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Those Sneaky Triggers

Those Sneaky Triggers

Even in a safe, controlled, migraineur-friendly environment, triggers can pop up.

Sunday was the first day I felt almost-good after a week and a half of migraines and back pain. I’d actually taken a few days off due to the bookshop’s being closed for a couple days during Christmas and due to my not feeling well, but on Sunday afternoon I felt ready to put in a couple hours of work.

I felt as if I were walking around on the lam, as if I had somehow escaped this awful week of illness. How did I suddenly feel almost good? How was it that my back wasn’t spasming with every step? How in the world did I get away without a migraine for the first time in days? It felt like I was getting away with something and might get caught any moment.

My co-worker and I met at my favorite local coffee shop to have a one-hour meeting to discuss a huge upcoming author event (we host a lot of people, from the super-famous and the not-yet-famous, at my bookstore—it’s pretty incredible). The coffee shop is just beautiful—a huge, open space with a lot of natural light, a hand-crafted bar, and a combination of tables and comfy chairs that invite you to settle in with a good book (or, in our case, a pair of laptops). No fluorescent lights anywhere, which is a blessing to this light-sensitive migraineur.

But sometimes natural light isn’t the answer, either. R. and I settled into a table toward the back of the café, at least 60 feet from the huge front windows next to the entrance. She sat facing the window, and I was grateful, as I have a hard time focusing on another person if (s)he is backlit so strongly.

Though I could see R. clearly and had my back completely to the bright light from outside, I wasn’t immune to all that sunshine. I wear glasses all the time these days, and the sunlight was barreling right into the café windows and bouncing off the inside of my glasses’ frames. It looked as if a little Tinkerbell were hovering in my periphery, dancing around as I spoke. It took me a couple of minutes to realize that the blinding, dancing light was real and not part of a migraine aura.

Due to my having been sick the entire week leading up to this meeting, I was especially sensitive to environmental triggers. I felt the migraine making its way into my head and let R. know as much. We wrapped up the meeting as quickly as we could, and I packed up my computer and left. Thankfully, gulping down a big glass of water and doing some deep breathing actually put the migraine into remission—it’s as if it were coming on full-force and only retreated once I gave in and removed the trigger from my environment.

Have you ever had a trigger pop up unexpectedly? Were you able to get away from the trigger before a full-fledged migraine set in?

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


  • tea4sue
    5 years ago

    The sun flashing off any sort of mirror or glass will give me a migraine for sure. I can be having a perfect day, and i catch that flash of light as a car drives by, and my day is likely ruined. I really feel I often ruin the day for others because when this happens it puts me down so fast.

  • pjdawgs
    5 years ago

    Even before I ever had migraines I was sensitive to bright sun. Regular indoor lights didn’t bother me back then. I now have chronic migraines and bright sun, overcast days, reflective sun (snow) as well as majority of indoor light can most definitely be a trigger. I am aware not every help or treatment or tools like relaxing breathing work for every person with migraines. I also know there are times things I try work yet at other times they do not. I found some wonderful “migraine” glasses on the internet. They have many styles and 2 different level of tints. I tried them since they have a wonderful return policy. I figured what do I have to lose in trying them. When I first got them I was shocked. The pair I ordered fit well yet did not apply pressure on nose or temples or ears. I also was very surprised that while at a stop light I switched from my regular dark sunglasses to these migraine glasses, to my surprise the lighter “indoor” tint helped even better than my dark sunglasses. I later ordered the outdoor tint and for me personally they are almost too dark. I hope telling part of my story can help another that may suffer from migraines. I do NOT get paid by this company or work for them. I relay this just from my personal experience of a product that I was blessed to find. I know rules for posting you can’t sell items but hopefully if you reply for info this migraine site will allow me to send the company name.

  • Vicki
    5 years ago

    I can really relate to everything about your article. Some triggers like bright sunlight or heavy wind…if I’m in it for more than a few minutes, I’m usually doomed. And then there are those rare days where I can go spend time outside and be just fine! So frustrating to have so little control 🙁

  • mimi
    5 years ago

    Stores that sell candles! I walk in and walk right back out or I have a headache the rest of the day.

    Bright lights in a grocery store produce department! They will give me a headache and make my face go numb if I don’t get in and out quickly.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    Lately I find myself wearing sunglasses in the grocery store. I probably look ridiculous but I chose to think I look like a movie star running errands. Do whatever you have to do adapt to the situation!

  • Diana-Lee
    5 years ago

    One of the seemingly out of nowhere triggers I most frequently encounter is men doused in cologne. Mens cologne is a horrible, sure fire trigger for me.

    About 3/4 of the time if I can get to my peppermint oil inhaler and breathe in and out deeply, I can head off the issue. It doesn’t always work, but at least gives me a strategy to combat the issue.

  • onehsancare
    5 years ago

    That is an absolutely sure-fire trigger for me, too. What is your peppermint oil inhaler? Where can I find one?

  • maxgordon
    5 years ago

    When I was younger (I am 55), there were some triggers that I knew would result in a migraine 100% of the time, a few that only caused a headache about half the time, and some headaches for which I could not determine which trigger(s) set off the migraine. These days, post-menopause, there are fewer inevitable triggers, but many more “Where did that come from?” migraines. Certain combination-triggers (sleep + dehydration, for example) I find nearly impossible to head off even with high doses of medications, but some simply triggered headaches (fluorescent lights, for example) I can sometimes head off if I leave quickly enough. The disturbing part is that while it used to take several hours of being around environmental triggers (e.g., those fluorescent lights), it now can take a ridiculously short time to bring one on, so there are now certain stores that I avoid completely because I know I can’t get in and out in time. Over the years, I have become more sensitive to environmental triggers (e.g., light, sound, smells) and less prone to food triggers. But that’s this decade…who knows what will come next? 😉

  • Michele
    5 years ago

    Anyone not have the headache part…but the wooziness, sensitivity to light with facial tingling?

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