Headaches aren’t uncommon. About 70 percent of us experience headaches, and about 50 percent at least once a month. Headache has been underestimated, under-recognized and under-treated throughout the world.
Not only is the headache painful, but it is also disabling. Allergies can cause two types of headaches, migraine and sinus headaches.
Which Allergies Cause Headaches?
When you experience a headache caused by allergies, you may feel them in any of these spaces within your sinuses. It may even feel like your face, rather than your head, is what really hurts. You may have pain in the cheeks that radiates to your jaw and teeth. You may feel pain on the top of your head.
Allergies may also trigger a migraine headache. This type of headache may include throbbing, and is usually felt on one side of the head. You may find that the pain gets worse in sunlight or that you also feel nauseated.
Allergy symptoms often appear in the sinuses, like when your nose is running or stuffed up. You may experience headaches and pain if your sinuses are swollen or their openings are obstructed.
This often happens with allergies. Swelling and blockage in the sinuses can prevent normal drainage and airflow, causing a buildup of pressure. Other allergy triggers, such as smoke or certain foods, can lead to headaches.
The degree of pain from an allergy headache can vary widely, from dull to almost debilitating. The level of pain may also change with your position, such as whether you are standing or lying down.
If you have a headache along with seasonal and indoor nasal allergies, it’s more likely due to a migraine headache rather than allergies. But pain related to allergic rhinitis or other allergic reactions may cause headaches due to sinus disease. A true sinus headache is actually quite rare.
There can be a relationship between food allergy and headaches. For example, foods like aged cheese, artificial sweeteners, and chocolate can trigger a migraine in some people. Experts believe it’s the chemical properties of certain foods that trigger the pain, as opposed to a true food allergy.
The body produces histamines in response to an allergic reaction. Among other things, histamines decrease blood pressure (vasodilation). This can result in headache.
How Do Allergies Cause Migraine Headaches?
The relationship between allergies and headache continues to be controversial. Many patients with migraine headache attribute their reactions to certain foods as being an allergic condition. In most cases this is not correct. The vast majority of foods that play a role in migraine contain vasoactive or neuroactive amino acids such as tyramine, dopamine, phenylethylamine or monosodium glutamate that can trigger a migraine. This is not an allergic reaction.
The link is complex. The nervous system, endocrine (hormonal) system, and immune system all play a role. If you get migraines, you have a sensitive nervous system. Your body tends to react very quickly, or overreact, to changes in your environment that it views as threats.
On top of that, exposure to allergens (things you’re allergic to) triggers your immune system to release certain chemicals. They can fuel inflammation throughout your body, all of which can set you up for a migraine.
If you’re prone to migraine headaches, your symptoms may be more severe during allergy season. Some people can also have “nonallergic” triggers like perfume, the smell of gasoline, cigarette smoke, and weather changes.
While allergies can trigger migraine attacks, it’s also possible that you just have both conditions simultaneously.
Seasonal allergies themselves rarely cause headache as a symptom. For some people with allergies, symptoms like sneezing, sinus congestion, and watery eyes can also come with a headache. Many people who experience head pain with their allergies wrongly assume it’s just another symptom of allergies, or a sinus headache.
People With Migraine Are More Likely to Have Allergies
Migraine and allergies are both very common conditions, and it’s not at all unusual for people to have both. People with migraine are more likely to have allergies, and people with allergies are more likely to have migraine, though we don’t understand exactly why that link exists. It may potentially be related to genetic factors.
Migraine frequency in people with allergic rhinitis was four times higher than in those without allergic rhinitis. Of those with migraine, 95 percent experienced migraine without aura and 5 percent had migraine with aura.
Persistent Headache More Typical of Migraine Than Allergies
Trying to determine what is headache due to migraine versus what is a headache due to allergies is a common issue. Eighty eight percent of people with a history of sinus headaches actually had a migraine-type headache. Headache is not a very common symptom, in and of itself, of seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis. It’s much more common to have symptoms such as nasal congestion, like a stuffy nose or runny nose, and eye-watering.
If you do have a headache that persists, it might not be just allergies. That might be an indication that there’s also migraine going on. Typically, headache can be due a sinus infection or viral or bacterial infection, but it’s rare to have a significant headache from just allergy symptoms.
Part of the reason for confusion is because oftentimes, migraine-related headaches mimic what people typically think of as sinus headaches. You can have pain over the sinuses and over the face with both types of headache. With migraine, there can also be symptoms that are similar to allergy symptoms, like a stuffy or runny nose and eye tearing, and that overlap can be why patients are misdiagnosed.
However, there are some key symptoms of migraine that you won’t find in other types of headaches, which can include nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, and sound sensitivity. Some people with migraine have a visual aura that includes bright spots, lights, or colors prior to the onset of an attack, which wouldn’t happen in a tension-type or sinus headache.
Allergies Could Trigger Migraine Attack
It makes sense that allergies could trigger an attack in people who are predisposed to migraine. ¬If you’re having a lot of allergic symptoms, and you’re having a lot of inflammation in the body, that could make you more prone to migraine attacks in general.
Some experts believe that the histamine release that happens during allergic reactions can potentially also play a role in migraine. There are potential mechanisms that could explain an increased propensity for migraine when you’re having seasonal allergies. Histamine is a chemical found in some cells that can be released when a person is allergic to something, and it causes many of the symptoms of allergies. Histamine release may be involved in triggering a headache, specifically migraine.
Allergies may indirectly contribute to migraine by disrupting sleep. If you’re very uncomfortable from all this congestion and postnasal drip, that could even be a trigger for headache.
If it is a migraine, treating the attack with decongestants, antihistamines, and other allergy medicines typically won’t be as effective as a targeted migraine treatment.
Headache Prevention Tips
Avoiding headache triggers is key – and goes hand-in-hand with adopting lifestyle practices that help prevent headaches, such as: maintaining a regular sleep schedule, go to bed and get up about the same time every day and watching what you eat and drink . Common food and beverage triggers include caffeine, monosodium glutamate , aged cheese, sausage and alcoholic beverages.
Try to controll stress, stress may cause you to clench your jaw or grind your teeth, even while sleeping. Exercise regularly. Exercising 30 minutes at least three days a week is good for your overall health, and can help prevent migraines and tension headaches.
Decrease eye strain, reading in dim light, extended computer use without a break and a weak, outdated eyeglass prescription can strain your eyes and the muscles around them and lead to a headache.
Avoid odors and fumes. A variety of scents and fumes — from perfume, paint, gasoline and cleaning products, as well as tobacco smoke — can trigger headaches.