Driving As a Migraine Trigger
Last updated: June 2023
Those of us with migraine disease sometimes find ourselves in a tough situation when driving or riding in a car triggers a migraine. Some migraineurs have told me that they’re fine if they don’t need to drive very far; some have said that even short trips are sometimes a trigger.
Why would driving be a trigger?
A primary source of triggers when driving can be light:
- Bright sunlight;
- Bright headlights at night;
- Flickering sunlight through trees and other obstructions, which give a strobe-like effect.
How can you reduce the light?
There are some steps that can be taken to counter these potential light triggers:
- During the day, wear good sunglasses, preferably with polarized lenses. Polarization helps reduce glare. Wrap-around sunglasses can be extra help in assuring that light doesn’t hit from the sides.
- Avoid cars that have a sun roof that doesn’t have a cover.
- For night driving, check into glasses that reduce glare. Some people have reported that wearing yellow or blue tinted glasses at night have been helpful.
Is motion sickness related?
Anecdotally, migraineurs seem to be more likely to experience motion sickness than people without migraines. Many migraineurs who report migraines triggered by traveling in a car also report motion sickness. Some doctors recommend taking Dramamine or other over-the-counter medication for motion sickness before car travel if it’s a frequent trigger. This has worked well for some migraineurs, but not for all. My personal experience is that car trips that last more than an hour or are on windy roads cause motion sickness and trigger a migraine. A dose of one of the non-drowsy motion sickness medications has been a great help.
What else might be triggering?
There are other issues that can trigger a migraine during car travel:
- If you tend to be triggered by stale, stuffy air, be sure to set the environmental controls to bring in fresh air and keep it circulating.
- When driving through mountains, the changes in altitude can be a migraine trigger.
- Watch your seat position and posture. While these things may not trigger a migraine directly, they can contribute to tension-type headaches, which can trigger a migraine.
- When driving for longer periods of time, be sure to drink enough so you don’t become dehydrated. Even mild dehydration is a Migraine trigger for some people, so stay hydrated, even if it means more stops along the way.
What should you do if this applies to you?
If driving or riding in a car is a trigger for you, try to determine what specifically is the trigger. Once you know the specific triggers, you may find that some are avoidable, and you can talk with your doctor about ways to handle any that can’t be avoided.
Are the family and friends you will be seeing this holiday season understanding about migraine?