A proverbial party of migraine triggers

Jim and I went on an epic road trip this summer—19 days, 5500 miles, many cities and states visited, and a handful of migraines.

The very last driving night of our trip, we pulled into Oklahoma City to grab some late dinner and find an affordable hotel.  After leaving a cavernous Brazilian restaurant that was completely empty and about to close in 20 minutes, we ended up in a neighborhood Irish pub for a quick dinner.  I was tired from being in the car and from being on the road, and I had gotten to the point where I was so hungry I almost didn’t want to eat because I’d made myself a little nauseated from not eating (has that ever happened to you?).   The day had been stressful and Jim and I were short with each other after weeks of being together—we were ready to be home.

In short, the proverbial table was set for a migraine before we wandered into that restaurant, but the things that followed pretty much guaranteed a migraine attack.

There was a loud, raucous group of thirty-somethings next to us at the pub.  The ceilings were high and the ceramic and glass made it so sounds echoed loudly.  There was a lot of girlish whooping and yelling and oh-my-god!-ing, and I involuntarily covered my ears a handful of times when the shrieks got to be too much.  (Their behavior was fine—we were in a bar, after all. But it was hard to listen to.)

Then more women arrived, all doused in what must have been eight thousand bottles of perfume each. The whoops grew louder, especially as the second round of shots were delivered.  I was in full view of the perfumed table of partiers, so I felt bad for wincing or automatically covering my ears each time they screamed in delight.  When it came time to call a nearby hotel to see if they had vacancy, I was quick to volunteer, as it’d give me a reason to step outside into the fresh, perfume-free night air and get a little quiet.

Even though I ended up with only a mild migraine attack instead of a huge one (thank goodness), I keep thinking back to this night.  Keep thinking of how I felt like each inhalation of perfume was a direct line to my sensitive brain, how each ecstatic yell was stabbing my ears.  It was, in essence, a little migraine trigger party—not the kind of party I want to be invited to.

Have you ever been in a situation where, all of a sudden, you were surrounded by migraine triggers?  What’d you do?

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Comments

View Comments (12)
  • Christine Crawford
    5 years ago

    Most smells, even good ones like warm cinnamon rolls, can cause a migraine for me. (The worst for me is raw onions and cologne or perfume.) But so many people don’t get it, they’ll say ‘oh but it smells so good’ if I say the smell might give me a migraine. I have
    managed to get the owners of my work to send out an email saying cologne, perfume and scented hand lotions are not allowed in the front office where I work but that was 5 years ago and I am the only one who trys to enforce it when someone violates it. For the most part, people comply but its very difficult to get people to understand when some people ‘don’t ever get headaches’ and want to tell you everytime it comes up!

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    5 years ago

    Hi Christine,

    I understand what you mean, raw onions and fragrances are difficult for many of us.

    I recently heard about an interesting idea: provide unscented wet wipes and ask people to “descent” themselves. What do you think?

  • Julie
    5 years ago

    It just boggles my mind still why people have to take baths in cologne. Don’t people just use soap and water anymore?? Geese.

  • Evie75
    5 years ago

    I have a really hard time with Bath and Body Works. For quite some time my kids were obsessed with their hand sanitizers and body lotions. I finally had to stop letting them use it. I actually start coughing and sneezing from the smell. And of coarse I always worry that if I’m particularly sensitive that it would trigger a migraine. It’s so hard to get away from perfumes.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    5 years ago

    Hi Evie75,

    I can hardly walk past a Bath and Body Works with out getting triggered!

  • marti
    5 years ago

    Perfume is a big trigger, but it’s almost always expensive perfume. (My daughter also suffers from migraines and she uses Axe body spray for women and it doesn’t bother either one of us.) Bleach is the WORST smell trigger for me. Even the slightest whiff of it and I’ll have one so bad that my skin is sore and the inside of my skull feels like it’s been run through a blender. I had to leave work one morning because somebody decided to clean the office bathroom with undiluted bleach. As soon as I smelled it I took my medication, told my boss what was happening (he’s a sufferer too, so he understands,) and I came home. By the time I got here I could barely see and I spent the next 36 hours in my cold dark bedroom with a towel wrapped tightly around my head – that seems to help.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    5 years ago

    Hi martiedgar,

    Smells are a horrible trigger for some of us. Some people do use aromatherapy to help combat certain smells. Let me share information with you on this topic;http://migraine.com/blog/aromatherapy-for-migraines/.

  • sarals
    5 years ago

    I worked at McDonalds for a very short time due to this. Every day I worked there I either developed a migraine while I was there or by the time I got home. Between all the heat lamps, grease, smells, lights, buzzers, yelling of orders, loudness of customers during busy hours, and just the fast chaotic pace, it was all to much. I think I became overstimulated basically and it triggered migraines. I hated to quit because I needed the job and the insurance benefits, but I had to. Since then I just had a nerve block done on my neck, had one the year before and it helped a lot but my nerves regenerated fast. So now i’m recovering from my nerves being fried by radio frequency. So I’m hoping I will have much fewer headaches again for at least a good year. If not I guess we will try something different.

  • soso
    5 years ago

    I have same problem when I’m tired, feeling hungry passing my food time, i will be nauseated, any noise or perfume will increase the symptoms. Best thing to do is leave the place. After 20 yrs merriage, my husband now he’s the one who leaves right away to avoid severe migraine attack.

  • peggy875
    5 years ago

    I have the same problem with perfume and smoke, etc. the worst is walking into a department store when it is hard to avoid the perfume counters – awful! Try to breathe through my mouth and hold my breath some to get through! Being on a plane next to someone who has doused themselves in perfume is awful!

  • mrsbrimtown
    5 years ago

    I agree with the perfume trigger. Noise too, but the perfume one is harder for me to deal with. I carry earplugs with me to help with noise – sounds dorky but it helps.

    Have you seen the ads for ‘clean air’ in bars? I wish it was perfume and not cigarettes that was being targeted! After all, anything that smells like a noxious blend of chemicals couldn’t be good to breath in right?

  • sarals
    5 years ago

    Perfume is awful! Axe bodyspray and cologne is one of the worst offenders to me and all these teenagers wear or I should say bathe in it. I won’t let my son use it. Funny side note, my friend’s son is Autistic and he is triggered by Axe bodyspray too and his school (one for Autistic kids) has banned it because it triggers many of the kids there and overstimulates them. So it must be something with the overstimulation or something in that brand.

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