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When a new trigger emerges

Oh hello, new trigger.  Please do NOT come in.

I firmly believe that the majority of my migraine triggers have been with me since the beginning of my life as a migraineur (going on 20 years now).  Though I didn’t have a name for it in my teens, I knew that chewing sugarless gum or drinking beverages sweetened with NutraSweet (aspartame) gave me a wicked headache within thirty minutes or so.  I didn’t connect the dots ’til adulthood, but I now know that many of my migraine episodes were a result of sitting for hours under those awful fluorescent lights that illuminated every single high school classroom I had.  Skipping meals and screwing with my sleep schedule made me feel bad, but I didn’t know the name of what happened after was “migraine,” and I didn’t know what a “trigger” was.

But I’m older and wiser now, and very experienced in the life of migraine.  I like to think I know what my body does and does not tolerate, but I was taught a lesson this year.

I have a new trigger, and its name is RED ONION.

This is not good news, folks.  I am not one of the many onion haters out there.  I am a die-hard red onion fan.  Put it in salads, on sandwiches, on rice, on whatever you want.  I’ll eat it.  It makes my eyes burn when I prepare it, but I do love the smell and I love sneaking bites of it as I cook. I have even been known to announce, “I LOVE onions!” while cooking with them.  I’m telling you: I’m a fan.

Something fishy started happening in the last year or two, however.  I started getting a feeling of warm fullness in my head shortly after ingesting raw red onion.  I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, and I can’t find a better way to describe it than what I’ve just said: at first it feels as if my head is full of warm air or stuffing. Thirty minutes later, I am likely to have a migraine—not always, but enough of the time that it’s a problem.

Like a baby, I refused at first to acknowledge this new trigger, pretending I could chalk it up to something else.  But after  eating it many times over with uncomfortable and even migrainous (my new word?) results, I am going to have to give it up.  I’m more than a little peeved.

Have you had triggers emerge as you’ve gotten older, or have you suddenly realized that something you love to eat has actually been triggering migraine episodes all along?  How have you coped?  Do you ever rebel and eat and drink what you want and risk the migraine that may follow?  What foods or drinks have you decided to cut out of your diet?

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.


  • Jeannette
    5 years ago

    Is it OK to eat cooked onions? I just discovered this onion trigger after eating a delicious Greek salad with red onions three days in a row – trying to be so good – and ended up with a terrible migraine! Pooh!

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    6 years ago

    Thank you all for sharing your struggles with triggers! Food triggers can be the WORST! I seem to get new ones on occasion and recently discovered that gluten is probably a REAL issue for me. This makes me extremely sad, but it’s better than migraine and head pain.

    Laura- when you discovered gluten was an issue, and
    “cheated” how long did it take before you saw symptoms, if I may ask?


  • Ariel Pond
    6 years ago

    ATTN Migraineurs who enjoy beer: American-sold beer is full of MSG. If that is a trigger, I’d avoid drinking beer at all. Or at least wait until you go to a country where they make and sell REAL beer.

  • Ariel Pond
    6 years ago

    My newest trigger (or at least newest I’ve recognized) is cow dairy. It’s the lactose in it that does it to me, but that cuts out favorites like cheese, milk, and ice cream. It also forces me to be even more vigilant in what I eat than I was. I can have buffalo dairy, and goat dairy, but I refuse to drink soy or almond milk unless forced to. Thankfully, that’s where Lactaid comes in. I can drink milk and eat ice cream free of lactose and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the original stuff. It costs more, but I couldn’t live without milk and cheese of some sort. I am my step-dad’s daughter.

  • Michael Riley
    6 years ago

    I have given up blue cheese entirely. I used to eat it nearly every day, but in the last few years I have had to give it up. It makes me sad sometimes. In fact I am getting a little weepy as I write this. It may have been my favorite food. It got worse as I got older and for a while I refused to quit eating it.

    But I am so glad I found this community. It gives me a sense of relief to read about the common problems that we have. It makes me realize I am not alone.

  • kim8868
    6 years ago

    Tomatoes and everything they are used in is a trigger. (Ketchup, salsa, sauces, etc.) Just found out my newest trigger is all things dairy. Talk about a tough one, but the migraines have decreased so much it’s been worth it!!

  • Ariel Pond
    6 years ago

    Try lactose-free milk and goat and buffalo cheeses because it might actually be the cow lactose you have a problem with. I have a dairy trigger as well, but I’ve found ways to work around it. Lactaid makes good lactose free milk, as well as lactose free yogurt, cottage cheese, and ice cream. I can attest that the milk, cottage cheese, and ice cream are good but the bacteria in yogurt that makes it yogurt is one of my triggers so I have yet to try that.

  • johnklesaris
    6 years ago

    Peanut butter; I love to spread it on chocolate! No problems with chocolate, thank God.

    Funny though, things like peanut butter, rosemary, wine, etc. trigger a migraine that is somewhat different. Usually a milder, nagging headache with neck pain, milder nausea, milder throb, milder vertigo. Does anyone else notice this?

  • laurawestkong
    6 years ago

    I discovered a couple years ago that gluten is a serious migraine trigger for me. It’s possible it was there as a trigger all along, but it could just as easily have developed recently. I went from 10-20 headache days/month to 1 or 2 when I gave up gluten.

    I don’t cheat. Ever. It’s hard, but all the trouble I go through is completely worth it. Giving up gluten has also resolved my arthritis and carpal tunnel/repetitive stress pain, which several doctors had said would never get better and would most likely get worse.

    Yes John, I also get that headache after eating with neck pain, nausea, and for me, extreme fatigue. It’s related to my food intolerances, which when they were at their worst it was easier to simply list the foods I could eat, rather than all the things I could not. I’ve successfully reintroduced many of my problem foods now, but do still limit the amount of grains, sugar, dairy, processed foods, and even nightshades that I eat. And I also rotate them, being careful not to eat too much of the same food too many days in a row to prevent intolerances and cross-reactivity from occurring.

  • Jn2me2
    6 years ago

    Hi There fellow migraine sufferers. I have found that anything with artificial sweetener always gives me headaches and its hard to find gum with real sugar these days! Also raspberry flavor drinks, MSG, sometimes apples, fried food. Yes, sometimes its tempting to eat these things but not worth the pain.

  • Kelly Ottinger
    6 years ago

    This is the WORST. I discovered strawberries (one of my favorite fruits) were giving me migraines about 3 years ago. I’ve tried a few times to see if they still bother me, and every time I have one they do.

    On the other hand, citrus fruits used to really bother me and they don’t seem to anymore. So I guess there’s always a chance it can go both ways with some triggers.

    For me, eating something for a few minutes isn’t worth the pain of a migraine. No matter how much I love it 🙂

  • Ariel Pond
    6 years ago

    Strawberries are a big trigger for me as well, and like you they are one of my favorite fruits. I found out I can get away with 2 or 3 large strawberries, but anymore and I get silent migraine symptoms.

    I agree with you. Enjoying something for a minute or two isn’t worth hours to even days or weeks of suffering.

  • lara
    6 years ago

    I know nutrasweet and other artificial sweeteners are a trigger. I avoid them no matter what. I have my suspicions about alcohol but since I’ve never developed a taste for it, avoiding it isn’t a problem.

    Giving up caffeine was the real sacrifice. I drank soda and lots of it for years. I finally had to accept the fact that I was getting withdrawal headaches that led to migraines. I sometimes drink a tiny bit of coke when I have an upset stomach but I can rarely finish an entire one. The upside to giving up soda was that it accelerated the weight loss associated with Topamax. I lost almost a 100lbs.

  • Dee
    6 years ago

    My latest discovery along with my vast list of triggers is hair coloring. I dread coloring my hair for this reason.

  • Elizabeth Ann
    6 years ago

    I discovered the hair color thing too. I realized it is the conditioner for me, it is sooo over perfumed it kills me. So I started using my regular color safe conditioner instead and I don’t have much trouble anymore!

  • zippy36
    6 years ago

    I can not drink beer..not even one. It took me awhile to figure this out.

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