Allergies and migraine are painful, inconvenient bedfellows.
Is it allergy migraine or sinus-related headache?
It’s easy to confuse an allergy migraine episode with a sinus-related headache, since either one can start with a blocked or runny nose. But migraine and headaches are not necessarily the same.
You’ve probably got allergy migraine if:
- The pain is super severe.
- The pain is on one side of your head.
- You’re also experiencing symptoms like nausea and light sensitivity.
- You’d describe the pain as throbbing or stabbing.
Sinus-related headaches generally:
- feel like pressure or a dull ache
- stay between or behind your eyes, in your forehead, or under your cheekbones
- don’t cause extreme or disabling pain
- are accompanied by thick mucus and often fevers
Working out the difference will help you find a suitable remedy or pain relief more quickly.
If you have an allergy, you’re more likely to experience migraine. And research suggests you’ll probably have more frequent and severe migraine episodes — as if the constant sniffles weren’t annoying enough.
Researchers have linked allergies with migraine since at least the 1950s. Just as you should avoid other triggers like stress and dehydration, understanding your allergy profile can be an important tool for preventing migraine episodes.
We’re here to help you understand the how and reduce the ow. Science nose best!
Inflammation and the immune system might play a role in migraine. Both are also involved in allergies. And migraine and allergies both activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
These similarities suggest a possible link between the two conditions. In fact, if this were a game of “Clue,” it would be over before it started.
Nasal congestion due to allergies can irritate the trigeminal nerve in your nose, possibly triggering migraine. Likewise, when allergies cause snoring, they can lead to sleep apnea, which has links to migraine.
Certain allergy medications, such as those containing albuterol, may also cause migraine.
How to know when it’s allergy migraine and when it’s sinus headache
Allergy-related migraine episodes and “sinus headaches” have similar symptoms. Both typically involve facial pain. Symptoms may also include a stuffy or runny nose and post-nasal drip. And allergies are just one potential migraine trigger.
For this reason, doctors often misdiagnose migraine as a “sinus headache.”
However, a sinus “headache” is rarely debilitating (even though headaches can suck, migraine episodes really put you out of commission). And the only true sinus headaches happen as a result of sinusitis or pressure from conditions such as nasal polyps.
In fact, a sinus headache often doesn’t actually involve a headache at all. The pain is generally limited to:
- your forehead
- the areas between and behind your eyes
- under your cheekbones
This is because when your sinuses swell, they tend to press on those areas.
An intense, often one-sided headache is the major sign of migraine — and an allergy might have triggered it. But no two migraine experiences are the same, which is why diagnosis is sometimes a little tricky.
Most people with a “sinus headache” describe the pain as dull or pressure-related. Migraine pain, on the other hand, is usually throbbing or stabbing.
The allergens that can trigger migraine include the usual suspects on the seasonal allergies naughty list — mold and pollen in the spring and ragweed in the fall.
Other possible fall allergens:
- burning bush (Let’s hope Moses had his antihistamines on him.)
- Russian thistle
- sagebrush and mugwort
(There’s no way Hermione Granger hasn’t used these to make a potion.)
Certain foods can also trigger migraine episodes:
- monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- food preservatives that contain nitrates and nitrites
- yeast extract
- artificial sweeteners
- alcohol (particularly red wine and beer)
- aged cheeses
- cured meats
- smoked fish
Can a high pollen count cause migraine?
Higher pollen counts = a higher risk of allergy symptoms for peeps with hay fever. Yep, including allergy-induced migraine episodes.
Pollen counts are measurements of the number of grains of pollen or mold spores in the air.
The National Allergy Bureau publishes daily pollen count information for every region of the United States. During allergy season, weather reports will usually mention this info.
So you can potentially avoid allergy migraine by staying in during those high-pollen-count times.
The best way to avoid allergy migraine is to stay away from the allergens you already know about.
The first step in preventing allergy migraine is to see an allergist to identify any seasonal or food allergies you may have.
To avoid seasonal allergies that can cause migraine:
- Monitor pollen and mold counts in your area.
- Keep your home and car windows and doors shut during allergy season.
- Shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes to wave buh-bye to allergens after you’ve been outside.
- Wear a NIOSH-rated N95 filter mask when doing chores outside or during other activities that can expose you to high levels of allergens.
- Take whichever allergy medication your doctor recommends.
Healthy eating is an important part of migraine management, as is avoiding notorious migraine trigger foods.
If you think you have allergy migraine, it’s important to speak with a doctor.
You’ll need to describe your symptoms in detail to avoid a misdiagnosis of sinus headaches. Really pay attention to how your pain feels and where it sits. This will help the doc diagnose your condition more accurately.
Since many people with allergy migraine also show symptoms of rhinitis, treatment may include decongestant nasal steroids and oral or nasal antihistamines. The doc may also prescribe allergy shots.
To help you manage the pain of migraine symptoms, they may also suggest over-the-counter meds or prescription drugs, including:
- pain relievers like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen
- antiemetics like domperidone
If you experience a migraine episode at work, follow these tips.
Allergies can indeed trigger migraine. Medical professionals often confuse sinus headaches with allergy migraine. It’s important to give your doc an accurate picture of your symptoms.
Both conditions involve facial pain, but allergy migraine is more likely to include headache and other typical migraine symptoms, such as nausea and sensitivity to sound and light.
Seasonal and food allergies may cause migraine, so avoid allergens in the environment and in your food. This can help you prevent attacks and keep migraine from f*cking up your whole day (or week).
Treatment for allergy migraine may include medication for allergy symptoms such as runny nose and congestion, as well as migraine symptom relief.