Can allergies cause migraine?
Experts believe there may be a connection between allergies and migraine.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, allergies can lead to headaches or migraine because allergies cause your sinuses to swell. This blocks your airways and causes pressure to build, leading to dull pain around the face or head.
Allergy-related headaches and migraine often cause pain around the blocked sinuses, which might include your cheeks, jaw, teeth, or around your head.
There are many effective treatments for both allergies and migraine. Managing your allergies may help you prevent headaches and migraine attacks.
The link between allergies and migraine
Some research has shown a link between allergies, headaches, and migraine.
A small 2017 study looked at migraine frequency in 49 people with migraine and 49 people without. The results showed that people with migraine and certain allergies — including dust or wheat allergies — had migraine attacks more frequently.
The researchers also reported that 55.1% of people with migraine tested positive for allergies, compared with 32.7% of people without migraine, further suggesting a link between the two.
However, headaches can be complex, and some may not be related to migraine. For example, if your allergies affect your sinuses, you may experience a headache rather than migraine. These headaches often come with facial pain.
Aside from allergies, there are many other causes of migraine. Genetics is a leading factor, and specific migraine triggers can include certain scents, like strong perfume or smoke, and stress.
People with seasonal allergies will often notice their symptoms flare during particular months of the year due to increasing amounts of pollen and mold.
Also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, symptoms of allergies can include:
- itchy eyes, nose, and throat
- running nose
You may notice allergy symptoms when your body has an uncommon response to something typically harmless.
Common allergens include:
- animal fur
- house dust mites
- insect stings or bites
- foods, like peanuts, eggs, or milk
Some of these allergens may cause symptoms that trigger migraine.
Experiencing migraine can be debilitating.
Migraine attacks can bring moderate to severe pain on one side of the head, along with other migraine symptoms, including:
- light sensitivity
- sound sensitivity
- visual or sensory disturbance, known as migraine aura
What does migraine feel like?
With a migraine attack, you may feel a pulsating or throbbing pain on one side of your head. Less commonly, you may feel pain in both sides of your head and into your neck.
Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms, and light and sounds may appear brighter and louder than usual.
Looking after yourself during these episodes is vital. In addition to other remedies or medications that may work for you, a darkened, quiet room is often beneficial until symptoms pass.
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Research tells us that migraine has many triggers, but stress seems to be the greatest. Others include:
- hormonal shifts (often related to a menstrual cycle)
- weather changes
- skipping a meal
- too much or not enough sleep
Recognizing your triggers is one of the most effective ways to manage migraine attacks and reduce their frequency.
Allergy migraine treatment
Treating allergies may differ from treating migraine, but some medications could help with symptoms or prevention.
The table below looks at some other medications doctors may prescribe for migraine.
The following medications are preventive, meaning they reduce your chances of having migraine:
- nortriptyline (Pamelor)
- venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
- valproic acid (Valproate)
- topiramate/topiramate ER (Topamax)
Other medications treat migraine attacks when they arise. These include:
- dihydroergotamine (Migranal)
- triptans, such as almotriptan (Axert) and eletriptan (Relpax)
- gepants, such as lasmiditan (Reyvow) and ubrogepant (Ubrelvy)
When to talk with a doctor
If you are experiencing regular headaches and other symptoms you believe are migraine-related, it is best to contact your doctor or healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Knowing the different migraine types may give you more confidence in describing them to your healthcare team. The different types include:
- Migraine without aura: With this migraine type, you may experience recurrent headache episodes lasting 4–72 hours. They are typically in one location or side of the head and have moderate to severe pulsating. This can be worsened by exercise or other physical activity. You may also experience nausea and sensitivity to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia).
- Migraine with aura: This migraine type often goes away completely after only a few minutes. You may notice some visual and sensory symptoms on one side of your body, or some speech and language difficulty followed by a headache.
- Chronic migraine: This type of migraine is an episode that stays with you for around 15 or more days in a month, has other migraine symptoms on at least 8 or more of those days, and lasts for more than 3 months.
Migraine attacks triggered by allergies may be more prevalent during allergy season, when the amount of pollen and mold increases. However, generally, allergies can often come with an increased number of migraine attacks.
Knowing which allergy symptoms may trigger your migraine, along with any other triggering factors, may help you manage the condition.
Some OTC medications may help with allergies and migraine symptoms, but it is important to contact a doctor to discuss appropriate migraine treatment.
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- Allergies. (2022). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/allergies/
- Bektas H, et al. (2017). Allergens might trigger migraine attacks. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27141872/
- Bron C, et al. (2021). Exploring the hereditary nature of migraine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8075356/
- Headaches. (n.d.). https://acaai.org/allergies/symptoms/headaches/
- Lew C, et al. (2022). Migraine medications. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553159/
- Migraine. (2019). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/migraine
- Maurya A, et al. (2019). “Sinus Headache”: Diagnosis and Dilemma?? An Analytical and Prospective Study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6737117
- Pescador Ruschel MA, et al. (2022). Migraine headache. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560787/