It’s Just Allergies

May 26, 2021
Avatar for Dr. MingusDr. Mingus

About 70 to 80 percent of the people living in North America experience headaches, with about half of that number dealing with at least one headache per month and 15 percent dealing with head pain weekly. Five percent of those who suffer from headaches report having pain daily. 

While most headaches are not a sign of a severe or life-threatening health problem, they can severely affect one’s quality of life. 

While the cause of headaches is frequently unknown, allergies or sinus problems can lead to a person having headaches.

Sniffle, Cough, Achoo!

Ah, the sounds of seasonal allergies. For many people, these symptoms are telltale signs that seasons have changed, things are blooming and outdoor allergens like pollen and pet dander are blowing. Allergies may mean that you’re getting by on nasal decongestants, nasal sprays and even allergy shots. 

But allergies don’t always present themselves as the typical symptoms of a runny nose, itchy throat, pressure in the sinus cavities and watery eyes. For many people, allergies manifest as painful headaches and migraines. In fact, for some individuals, headaches are their only allergy symptom. Surprising, right? 

Maybe not so surprising when you think about the connection between the head and nerves of the face that can become irritated and inflamed. Still surprised? Hang on, we’ll explain. 

A Word About Migraines

Although the cause of migraines is not completely clear, some clinical evidence and studies have shown a connection between head pain and allergies. Some studies also show that foods, environmental factors and even pollen can be triggers for headaches and migraines. 

Many people who are living with migraines don’t even know it because they believe they are struggling with sinus problems. In fact, about 50 percent of those who believe their head pain is sinus related are having migraines and don’t realize it, according to a study by the American Migraine Foundation. 

Foods

Did you know that food can trigger migraines? About 3 percent of people who deal with migraines consider foods to be a trigger for their head pain. However, while food can be the cause of migraines for many, not everyone realizes it. 

Some common food causes of headaches include artificial sweeteners, alcohol, chocolate, cured meats, wheat, aged cheeses, salty foods, and pickled and fermented foods. These things can irritate the nerves that cause headaches and migraines, but many people do not connect their consumption of these foods and drinks to their headaches — at least not right away. 

To effectively diagnose whether migraines or headaches are caused by food, it’s important to take a look at a patient’s daily diet and their potential exposure to allergens. We recommend that you keep a journal of the things you eat or drink so you can make note of exactly what you consumed before your head pain started. 

The Environment

Environmental allergies are a common trigger for headaches and migraines. More than 50 million Americans experience some type of seasonal allergies each year, making allergies the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.

For example, dust; tree, grass or weed pollen; pet dander; and mold can cause allergic reactions for some individuals, making the sinuses fill with mucus. This reaction is known as allergic rhinitis. 

When you’re not experiencing seasonal allergies, your sinuses typically drain through your nose, but when they’re blocked due to an increase in mucus caused by allergies, this fluid can build up and cause pressure in your sinuses. And when pressure builds up in your sinuses, allergy symptoms like facial pain and congestion develop and allergy headaches result. 

When you’re allergic to environmental factors, you may also find that your headache is accompanied by itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, a stuffy nose, or a runny nose.

Other Irritants

Many people living with allergies are also sensitive to other irritants such as gasoline, perfumes, strong odors and cigarette smoke. But why? 

People can become overloaded with these elements because of something known as total allergen load. Total allergen load means that many different things can affect allergies and overall health. These things include food allergies, environmental allergies, hormones, diet and chemical irritants. 

For some, when these factors combine, it can cause a domino effect making your response more severe. For example, if you are struggling with pollen allergies, being around secondhand smoke may cause a heightened allergic response, inflammation in the nasal passages and sinus congestion. It can also contribute to the development of different types of headaches or migraines. 

If you eat a food you’re unknowingly or knowingly allergic to while you’re struggling with allergies and inhaling cigarette smoke, you will end up feeling worse. 

For some, inhaling cigarette smoke during their peak allergy season can cause the allergy bucket to overflow, leading to headaches or migraines. Managing other factors, like underlying allergies or exposures, can help to reduce these headaches.

We Understand Headaches

At the Bend Headache Center, we understand how allergies can contribute to your headaches, and we can help. Call us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about our services.