Research shows a link between allergies and migraine, which could mean more headaches during spring pollen season
By Dr. Hida Nierenburg, Director of Headache Medicine, Nuvance Health
Many people welcome the warmer weather. However, people who are managing migraine and seasonal allergies may find that their headache symptoms increase in the spring.
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.
Related article: Headache or migraine, how you can tell the difference
What is the link between migraine and allergies?
According to the American Migraine Foundation, one study found that migraine occurred in 34% of people who have allergies, compared to 4% of people who do not have allergies. Asthma is also more common in people who get migraine compared to people who do not.
Additional research showed that migraine occurred 14% to 28% 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.
Why allergies may increase migraine frequency
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 frequency. This occurs by the 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: Nasal congestion caused by seasonal allergies can irritate the trigeminal nerve in the nose, which could trigger migraine headache and associated symptoms.
- 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
How to manage allergies and migraineManaging an increase in migraine frequency related to seasonal allergies usually starts with treating allergy symptoms. Allergy medications or steroid nasal sprays may effectively manage allergies and therefore reduce migraine frequency if allergies are a trigger. However, we need more evidence-based research about the effect allergy medications have on decreasing migraine frequency.
Early research shows that allergy shots, also called allergy immunotherapy, were associated with a 52% 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.
In addition to managing seasonal allergies, be prepared with migraine prevention and treatment strategies.
Identify your migraine triggers and avoid them to have fewer attacks. There are varying migraine triggers that may be different depending on the person. Common triggers include:
- Alcoholic or caffeinated beverages
- Bright lights, loud noises or strong smells
- Certain types of foods that vary from person to person
- Hormonal changes
- Irregular sleep patterns
- Weather changes
See a headache specialist to determine if preventive medication or therapy like injections, nutraceuticals or electroceuticals are right for you.
A headache specialist may also prescribe a rescue medication to take during a migraine attack. In addition to treatments, it is also important to know which interventions will help reduce migraine symptoms, such as staying in a dark, quiet room.
Do you want to learn more about migraines, headaches and facial pain? Go here.
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 is double-board certified in neurology and headache medicine. She 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. Dr. Nierenburg is at the forefront of migraine treatment and can discuss advances with electroceuticals and infusion therapy. Book an appointment online with Dr. Nierenburg.
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 remotely at 5:30 pm the last Monday of each month. To register, call 845-214-1922. There is no cost to register.