By Dr. Hida Nierenburg, Director of Headache Medicine, Nuvance Health
This may not be a coincidence. Research shows a link between migraine, allergies and asthma, which may lead to an increased frequency of migraine attacks during peak allergy season.
The link between migraine and allergies
According to the American Migraine Foundation, one study found that migraine occurred in 34 percent of people who have allergies, compared to four percent of people who do not have allergies. Asthma is also more common in people with migraine than those without migraines.
Additional research showed that migraine occurred 14 to 28 percent more frequently in those with migraine and allergies than in those with migraine alone. Allergies and asthma also cause people with episodic migraine (occurring fewer than 15 days a month) to be more than twice as likely to develop chronic migraine (occurring more than 15 days per month). Another study showed that there is an increased risk of migraine in children with asthma.
Related article: Headache or migraine, how you can tell the difference
Why allergies may increase migraine symptoms
There are several ways that allergies and asthma could contribute to an increase in migraine frequency, including:
- Increased inflammation: Allergic rhinitis happens when exposure to allergens (substances that trigger allergies) cause runny nose, congestion and post-nasal drip. Common allergens are cat and dog hair, dust, grass and pollen among others. Allergies and asthma cause inflammation that could increase migraine symptoms. This occurs by activation of cells close to the outer layer of the brain and trigeminal nerve, which is the main “pain generator” for migraine headache.
- Increased nasal congestion: Nasal congestion caused by seasonal allergies can irritate the trigeminal nerve in the nose, which could trigger migraine headache and associated symptoms.
- Sleep disturbances: Sinus pressure, nasal congestion and trouble breathing through the nose may cause a lack of quality sleep, a known migraine trigger for some people.
- Parasympathetic nerve involvement: Allergy and asthma flare-ups activate nerves in the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the body’s digestion and rest response when the body is eating or drinking, relaxing or resting. Dehydration, hunger, fatigue and stress are migraine triggers for some people.
Related article: Migraine and weather triggers, tips to manage your symptoms
Managing allergies and migraine
Managing an increase in migraine frequency related to seasonal allergies usually starts with treating allergy symptoms. Allergy medications, steroid nasal sprays and other medications may effectively manage allergies and reduce migraine frequency. However, there is a lack of evidence-based research that these medications are effective in decreasing migraine frequency and intensity.
Early research shows that allergy shots, also called allergy immunotherapy, were associated with a 52 percent reduction in the frequency of migraines in younger people. However, this study had some limitations and we need additional research to determine the effect of allergy shots on migraine.
Related article: Woman receives “life-changing” migraine care at Nuvance Health
The bottom line: Research shows a link between migraine, allergies and asthma, which could cause people with migraine to experience symptoms that are more frequent during allergy season. Managing seasonal allergies — along with migraine treatment from a headache specialist — may help to decrease migraine frequency.
Dr. Hida Nierenburg completed her fellowship in headaches at Mount Sinai Roosevelt Headache Institute in New York City, and her residency in neurology at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C.
Headache support group
If you get migraines or headaches, you are not alone! Millions of Americans suffer with headache disorders that affect their quality of life. Dr. Nierenburg is leading a support group for people with headache or migraine concerns. The support group meets virtually at 5:30 p.m. the last Thursday of each month. To register, call 845-214-1922. There is no cost to register.
About migraine, headache and facial pain services at Nuvance Health
Migraine and other headache disorders are the second cause of disability worldwide. In the United States, this disabling condition affects at least 37 million people. Only five percent of these patients are properly treated and diagnosed, making effective headache care a critical need.
Board-certified, fellowship-trained neurologists focus on the diagnosis and treatment of primary and secondary headache disorders using patient-centered treatment to improve quality of life. Although most headaches are not life threatening, they can be debilitating and affect family and work life. Learn more about migraine, headache and facial pain services.