risk of a pain disorder, which – should it become chronic – is then much harder to treat, he warns.

According to the latest medical report by the German statutory health insurance company Barmer, the number of 18 to 27-year-olds diagnosed with headaches has risen by 42% in 10 years.

It’s harmful, however, to automatically take a pain medication at the first sign of a headache. “The body regulates the sense of pain itself,” Dr Goebel explained.

Someone under stress, for example, is considerably more sensitive to pain than usual.

While taking a pain reliever helps at first, the body registers this and lowers its pain thres-hold.

As a result, the person is even more sensitive to pain, and therefore, more likely to resort to a pain reliever.

“At some point the person can no longer do without the medication,” Dr Goebel said.

He advises headache sufferers to become experts on their pain – to know, in other words, what situations bring it on and what strategies are useful in keeping it at bay. There are now even apps for mobile devices to help with this. – dpa