Steer Clear of Your Migraine Triggers!

Read on to find out if any of these migraine triggers are causing your pain.

Health Monitor Staff
More Sharing +

For some, skipping a meal sets off a migraine. For others, it’s sunlight. Whatever your triggers, if you get exposed here’s what happens: Your body releases chemicals that irritate nerve endings on blood vessels and the brain’s surface—and that, in turn, leads to migraine.

The silver lining: You can help reduce migraines by identifying and avoiding the culprits that set off your head pain. Common triggers include:

Food/Food Additives. While food triggers tend to be unique for each individual, there are some that are more common. Here are some of the more likely ones, according to the National Headache Foundation and American Headache Society:

  • Aged cheeses (such as blue cheese and Cheddar)
  • Processed meats with nitrates or nitrites (such as bacon and hot dogs)
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) (often found in soy sauce, meat tenderizers and seasoned salts)
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Alcohol (particularly red wine)
  • Coffee, tea and other sources of caffeine

Dehydration. Thirst can spark a migraine; stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

Odors. Perfume and/or certain scented cleaning products can trigger a headache.

Food temperature. Very hot (such as hot soup or coffee) and very cold (such as ice cream) foods can trigger a migraine in some.

Skipping a meal. Migraine sufferers’ bodies crave predictability.

Glare. Nearly 90% of migraine sufferers are sensitive to light. In a study in Nature Neuroscience, researchers found a pathway in the brain that links the visual system to that which produces head pain.

Changes in your routine. Migraine sufferers are sensitive to schedule changes, such as sleeping too much or too little.

Hormone changes. Sixty percent of women who suffer from migraines do so when estrogen levels drop (such as before menstruation).

Eyestrain. Particularly from staring too long at a computer screen, or attempting to read too-small text or in low light.

Stress. Everyday hassles like running late for an appointment or working long hours to meet a deadline can cause nerve irritation and inflammation. Experiencing “letdown” after stress can have the same effect. “[The migraine] doesn’t happen when you finish your deadline, but it can happen the next day,” says Stephen D. Silberstein, MD, professor of neurology and director of the Jefferson Headache Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

Intense exercise. It sparks the release of nitric oxide—a chemical that can cause nerve irritation—into the bloodstream.

Cigarette smoke. It can cause nerve irritation.

A change in temperature. Going from a cold air-conditioned room to hot outdoor temperatures in the summer, or a chilly winter day to a warm room, can spark a migraine.

A change in weather. Changes in barometric pressure and cold or humid weather can alter your body’s chemical balance.   

January 2014