Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Allergies Are More Than an Inconvenience for Those with Migraine

Allergies Are More Than an Inconvenience for Those with Migraine

When it comes to allergies, most of us think they’re no big deal. A major inconvenience, yes — especially when we live in pollen-coated areas like central Texas — but nothing really serious. Just a health issue to live with and treat as well as we can. For those of us with migraine, however, this attitude may be harmful.

Most of us with migraine disease are aware of the common misdiagnosis of migraine as a “sinus headache,” but few are aware of the real impact allergies can have on migraine.

For starters, allergic rhinitis (i.e. allergies and hay fever) is comorbid with migraine, especially in older adults. In fact, one study found that people with allergies have an eight-fold increased chance of also having migraine, compared to controls without allergies. This was a particularly strong correlation with increasing age, with participants over 40 more likely to experience the comorbidity. Researchers speculate this connection may be due to similar inflammatory reactions in the body.

Allergies and hay fever also make migraine symptoms worse

Research indicates that those of us with migraines who also live with allergies and hay fever have more frequent head pain than people with migraine who don’t have rhinitis — by as much as 33 percent. Those of us who have unusual allergies (think: cigarette smoke and perfume) in addition to common allergies like pet dander and tree pollen have it even worse. Research suggests those with “mixed rhinitis” are 45 percent more likely to experience more frequent head pain than migraine patients without allergies and a 60 percent greater risk that their attacks will be severe.

If allergies trigger more frequent and more disabling migraine attacks, then it is time those of us with migraine start taking our allergies seriously — a reality I had to learn about 18 months ago when we adopted a puppy.

New puppy, more migraine attacks

Normally, I’m allergic to many things — ragweed, perfume, cigarette smoke, cats, and cantaloupe — but I’m not allergic to dogs. The one breed I am allergic to, however, is the German Shepherd. I’m not sure why this breed is the one I can’t tolerate, but it’s been true my entire life. Imagine my surprise, then, when the rescue Corgi/Dachshund we adopted turned out to be 50 percent Corgi/Dachshund and 50 percent German Shepherd.

Within days of bringing her home, the house was covered in hair, even the rooms I never allowed the dog to enter. My swollen eyes itched. My nose alternated frustratingly between a constant drip and congestion so severe it whistled. And, my migraines grew worse. Much worse.

I went from having a migraine attack every few days to having one every day. Unaware of the research between allergies and migraine, I didn’t immediately associate the dog with my increased symptoms. I just knew things were getting worse so I went back to my neurologist, hoping for help with the worsening cycle.

I tried new medications. I meditated more. Nothing helped. When I came across the information on allergies and migraine, everything clicked into place. It was the dog!

Making Changes

Once I began aggressively treating my allergies, my migraine attacks went back to occurring every few days instead of every day. If you’re struggling with allergies and you’ve seen an increase in migraine symptoms or frequency, too, you might try the same. Treating the allergies may be one way to manage migraine.

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.

Comments

  • mustbefaking
    1 year ago

    This is extremely interesting to me. As a long time allergy sufferer, I have suspected a connection to the inflammatory system since allergies, migraines and now arthritis are all inflammatory problems. I’ve never been treated for my hay fever even though it’s been a life-long inconvenience that affected me in big ways. I’ll look into something now. More pills along with the ones for migraines and arthritis. Oh boy.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    I don’t think any of us relish the ideas of more pills, but I definitely notice a difference when I do or do not treat my allergies. There are other ways to manage allergies, too, though, if you’d rather not add any pills to the mix. An allergist should be able to point you in the right direction. Good luck!

  • JimCruger
    1 year ago

    Nice outlook from you. Science proven or not- praying; I do it regardless @ least 2x & usually more than that a day. I’ve had 24/7 headaches since my radiation to head- 3600 rads, & the craniotomy surgery- since age 16/ 17. Been 24/7 nonstop @ 39 yrs. Always worst in morns, like a ‘hangover’, [the head]; along w/ dizzy. Hard lo live life being confused, concentrate…. No one ever know, or understand, unless been there. God bless.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    Thank you taking the time to comment. I’m sorry you’ve lived with symptoms for so long. It is difficult to find someone who understands, but we certainly do around here. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Autumn Sparrow
    1 year ago

    Ouch! This really hit home my migraines became daily a few months after moving in to my current home where a roommate has a dog. I thought the allergy was under control but it may be time to look at new treatments.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    I’m glad the article offered some insights that may make your everday life a little easier. Here’s hoping you find something that helps!

  • Marysu
    1 year ago

    Basically I have had a headache for 50 years. I catch a break here and then but it’s a difference of the degree of pain. At my age now it’s rarely the knife in the eye pain I used to have, but I have become more aware of the connection between congestion in my blood vessels and sinuses increasing the level of pain on bad days. I have serious inhalant allergies, take antihistamines daily and use a steroid nasal spray. If my hands and feet are cold I now know to take 25-50mg of Imitrex. It helps move that excess fluid out of my head/brain/sinuses, the pain is reduced, my hands and feet warm up, and I can breathe!! In the last year I started using a CPAP machine and breathing humidified, filtered air all night has also really helped. Migraine is not a simple, one size fits all diagnosis. I know allergy season, spring and fall, will still make my headaches worse but after 50 years I have far better control, more options, and a better understanding of how to stay functional even with chronic migraines.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    I’m sorry you’ve lived with the disease for so long, but it sounds like you’re doing a good job managing it as best as you can. I wish you health and a happy holiday season! Thank you for sharing.

  • susanjane816
    1 year ago

    Are you aware of the cross reactions to ragweed? I have had allergy testing and shots twice in my life. One severe problem was ragweed. At some point my throat nearly closed up while eating watermelon. My allergist told me that if you were ragweed sensitive not to eat watermelon when it was blooming. I have since learned that any melon and bananas also make my throat itch. The nurses tell me that latex is another cross with ragweed.

  • Jojiieme
    1 year ago

    I’ve just learnt the hard way that my relatively recently developed allergy to bananas (diagnosed a couple of years ago, and underlying a couple of decades of misery) has also spread to rubber (learned this via medical procedures in 2016!), meaning that my choice of swimsuit materials is now very limited. Yep, the fibres used for swimsuits bras contains rubber-related elements!
    I hadn’t been swimming for years, and we’re currently in a bit of extra-warm summer weather. A dip in the river over Christmas/New Year made sense…except both swimsuits brought me out in itching and small welts!! (Thank goodness for strong antihistamines!) I’m now wearing men’s board shorts and a bamboo-cloth camisole as swimwear.
    People like us also need to be careful in rented premises, too: our new home is lovely but is surrounded by palm trees (I’m allergic to the pollens this kind continually shed), and our carpets contain rubber fibres for durability so my feet and ankles are constantly swollen. As I also react to dust and dander, I’m always reactive.

    Accuweather.com is a good site for checking weather conditions for a range of medical conditions and activities you’re planning to schedule. Reduces the size of my ‘panic bag’. 😉

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    Absolutely! I’m also allergic to cantalope, melons, and bananas. They all make me want to tear my throat out when I eat them. I was shocked when I heard about the weird ragweed cross reactions. Thanks for sharing!

  • Angiestl
    1 year ago

    Sarah, what do you consider “aggressively treating the allergies”? Up to this point, I haven’t been able to do a full allergy test because I couldn’t miss the tagamet that I was taking, though I’m not taking it anymore. But my my allergies are too out of control at the moment to try to stop the antihistamines that I’m currently taking. Steroid sprays are out because they aggravate another neurological disorder that I have. I have used a spray that’s made from peppers, and it worked to a point, but only short term, approximately half an hour. So any suggestions on anything else to try would be super appreciated!!

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    I simply mean to try and find a solution that truly works for you. There are new tools available to allergists all the time, including targeted oral drops and shots. Have you tried talking to an allergy specialist recently? They may have something for you to add to your toolkit.

  • Angiestl
    12 months ago

    I’m sorry this is taking 6 months to find me then you. I didn’t get my notifications until today when I signed in. My allergies are here and there lately, but I’m thinking of trying Xytal, which at the very least, I should have a few weeks with no allergy issues. I have been trying to keep an eye on what pollen is high when I start getting stuffy. I’m pretty sure it’s some type of grass, which is half the fight in my mind!! I might actually might wait until fall to try Xytal, just to make sure to use it when my issues are the worst!!

  • MidrinMan
    1 year ago

    Been having migraines for over 40 years now. Was describing my usual brain fog to my doc but this time he tried a different approach. He sent me to the ENT who did a CAT scan on my nose. My right nostril was completely blocked. Left partially. Don’t know how long but I’ve been mouth breathing. Spouse couldn’t stand the snoring. Had blockage removed last Friday. Deviated septum. Healing right now. Eyes tearing up constantly. Every time the wind blows I wanna sneeze or cry or irrigate these damned devil donuts from my nose!! Nasty needle nuggets. Itty bitty batty boogies with razor sharp teeth keep filling up my bat caves and nosh out on my newly carved nasal narrows. Needles and blood. Did I mention tears? Waves of tears. Gonna put on Old Yeller, Milo and Otis to hide my new ….. symptoms. Somebody pass me a hanky.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    Oh, wow! That sounds uncomfortable. I wish you a quick recovery, and I hope it helps you feel better in the long-term.

  • Angiestl
    1 year ago

    I’ve had two sinus surgeries where they had to get as much of a several months long sinus infection out. The easiest way to explain it is to say they roto-routered the sinuses across the cheekbones and up toward the forehead as far as they feel safe going, since it’s so close to the brain in that area. The biggest objective for the ones toward the forehead was to make the “drainage holes” larger so they’d actually drain, and the ones in my cheek they could get most of the infection out and make it easier to drain. The first surgery was 13 years ago and the second was 11 years ago, and I *STILL* get that crying feeling when the wind blows past my nose. In fact, I just got that feeling while lying in bed, trying to rid myself of a sinus migraine!! So I recommend a thick scarf that will block the wind, draped around your neck just right so you can stick your face into it and block anything from going up your nose!!

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    That sounds intense! I hope it brought you some relief. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • Hadit
    1 year ago

    This article is perfect for me! Thank you! I thought I was alone in this never ending hellish battle. Since August or ragweed season, I have had daily headaches. I go to bed headache free and wake up with a debilitating frontal headache. Allergy nose sprays, pills, and shots have not helped. Actually the nasal sprays and antihistamines are too drying for me, even in low doses. Any thoughts for relief of this constant frontal headache?? If I take my migraine medication daily I am a zombie and can’t work. Awful!

  • Angiestl
    8 months ago

    Sarah, are the oral drops covered by insurance more often these days? When I did the shots forever ago, the drops were considered experimental, so that wasn’t happening for me. My allergies have gone down considerably since my cat passed on, which was something my old ENT and I used to argue about. And the only thing he told me to do that I didn’t do. He would say I needed to get rid of out cats, and, as if I’d rehearsed it, I told him I’d had my cats longer than he’d had his kids, so as soon as he got rid of his kids, I’d get rid of my cats!! (We had 2 cats at the time.)

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    Have you tried seeing an allergist for more serious allergy treatments? Ragweed is my number one allergen, and the targeted shots and/or oral drops can help get symptoms under control for some. If you can find something that works for the allergies, you’ll likely experience head pain relief as well.

  • Hadit
    1 year ago

    Have not tried the oral drops you speak of. I do have an allergist I see as needed. I’ll have to consult with him about the drops. I’m open to just about anything at this point. Sorry to hear that you suffer also. Thank you.

  • Poll