Hot Wings for Headaches – your questions answered

Monday I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Dave Watson, director of the WVU Headache Center and originator of the Hot Wings for Headaches challenge. The Challenge has generated quite a bit of traffic and controversy here at Migraine.com. There have been a lot of unique questions asked that only Dr. Watson can answer. So, I collected some of the more popular comments and questions to see what he had to say.

So without further delay, here are Dr. Dave Watson’s responses:


How did Hot Wings for Headaches get started?

As a neurologist who specializes is headache medicine as well as a migraine sufferer, I’m very interested in furthering the cause of headache and migraine disorders. I’ve been involved in a number of advocacy efforts to raise awareness and money, including Headache on the Hill and starting a 5K run called AHMA Runnin’ for Research (which raised $6000 for the American Migraine Foundation). I’m always looking for other means to be involved, and was keenly interested in the amazing success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. One of my best friends in our neurology department is Dr. Chris Nance, a neuromuscular specialist who runs our ALS clinic. We were preparing a department wide ice bucket challenge video and got to talking about other challenges that could be done. We started out just trying to amuse each other with things like “punch in the gut for parkinsons” and “hot tubs for headaches”. But then I started to think, why not? Hot tubs didn’t seem like much of a challenge, but it morphed into hot sauce and then hot wings for headaches. Our clinic space is in the same complex as Buffalo Wild Wings, so I called them to see if they would be willing to allow us to make a video. They were, and so we decided to go for it.

Why hot wings?

I like wings. In part, it’s that simple. In no way was the intent to mimick the pain of migraine. That would be wildly inaccurate. Plus, who would actually wish a migraine on anyone? Wings are incredibly popular, readily accessible in the United States, inexpensive, and can even be made at home. The reason to make them be spicy is the sacrifice part. Just like an ice bucket over the head is temporarily uncomfortable.

Given the stigma migraine has as “just a headache”, some readers have wondered why “headaches” and not “migraine”.

Yep. I get that. But on the other side, people with cluster headaches, TAC syndromes, and other headache disorders get tired of everything being called migraine. I think the video explains the other symptoms of migraine reasonably well. And I take care of all the headache disorders, not just migraine. They all stink.

Isn’t this just a gimmick? Will anyone really take us seriously?

Yes. It’s a gimmick. But I took it seriously. You took it seriously enough to write about it. But it supposed to be fun, also.

Won’t it just look like we’re copying ALS advocates?

That is exactly what I’m doing. One hundred million dollars says that maybe it’s worth copying. Isn’t every 5K run just copying the Race for the Cure (or whatever the first charity 5K ever run was)? Isn’t Headache on the Hill copying every other “my-disease-on-the-hill” day? Of course we are copying it. Great ideas don’t have to stop with the first one.

Shouldn’t we be focusing our efforts on current fundraisers, like Miles for Migraine or the 36 Million Migraine campaign?

Honestly, I find this concern really frustrating. 36 Million Campaign is raising money for the American Migraine Foundation. I cannot imagine any possible scenario where the Hot Wings for Headaches Challenge interferes with them. And Miles for Migraine is a great race, located in San Franscisco and now Philadelphia. I hope they have a fantastic turnout and raise tons of money. But unless you live in one of those areas, how will the Hot Wing Challenge divert focus? If the headache and migraine community ever get to the point that we are in each others way raising money, it will be a day to celebrate. What is more destructive to fundraising is the negativity expressed in many of the posts on social media about the hot wing challenge. Want to get advocates to stop trying? Keep complaining about what they do.

We have a lot of readers who are vegetarian or vegan. How might they participate?

I have to admit, this never crossed my mind. I’m not a vegetarian, obviously, and don’t have a lot of friends who are. I think they can do a number of things. Make a video refusing to do the challenge but donating money instead. Eat something spicy other than meat. Just a spoonful of hot sauce. Heck, make a protest video challenging vegetarians to do more than what us lowly meat eaters can do. But don’t hate me for being an omnivore.

Readers have expressed concerns that hot wings might trigger an attack. Are there ways to participate without exposing ourselves to triggers?

Similar to my answer to the question above, there are no real rules to this challenge. Nobody is going to scrutinize each video for accuracy. If spicy food in general is a trigger, then just don’t do it, explain why, and challenge your non-migraine friends. What better way to get a chance to spread awareness than discussing how migraines affect your daily decisions. But just to be clear, the wings eaten in the video do not have MSG, so if that is your trigger, your excuse is gone!

Do we have to go to Buffalo Wild Wings?

Nope. They were simply the closest and most convenient place for us to go and were willing to let us do it. To give them credit, they comped the wings, which was very nice of them. Someone mentioned a belief that this was started by Buffalo Wild Wings as a marketing trick. That hurts a little. Just sayin’.

Some of our readers might not be able to donate either, how can they help?

I know that money is really tight for a lot of people. If this is the case for some who want to help, then share our video. Challenge your friends. Everywhere you can find the challenge online be sure to “like” it. Make a video anyway to talk about the challenge. I’m sure that a majority of the people making ice bucket videos didn’t donate money, yet over $100 million was raised.

Many have accurately pointed out that it doesn’t do a lot of good to just eat hot wings if it doesn’t raise awareness. Do you have any tips to help those who decide to accept the challenge? Maybe some talking points or a short script?

36 million people suffer from Migraine disorders. Migraine involves severe headaches, nausea, environmental sensitivities, is disabling, among many other symptoms. Migraine research is woefully underfunded. My video is long as it is the introduction video. They don’t all need to be that long, and would actually probably do better to be less than a minute. People can be directed to the American Migraine Foundation site and find lots of information, thus raising awareness.

Is there anyone you would like to challenge today?

I think I’ve challenged enough people. I do want to challenge the headache and migraine community to stick together. This challenge isn’t THE challenge. It isn’t perfect. It might not end up being successful. But it is something. And something is better than nothing. If we wait for the perfect idea, it will be a very long wait. Advocacy isn’t about perfection. It’s about willingness and passion. If you don’t like the Hot Wings for Headaches Challenge, that’s OK. Ignore it. Don’t eat. But don’t tear it apart before it even has a chance.


Dr. Watson is a practicing headache specialist who treats migraine patients, as well as those with other headache disorders (cluster headache, trigeminal neuralgia, etc.) Despite his busy schedule, he was generous enough to take the time to answer some of your questions.

On behalf of Migraine.com staff and readers, I would like to thank Dr. Watson for his passion and time. Too many of us deal with doctors who just don’t get it. It is refreshing to meet a headache specialist who is well-informed and genuinely cares about the migraine community. His willingness to step up and do something to help raise awareness is refreshing and appreciated.

To learn more about the Challenge, watch the Hot Wings for Headaches video.
To learn more about migraine research funding, visit the American Migraine Foundation.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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