Migraines: The Common And Unusual Triggers

Migraines: The Common And Unusual Triggers

Last Reviewed : 01/08/2021
Migraines: The Common And Unusual Triggers


A migraine is a moderate to severe headache that is characterized by a recurrent throbbing pain or pulsating sensation that usually starts on one side of the head. It is often associated with nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sounds.

Migraines can affect any age but they are far more common in adolescent females. There is a higher chance that you will develop a migraine if there is a history of them in your family. The risk is highest if both your parents have a history of migraines.

An episode of migraine may last from hours to days. The episodes can be so severe that they interfere with your daily activities. They are often preceded by symptoms like visual disturbance, tingling on one side of the body and face, and difficulty speaking. According to the American Migraine Association, migraines affect 12% of the American population.


What causes a migraine?

What causes migraines is not fully understood. What is known is that a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and physical factors play a significant role. Here are some of the common triggers:

  • Stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Inadequate or too much sleep
  • Dehydration, skipping meals and fasting
  • Certain foods, including aged cheese, chocolates, and citrus fruits

Hormonal changes most commonly before and after menstruation, during pregnancy, and in menopause are triggers that are specific to women. The increased risk is due to fluctuations in estrogen. Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy worsen migraine symptoms.

Strong smells like perfumes, shampoos, lotions, soaps, and other beauty products can also aggravate symptoms of migraine, as do oral contraceptives and vasodilators like nitroglycerin.

Before an episode, patients typically notice signs they are about to experience a migraine. Typical signs of an imminent migraine are blind spots, distorted vision, bright, flashing lights or dots, strange odors, and ringing in your ears.


What can aggravate a migraine?

While it helps to know the common triggers of migraines, there are other unusual, less common ones that sufferers need to know to successfully manage the condition. Here are some of them:

  • Physical activities like exercise and sexual intercourse
  • Sleep apnea and jet lag that causes disruptions in sleep,
  • Washing your hair, according to an Indian study showed 94 out of 1500 participants reporting they developed migraine while washing their hair,
  • Lighting from a thunderstorm. A Cephalalgia study published in 2012 showed that lightning provoked migraine in nearly 30% of participants,
  • Weather changes. Any changes in weather or barometric pressure can provoke a migraine. Extreme humidity, intense sunlight, changes in temperature are other weather associated triggers,
  • Alcohol and caffeine,
  • Food additives, including sweeteners like Aspartame and preservatives like Monosodium glutamate (MSG),
  • Fruits like apple, pears, as well as apple cider vinegar and other food products high in tannins.

While migraines are a nagging, stubborn condition which we don’t quite know how to prevent, you can prevent symptoms or limit their severity by avoiding the triggers we have discussed. These triggers vary from person to person and episode to episode. It also helps to take note of the things that triggered previous migraine episodes and what helped relieve the symptoms.

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