Migraine and allergies are never fun. So, what do you do if you have both? Read on to learn how seasonal allergies can affect migraine.
Nice weather draws many of us to enjoy the great outdoors. But what if you experience both migraine and seasonal allergies? In that case, the extra time outside could increase migraine and allergy symptoms. Learn how you can lower the likelihood of migraine attacks during allergy season.
Can allergies cause migraine?
Recent research shows that people with allergies are more sensitive to migraine attacks. One smaller study found that 37% of people with allergies have migraine, compared to 5% of those who do not have allergies. The same study shows that the link between allergies and migraine increases with age. What does this mean for people with migraine and allergies? They may experience an increase in migraine attacks when their allergies are triggered. It’s also possible that younger allergy sufferers who once did not have migraine attacks could start having them as they get older.
While allergies and migraine seem to have a connection, it’s important to note it isn’t the allergens that trigger migraine attacks. Instead, it is the body’s reaction to those allergens that can cause an attack. The following allergy symptoms can likely increase migraine attack frequency:
- Nasal congestion
- Disruption of the parasympathetic nervous system (regulation of digestion and rest response when eating, drinking or resting)
- Sleep disturbance
Increased nasal congestion and inflammation can irritate the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve delivers sensory information to the brain. When irritated, the nerve can trigger a migraine attack. The parasympathetic nervous system controls functions when you’re at rest, like digestion and resting heart rate. Allergy flare-ups can disrupt its operation. This will create stress and throw your body off balance—potentially causing migraine attacks.
Sinus headache or migraine attack?
Some people confuse sinus headaches with migraine attacks. Allergies can trigger both, but it’s important to know the difference to treat them properly. A majority of sinus headaches are from infections and include symptoms like fever, pain and a colored mucus discharge. Allergies cause allergic rhinitis, which can result in a sinus headache that causes swelling in the sinus cavities. The swelling then blocks the openings and causes pressure build-up. This usually causes mild to severe pain in the sinus area. There are usually other multiple sinus symptoms when this occurs. Steam, decongestant and nasal spray can help relieve both allergic rhinitis and a sinus headache.
On the other hand, migraine attacks often include throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation and are generally on one side of the head. It can also cause nausea and extreme sensitivity to sound and light. Taking migraine medication or pain relievers and relaxing in a dark, quiet room can usually help migraine symptoms. Migraine attacks can also have mild sinus symptoms like congestion and runny nose.
Outdoor Allergies vs. Indoor Allergies
It’s important to learn if you have outdoor (seasonal) allergies or indoor (perennial) allergies. If you have outdoor allergies, your symptoms will happen at the same time each year. Outdoor allergens include grass pollen, tree pollen, weed pollen and fungus spores. If you have indoor allergies, your symptoms may exist year-round or occasionally. Indoor allergens include dust mites, mold and pet dander. If you have both outdoor and indoor allergies, you’ll deal with symptoms throughout the year. They may get worse during certain months.
Seeing an allergist is the best way to determine what you’re allergic to. They will review your medical history. They will also check your symptoms and conduct an allergy test. Quick and accurate skin testing is the most common type of allergy testing. Your allergist may also run blood testing if necessary. Once your allergist identifies your triggers, they can help you develop a treatment plan.
Treating Allergies to Lessen Migraine
Managing your allergies can make a big difference for those who have allergies and migraine. Taking allergy medication can reduce nasal congestion and inflammation caused by allergies. If you’re looking for a long term solution, consider asking your doctor about allergy shots, which can reduce or eliminate allergies.
To combat outdoor allergies:
- Wear a mask while doing yard work
- Keep the windows in your house and vehicle closed
- Spend more time indoors on windy days
- Track the pollen count each morning and make a plan
To combat indoor allergies:
- Wear a mask while cleaning
- Wash bedding and deep clean rugs and furniture regularly
- Use an air purifier
- Change air filters every three months
- Use a dehumidifier to prevent mold growth
- Keep pets out of bedrooms
It’s also a great idea to log your routine. Take note of when you experience migraine attacks and allergy symptoms. Record the date and activities to identify what made allergy symptoms worse or triggered migraine attacks. You can use a physical journal or a notes app on your phone. Choose the most comfortable format so that you’re more likely to stick with it. Review your log after a few months and then again after a year. See if you notice any patterns and make lifestyle adjustments where possible.
Both migraine and allergy symptoms are unpleasant. Even more so when you’re dealing with both at the same time. Thankfully, managing your allergy symptoms can help reduce migraine so you can feel like yourself and enjoy more of your day.
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Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.