Patient Perspective: Migraine Triggers

Migraine disease affects everyone differently. I’ve had the great fortune to meet so many others with migraine, either in person or online. Our conversations have revealed how alike we are in our symptoms or how completely opposite we each experience migraine attacks.

I asked five individuals to answer questions about a myriad of migraine topics. I’ll be sharing their answers with you in a multi-article series. I hope you find in their responses a feeling that you are not alone. Thank you to the brave souls who were willing to share their journey with the community!

Barb from Maryland, who has had migraine for 40 years, with the last 10 years being chronic.

Barbie from Florida, who has had chronic migraine for 18 years after a head injury from falling luggage on an airplane.

Rilla from California, who has had migraine since the age of four, which has continued into her 60s.

Tammy from Michigan, who has had chronic migraine for the past eight years.

Steve, who has been newly diagnosed with chronic migraine after being episodic for 25 years. (Name has been changed for anonymity.)

Scents as triggers

What scent repulses you the most?

Barb- Cigarette smoke and lots of scented things. I smell soaps and shampoos if I can before I buy them to make sure. Now that I rarely get out shopping I stick with the same products.

Barbie- Scents that are really hard to deal with are people who bathe in "really strong perfume."

Rilla- I’m extremely sensitive to strong odors of any kind, which will bring on a migraine.

Tammy- The most repulsive scent to me is perfumes and cologne. We are a perfume and cologne free home.

Food triggers

Do you keep a food diary or have you in the past? Was it helpful in figuring out any dietary triggers?

Barb- I’ve done really exhaustive elimination diets for months at a time with no difference in migraines.

Tammy- I kept a food diary in the past. It was very helpful. I realized I couldn't have MSGs, most other food preservatives, tomatoes, onions, nitrates, and citrus fruits. The list goes on and on of foods I can no longer have.

Steve- I do not keep a diary since the pain I have is always there so it’s not like I can tell what gives me the migraine and what doesn’t so a diary wouldn’t really be useful to me.

Lack of sleep

What is your sleep routine? Do you feel like it helps or does it need improvement?

Barb- I use Ambien to get to sleep, or I don’t sleep. I sometimes take ¼ Ambien plus Benadryl during the day if I feel as if cannot exist. Sleep is my only break from pain. I’m usually in bed by 7PM, often by 5PM, and sometimes by 3PM.  My alarm goes off at 6AM to take morning meds, but I’m often awake before then.

Rilla- I have no sleep routine, except for to sleep when and as I can. For me, sleep is hard to come by.

Tammy- I have insomnia. I try desperately to follow a sleep routine but, it usually doesn't make a difference due to the constant migraine pain. That pain makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep. A good night’s sleep is 3 straight hours. On a rare occasion, I will get 5 hours straight. However, most nights I wake up hourly or even less. I rarely nap because it's a 50/50 chance I could wake up feeling better or worse.

Steve- I usually wake up every morning with the pain being the worst. Again my pain is always there so it’s hard to determine this but yeah the pain is usually the worst in the morning. The interesting thing about sleep though, I always have to sleep on my right side because that is where my migraine is, so I sort of sleep on top of the migraine. In no way possible can I sleep on my left side with my migraine on my right side. Another way I sleep is sort of with my fist going into my eye. I guess any way to not feel the pain.

Light and sound

Have you been known to wear sunglasses indoors? Or how many pairs of earplugs do you own?

Barb- I don’t bother. I used to, but they don’t help that much. I cover my eyes if necessary. My family knows to warn me before they turn lights on. When I go inpatient, I have posters I hang on the door and over the light switch asking everyone to warn me before they turn the lights on. (My daughter made them for me. They’re laminated. They’re awesome.)

Barbie- Yes I do wear sunglasses inside & tend to be an indoor person when I'm getting ready to have a migraine; all I want to do is be in a COLD DARK ROOM & COVER MY HEAD WITH ICE PACKS, take my rescue Migraine Rx &; HIDE UNDER MY BLANKETS TILL ITS GONE...

Tammy- Yes, I do wear sunglasses. Always outside but, in stores, restaurants and even in the movie theater. Fluorescent lighting is the worse on me. I own a big bag of ear plugs. I keep them in my purse, so I always have them available.

Triggers changing

Have your triggers changed over time?

Barb- Eh. Triggers, Schmiggers. Breathing is a trigger. Fluorescent lights (even other bright lights) and noise make it much worse.

Barbie- My triggers have changed so much! Living in Florida the frequency of summer storms moves the barometric pressure & I can foresee a migraine & storms about to happen!

Tammy- I seem to have more and more triggers over time.

Topics in this series will include Symptoms, Migraine Life, and Complementary & Alternative Therapies. Thanks again to Barb, Barbie, Rilla, Tammy & Steve for sharing!

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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.

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