by Delia Harrington
Medically Reviewed by:
Deena Kuruvilla, MD
by Delia Harrington
Medically Reviewed by:
Deena Kuruvilla, MD
Preparing my kit allows me to care for my future self by making sure I’ll have everything I need — no matter where an attack strikes.
Since 2020, I’ve carried a migraine rescue kit with me everywhere, refining its contents as I go.
It’s small, only about a 4x4x8 inches. Other than a water bottle, ice packs, an eye mask, and my bed, it has everything that can help make a migraine go away.
When my migraine episodes became chronic, I realized that I needed to adopt better coping mechanisms to care for myself. Tossing my pills and a giant bottle of ibuprofen from one tote bag to the next wasn’t going to cut it anymore.
Building and carrying this kit is a way of doing my future self a favor.
I know that I will continue to have migraine attacks, and I know how hard it is to carry out basic functions when they happen. I also know I can’t spend the rest of my life in my bedroom, either in pain from an attack or afraid that the next one is coming.
The kindest thing I can do for myself is to plan for those tough moments rather than pretend they’ll stop happening.
It may seem obvious, but I carry all my abortive medications with me. These are the as-needed ones my doctor has prescribed for me to take at the start of an attack.
I also carry over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen or naproxen. Recently, I’ve started carrying anti-nausea medication as well.
I’m somewhat embarrassed to say it took me years, and encouragement from fellow people with migraine on Twitter, before I asked my doctor about it. It honestly never occurred to me that I could treat this symptom.
I simply thought I had to live with it, subsisting on saltines for so many days out of every month.
Other than abortive meds, this is the single most effective intervention for me. You can buy a tube of this muscle rub at any drugstore. It feels like menthol gel somehow tricks my brain into retreating from a migraine attack. It even seems to help lessen the cloudy feeling of brain fog.
I’ve tried menthol in a number of applications: spray foam, roll-on, and cream, but the gel was the easiest to use.
Keep in mind that at 4% menthol (the amount in the brand I use), this stuff packs a serious punch. You’ll want to avoid your eyes and wash your hands a couple of times afterward.
I respond very well to cold, and my migraine rescue kit reflects that. I bring at least a couple of ice packs with me whenever I go away overnight, but there are other times when I’m out and about and get surprised with an attack.
For those times, I have cool patches. The little mentholated patches stick onto my forehead or the back of my neck and can last for about 12 hours. They don’t need refrigeration, and I buy them in bulk online to save a little money.
You can buy a pack of four at a drugstore to test drive them.
I’ve tried a number of different essential oils, and I now have a roller that I like best.
It’s a blend of peppermint, ginger, Spanish sage, cardamom, and fennel. I put it on my forehead, temples, and the back of my neck. I also waft it under my nose. My logic is: if scents can trigger a migraine attack, why can’t they also lead me away from one?
As always, be careful not to put too much on or let it drip into your eyes. I like the scent of this one and the cooling feeling it gives. I also have chamomile patches that I put on my chest.
Of course, these aren’t for use in place of medication, but they can work for added symptom relief and soothing.
I’ve used a number of different drink mixes over the years, like Gatorade and Liquid IV (I like the passion fruit flavor). In the summer, I sip on them preemptively. I also keep them on hand in case I’m caught out somewhere feeling dehydrated.
The best one for me, though, is a migraine-specific mix I drink as soon as I feel an attack coming on. I call it “migraine tang” due to the color and flavor. Let’s just say it’s not winning any mixology competitions! But it has vitamin B2 and magnesium in it, which have been shown to have positive effects on people with migraine. The mix also has ginger, presumably to alleviate nausea.
It might not be for you, as migraine is so individual, but I’ve seen good results for myself. Even if the vitamins are a placebo effect, at least it helps me get extra hydration right away,
I get a lot of nausea throughout my attacks. My doctors have given me some prescriptions to help, but I like to have more than one treatment option in my arsenal. I often make or buy chamomile tea to settle my stomach if the nausea isn’t too severe.
For more intense nausea, ginger is necessary. You can buy it at any grocery store. I add it to my water when I’m out, and I don’t have to rely on anyone else.
It can be mixed with hot or cold water. Sometimes, I add lemon to make it feel more like a proper beverage.
If you’ve used Tiger Balm, you know it has a near-mythical ability to soothe a wide variety of ailments. I carry the white formula of Tiger Balm, which is less potent than the original version.
It contains camphor, menthol, cajuput, and clove oils. I rub it on my temples, forehead, and anywhere else that might be sore. I do this especially when a headache makes my face physically sore, which happens to me more often when I’m due for another round of Botox.
Caffeine can give you a headache, but it can also make one go away.
I don’t consume any caffeine other than chocolate and never have (really! No coffee, no caffeinated soda, nothing). Whatever amount of caffeine is in chocolate is enough for me. I prefer dark chocolate for this purpose, since it’s more concentrated. I usually get little nuggets for the sake of making it all fit in my kit.
Having dry lips makes me feel more uncomfortable and dehydrated, so into the kit it goes.
I have my favorite brand, flavored Burt’s Bees, but if you’re building your own travel kit, personalize it to fit your needs and tastes. I also usually have a hair tie in there, since I overheat easily, and migraines make me too cranky to go looking for an elastic.
For me, the goal of my kit is to make it as easy as possible to take good care of myself. I know that the worse the attack gets, the harder it is for me to get up and go fetch things. At the height of an attack, I even struggle to open pill bottles because my hands get weak.
I build and maintain the kit when I’m feeling good, keeping my migraining-self in mind. I don’t want to be stuck out in the world without what I need. Having the right supplies makes it easier to enjoy my time and hopefully get back to my day sooner.
I include things that will make it easier for my future self during an attack. I think of my kit as a gift to the me that is struggling with a migraine attack, from the me that is well enough to help.
Medically reviewed on October 28, 2022
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About the author
Delia Harrington is a Boston-based freelance writer, culture critic, policy nerd, and activist. Her work has appeared in DAME Magazine, The Rumpus, Den of Geek, Nerdist, Ravishly, The Mary Sue, Hello Giggles, and more. You can keep up with her work on her website, Instagram, and Twitter.