Spring is allergy season, and it’s here! While the new season brings warmer weather, spring rains and the peeking out of fresh flowers, it also affects our bodies in a number of different ways. If you experience seasonal allergies such as rhinitis as well as migraines, you could find the beauty of spring marred by an increase in headaches. Although the International Headache Society doesn’t officially recognize the term “seasonal migraine,” many sufferers use this to describe migraines that happen more often in the season.
The Allergy / Migraine Connection
Allergies and migraines share similar triggers, which is the primary connection between them:
- Spring often brings turbulent weather, with extended periods of rain and fluctuations between warmer and cooler temperatures. This causes changes in the barometric pressure and makes the blood vessels in your sinuses dilate. For allergy sufferers this can bring on an attack of the sneezes, but for migraine patients it can trigger a full-blown headache. Just as arthritis patients can often forecast a pending storm based on the aching in their joints, migraine patients can frequently identify changes in barometric pressure by the pain in their heads.
- The other common occurrence in spring is the release of pollen from newly flowering plants. This causes inflammation of the sinuses resulting in rhinitis, which can trigger migraines too. Sensitivity to allergies can actually increase your risk for migraine headaches and vice versa, so the two go hand in hand.
- Warmer weather can also cause migraines. A 2009 study of the effects of weather on 7,000 migraine patients found that every increase of 9 degrees in the ambient temperature heightened the risk of severe migraines by 7.5%.
According to research, upwards of 50% of migraine sufferers experienced weather-related migraines. Interestingly, the incidence of seasonal migraines appears to be higher in people who suffer from migraine with aura, affecting 75% of patients compared with only 46% of those who got migraine without aura.
Treatments to Try
Migraine treatments that work at any other time of the year should be your first step in taking care of a seasonal migraine, such as:
- Prescription painkillers, especially those recommended for migraine relief
- Icing the temples using a cold compress, cap or ice pack. This lowers the temperature of the blood passing through the area and helps to lower the inflammation.
- Feverfew. Research shows that a daily dose of 250 mg resulted in a 24% reduction in the number and severity of migraines after just 4 months.
- Sour cherries, which contain quercetin, slow down the prostaglandin production in your body, making you less sensitive to pain. Research shows that 20 cherries or 8 ounces of pure juice can have a better effect than aspirin on headaches.
It’s important to treat the allergies too, however, to prevent them from triggering more migraines than usual. Preparations such as oral antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays or rinsing of the sinuses with sterile saline solution can help to relieve congestion and reduce the irritation.
If your allergies occur every spring, discuss the option of long-term allergy desensitization with your migraine doctor. A series of allergy shots ahead of spring each year could provide you with significant relief.
You can also consider the possibility of treatments such as migraine surgery or Botox to reduce the frequency and intensity of the headaches.
Making it Through the Season
It’s almost impossible to avoid weather-related changes and seasonal allergies if you’re a sufferer. What you can do, however, is lower your chances of triggering migraines as a result. Make it through the spring by implementing a range of preventive measures, including:
- Sticking to a sleep schedule: getting the right amount of rest is vital for avoiding changes in pain-suppressing proteins caused by too little (sleep deprivation) or too much sleep.
- Avoiding trigger foods: Refined carbs such as bread, sugar and potatoes can cause your blood glucose to spike and trigger a migraine, while gluten can cause inflammation if you’re sensitive to protein. Aged cheese, smoked fish and alcohol contain tyramine, which inflames your nervous system.
- Meditating daily: studies show that 20 minutes a day of basic meditation can both reduce the frequency of headaches and improve your tolerance of pain by up to 36%.
- Limiting your exposure to bright light, which can cause the blood vessels in your head to dilate and become inflamed. Shield your eyes with sunglasses when you’re out in the sunlight.
- Taking magnesium supplements to avoid deficiency, which can make migraine attacks more frequent and intense.
Make an appointment with your migraine doctor to discuss your options for reducing the impact of seasonal allergies on your headaches, and you’ll be able to look forward to spring with renewed positivity and enjoyment.