Environmental Triggers And Migraines

Many migraine sufferers are sensitive to things in their environment, including foods, weather, allergens, and chemicals. If this rings true for you, you may already have identified your headache triggers. But did you know that there are things you can do to prevent, reduce, or even get rid of these triggers?

Barometric pressure changes

Atmospheric barometric pressure changes can trigger migraines, probably because of the shift of pressure in your sinus cavities. When your sinuses are congested this effect can be stronger.

What to do?
  • Keep your sinuses clear! Use a neti pot or XLear nasal spray. Add Quercetin-Bromelain as a natural anti-histamine. Add Bi Yan Pian for nasal congestion or postnasal drainage.
  • Get help from a functional practitioner if you have chronic nasal/sinus congestion, inflammation, or infection – this is not normal. Not only does this mean your immune system may be stuck in a Th2 response, but it could also mean underlying issues such as fungal overgrowth or mold reactions.
  • Get acupuncture to keep your nasal passages and sinuses open.
  • Improve your gut immune function as explained in this post.
  • Keep your indoor-outdoor climate as consistent as possible. Open windows, try to avoid air conditioning, or extremely dry indoor heat when it’s damp outside.

Wind

Many migraine sufferers report getting headaches after exposure to strong outdoor wind. In Chinese medicine, we call this a “wind invasion” type of headache.

Indoor wind, especially cold wind from air conditioners, can trigger headaches as well as Bell’s palsy attacks, especially if you’re not used to cold air blowing directly on your body all night, such as in a hotel room. In Chinese medicine, this is also considered a wind invasion and treated as such.

What to do?
  • When the wind is strong outdoors, avoid outdoor activities or protect your head and the back of your neck from the wind with the right clothing.
  • Avoid lingering directly in front of fans or air-conditioners, especially while sleeping.
  • Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are highly effective for the prevention and treatment of “wind” headaches.

Sun

Even people who don’t suffer from migraines can feel sick after too much sun, especially with less protection from the ozone layer these days.

What to do?
  • Sunscreen won’t prevent sun overexposure. Shade, sun hats, umbrellas, and sunglasses are the best protection. If you do get sun overexposure, drink plenty of water, and cool your skin with aloe vera gel. 

Air pollution

Inhaled chemicals from perfume, crop dusting, pesticide spray, exhaust fumes, and smoke of all types can trigger migraines.

What to do?
  • Keep your home chemical and scent-free. Use a HEPA air filter.
  • Avoid outdoor air pollution to the extent that you can, and if the air quality is bad, wear a protective mask – you won’t be the only one.
  • Work with a functional medicine doctor to test your chemical load and detox capacity, and get a gentle detox program. Chemical sensitivity is an indication that your detoxification pathways may be impaired, and help from a practitioner can lift this load.

Allergens

Mold, dust mite, pet dander, tree, grass, and pollen allergies can all trigger migraines. If you have allergy symptoms in addition to migraines, it’s likely that mopping up your allergy symptoms will help your migraines. Allergy symptoms include hayfever, wheezing, hives, puffiness/darkness under eyes (“allergic shiners”), nasal/sinus congestion, and rashes, among others.

What to do?
  • Chronic allergies shift your immune system into what’s called Th2 dominance. You may not improve unless you address this. Read this post to learn what to do.
  • Skin prick tests from an allergist are well worth it, to identify your allergens.
  • If you find out you have indoor allergens, you can create a safe indoor environment. Your allergist can teach you how, or check out the information on this site.
  • For outdoor allergies, during allergy season or exposure, use an XLear nasal pump. It’s a saline solution with xylitol, which prevents allergens from adhering to your nasal and sinus passageways. Also take Quercetin-Bromelain, a natural antihistamine. You can do these two things before bed to get a better night’s sleep, and/or in the morning if you wake up congested or puffy.
  • Take the Chinese herbal formula Bi Yan Pian for allergies with nasal congestion or postnasal drainage.
  • Avoiding milk products can lessen symptoms because milk can create mucus in your respiratory system.
  • Improve your gut immune system – read the last post.
  • For severe recalcitrant allergies, some people benefit from conventional allergy shots, while others don’t. They are quite a commitment, often lasting for months or years! Newer treatments, such as Low Dose Allergen Therapy (LDA) and Enzyme Potentiated Desensitization (EPD) show promise.
  • See below about histamine.

More about mold

Unfortunately, this is a trigger that you should not take lightly. Mold exposure mixed with the wrong genetics can cause serious health problems, such as chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS). 

If you have migraine or allergy symptoms, plus visible indoor mold, or a musty smell anywhere in your house, it’s important to test your house and yourself. There can be significant mold growth within and behind walls that you can’t see.

What to do?
  • This is best dealt with by working with a doc who specializes in mold sickness. The best tests for mold toxicity in your body are urine tests by Real Time or Great Plains labs (there are blood test indicators as well). Great Plains also has a good test for your home called an “ERMI” test, if there aren’t qualified mold inspectors in your area.
  • Mold sickness means your immune system is in Th2 dominance, and this needs to be addressed. Read how here.

Things you ingest

Nitrates, sulfites, tyramine, MSG, alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate….this list can be daunting! However, if these are triggers, you just need to identify which ones. The American Migraine Foundation has a useful page on these triggers.

As far as alcohol goes, wine is the most common trigger, followed by beer, and then followed by all spirits (with vodka and tequila being the least likely to trigger migraine).

If you have several ingestable triggers, you are much more likely to get a migraine if you mix several together. An example is red wine with dinner followed by chocolate cake for dessert.

What to do?
  • Keep a food-headache log and observe if any of these foods precede a migraine. Your best bet is to avoid them, especially in combination. However, if you improve your gut (last post), you will probably be able to tolerate more of these.

Histamine foods

The histamine-food list is extensive. If they are a trigger, you may have an underlying yeast or mold sensitivity. See above for more about mold. You may also have what’s called mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS).

What to do?
  • Avoid your trigger foods temporarily while fixing your gut and digging into underlying issues (such as vitamin B12 deficiency or mold toxins, among others).
  • When exposed, use Quercetin-Bromelain as an antihistamine.
  • Eat red meat as a good source of vitamin B12, or take a good B12 supplement.
  • Chronic histamine reactions mean you are in Th2 dominance, read how to change that here.

The bottom line is there may be root causes you can address that will reduce, or even eliminate, your environmental-induced migraines.

I’d love your input below! Please share this post.

paris healing arts, doctor laura paris, dr. laura paris, dr laura paris

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4 Comments

  1. Very interesting , most of this I have read in the past as I’ve had a long relationship with migraines …… but have not paid much attention since menopause…. boy did that help. But recently cluster migraines have come back to visit. Are you going to discuss these? Granted this is the first article I’ve read by you but will be reading others in the series. Thanks for the info I have a friend who was actually one of my students struggling with migraines so will pass these on …. maybe she will see some ways to find help.

    1. Anita, I’m certainly not surprised that this information is not new to you if you’ve struggled with migraines for a long time. This series has three articles so far and is not finished, so perhaps you will learn something new – but it sounds like not needed since migraines are gone! Cluster headaches are not migraines. I’m very sorry you are experiencing them. Unfortunately this series is specifically focused on migraines which is a huge topic in itself. I wish you the best in feeling better!

  2. Very interesting , most of this I have read in the past as I’ve had a long relationship with migraines …… but have not paid much attention since menopause…. boy did that help. But recently cluster migraines have come back to visit. Are you going to discuss these? Granted this is the first article I’ve read by you but will be reading others in the series. Thanks for the info I have a friend who was actually one of my students struggling with migraines so will pass these on …. maybe she will see some ways to find help.

    1. Anita, I’m certainly not surprised that this information is not new to you if you’ve struggled with migraines for a long time. This series has three articles so far and is not finished, so perhaps you will learn something new – but it sounds like not needed since migraines are gone! Cluster headaches are not migraines. I’m very sorry you are experiencing them. Unfortunately this series is specifically focused on migraines which is a huge topic in itself. I wish you the best in feeling better!

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