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my doc says my headaches are migraines but I think NO; what do you think?

I am a 44 yr old woman. I’ve had fairly frequent headaches throughout my adult life. As an adult, I’ve developed seasonal allergies which once or twice a year set the stage for a sinus infection. Up till now, I’ve assumed my headaches were either sinus and/or tension bc they didn’t fit the classic migraine signs. I’ve never had decent health insurance. I tried numerous OTC painkillers, sinus meds, decongestants. NOTHING HELPED AT ALL. But the decongestants gave me horrible constipation. Yuck.

This summer my allergies caused me respiratory problems like wheezing, a constant tiny stream of drainage, and a dry cough. [Now, I’m fortunate to, temporarily at least, have good health insurance.] My family doctor put me on Zyrtec, Singulair, and Flonanse. and saline nasal spray as often as I can possibly use it. My breathing problems quickly resolved. I have stayed on the allergy meds.

In September, I started getting much more frequent headaches. i had no congestion. My allergies were all cleared up. But the pain was around my eyes so I figured it was my sinuses. My doctor wouldn’t give me antibiotics without the classic yellow/green drainage. He wants me to switch from regular Zyrtec to ZyrtecD. While I’m in his office, I forget that I can’t take decongestants.

On the next appointment, I try to better describe my headaches. It’s like this.
Headache Pain Scale 0-10, with 0 being an awesome pain-free moment. A 10 is a tooth abscess, writhing in pain. A level 1-2 for me means there is a pressure behind my eyes. 90% of everyday, I stay at a level 1-2. Then at some point I usually go up to a 3, 4, or 5.
But before I go up and STICK at the 3 or 5, numerous times each day my pain will spike up to a 4 and then go right back down to a 2. Each time, I’m scared, “Oh, No. I don’t want a headache.”

Most of the time, the pain is behind my eyes but is occasionally hurts my ears – a shooting, piercing pain. But sharp pain doesn’t last long. Sometimes, it much hurts worse behind one eye momentarily but then it goes back to even painful pressure on both eyes. So far this doesn’t sound anything like a migraine to me. Until my headache is a level 5, I can function albeit not very efficiently and I certainly am frazzled. People I’ve known who suffered with migraines were totally debilitated. They didn’t have this crazy constant low-grade headache like mine. The only similarity my headache has to migraines is the light hurts my eyes and odors make me feel nauseous (although I’ve never vomited). Noise is very painful to endure, but isn’t that true in the case of all headaches?

In November, my family doc says we should try a migraine preventative medicine. He put me on Topamax. 50mg did nothing so he just said to bump up to 75mg. I’ve also been seeing a Chiropractor bc I think some of my headaches start from tension in my neck. My doctor also referred me to an ENT who I’ve seen once; I was hoping for help with the tinnitus bc it makes the headaches SO MUCH HARDER TO TOLERATE. It’s like a tiny preschooler is practicing violin INSIDE MY HEAD. They gave me the hearing test and I passed. Hooray! But I don’t know what that means in regards to the ringing in my ears. That will be question #1 on my next visit. he got x-rays of my sinuses. I guess I’ll see on my followup appointment if there’s some hidden infection causing all this.

A few of factors to throw into the equation- I’m entering Peri Menopause; a have a sister who has ‘classic’ migraines; About 2-3 a year for the last 20 years, I have symptoms that are similar to the auras in a simple-petite seizure (getting an EEG soon).

Here’s my question: does the headache I’m describing sound anything like a migraine?

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.


  • mygrainetoo
    3 years ago

    These very well could be migraines, but do you ever have dizziness or vertigo? My neighbor had your symptoms plus vertigo and was recently diagnosed with Meniere’s disease. Have your doc consider this, too, even if it’s ruled out. Untreated Meniere’s can result in blindness.

    Also, go through an elimination diet and keep a journal if you haven’t done so. My later adult onset of migraines mostly come from aspertame, yeast, yeast extract and malted barley flour, the last 3 being flavor enhancers in processed foods that replaced MSG over the years. They’re often mostly eliminated when someone goes ‘gluten-free’, so people mistake the true source of their migraines.

    ‘Sinus infections’ are sometimes really migraines – I went through that for years. It’s also why you hear that “antibiotics aren’t curing sinus infections”! I still get severe sinus pressure with almost all migraines.

    Good luck to you!

  • mygrainetoo
    3 years ago

    Duh – Meniere’s can result in deafness, NOT blindness.

  • SilverPhoenix13
    3 years ago

    I once had an E.R. resident tell me that I was misdiagnosed with chronic migraine because the type of pain I was describing did not match the textbook definition of a migraine, even though all of my other symptoms are known migraine symptoms. The pain I experience is extreme pressure, like my head is in a vice. The more severe migraines also include throbbing pain on one side and pain at the base of my skull.

    With all that, the symptom I hate the most is the tinnitus. My ears are ALWAYS ringing because I always have a low level migraine. There is only once I can remember in the last 5 years that my ears stopped ringing. It was New Year’s Eve of 2014, the very last time I took Imitrex. The Imitrex made the migraine twice as bad and I was having what seemed like an allergic reaction. My mother took me to the E.R. and they gave me a total of about 8 drugs over the course of the night. It was only then that the ringing stopped. Sadly, it only lasted until the medicine was out of my system.

  • Luna
    3 years ago

    Migraine comes in a myriad of different symptoms. The symptoms you have now may well change in time. This is an excerpt from another post of mine.
    Over the years I have gone from very episodic short migraine attacks to still episodic 5 day extreme attacks then to chronic. A couple of years ago I started being “in migraine mode” most of the time with 2-3 per month attacks. This changed to silent migraines that come and go every day. Don’t usually have real pain but many other symptoms that change with the wind :). Some worse than others.
    Your symptoms sound quite familiar.

  • loridawn author
    3 years ago

    When I told my family doc all this stuff – he said ‘Migraine’, I looked at the man like he was crazy. I thought he was buying into a fad of calling every headache a migraine. then when I started telling friends/family about my symptoms they looked at ME like I was crazy (or just pitiful as we say in the south).
    I’m sorry for your familiarity with these symptoms. The more I read about it, the more I realize how little I knew.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Merry Christmas!

  • Maureen
    3 years ago

    This sounds very much like my experience of migraine. I very rarely vomit, but I am often nauseous. I have a long history of simus infection, but no blockage. I get asthma symptoms and have allergies, but do not have asthma. I struggle with post nasal drip and lingering cough, but this is due to laryngeal reflux.
    Be very careful not to fall into MOH with decongestants! On the other hand, preventatives have reduced my frequency alot. I get tingling lips,hands and scalp; ear ringing; strange smells; pulsing in my head,and a strange detached, like I’m watching myself in a movie feeling. I also, of course, get the crazy migraine pain, but it is often at a low enough level like yours, that it doesn’t seem severe enough to call migraine. But it is! And it comes around way too frequently.
    I’d vote yes.
    Be well,

  • loridawn author
    3 years ago

    Maureen, indeed! Those are a lot of similar symptoms.
    How long have you struggled with these symptoms?
    You said the preventative meds at helping. What else do you find helpful? Specifically, I’m struggling with WHEN DO I MEDICATE MY LOW-MID LEVEL HEADACHE? I want to ward off a big headache if I can, but I obviously don’t want to needlessly overmedicate.

  • Meaghan Coneys moderator
    3 years ago

    Thanks for your comment Maureen! We are so glad you are a part of our community. We are also happy to hear you have found preventatives effective in reducing migraine frequency. Again, thanks for your comment! Wishing you a lovely day. Warmly, Meaghan ( Team)

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Loridawn,

    Thanks for sharing your story and questions. Some of the symptoms you describe have features of migraine. You may want to check the following articles: Chronic Migraine or Something Else? Severe, Frequent, Stabbing Headaches, or Sinus Headache or Migraine? Setting the Record Straight , Ocular Migraine, and Cervicogenic Headache, all of these articles address some portion of the things you have mentioned.

    If you feel that you need a second opinion, please check Is It Time For a New Doctor? to connect with a headache specialist in your area.

    Thanks for being [art of the community. -Donna ( team)

  • loridawn author
    3 years ago

    Misspelled- augmentin

  • loridawn author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for your reply. Those are great links. I read them all. The one on neck pain was over my head LOL but for the most part I understood the other ones.
    That is very enlightening information. My symptoms unfortunately do look very migraine-ish after reading those articles. Of course, I was hoping for something simple like a round of Aumentin to clear up a sinus infection and bam! No more headaches! But my doc is one of those ‘no-overuse-anti-biotics’ unless it’s CLEARLY an infection people’. In my case, there was never obvious signs of infection.
    Again, thanks for the links.

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