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Migraines and Allergies

Migraines & Allergies

While the connection between migraines and allergies is not completely understood, evidence suggests there is a relationship between the two. Therefore, migraine sufferers should consider the possibility that an allergy is triggering these severe headaches. Our New York doctors are trained in diagnosing and treating migraines caused by allergies.

What is a Migraine?

Possible Symptoms are:

  • Last four to 72+ hours at a time
  • Pulsating quality
  • Pain on only one side
  • Moderate or severe symptoms; symptoms affect daily activities
  • Symptoms increase when you are physically active
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • No fever
  • Altered or heightened sense of smell; avoidance of odors
  • Repeated or chronic headaches
  • Occasional symptoms
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Facial pressure or pain - more likely to be pulsating or throbbing

Possible Symptoms of a Sinus Headache:

The Relationship between Sinus Headaches and Migraines

Clearly, migraine sufferers can also develop sinus infections, especially those that have allergies. Also, many suspected sinus headaches are actually migraines.

Here's the explanation: the sinuses are lined with sensitive tissue that contains nerves that are related to the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is also responsible for migraines. To complicate matters, you can also experience "referred pain" –when pain is sent to an area of the body (here, the head and face) even though that area is not the cause of the pain. This means that sinus headaches can cause pain outside of the sinuses, while migraine headaches can cause pain in the sinuses. To make matters even more confusing, certain migraine sufferers also experience watery eyes and nasal congestion during their migraines. Therefore, it is sometimes very challenging to identify whether you are experiencing a sinus headache or a migraine. We recommend that you consult with a New York City doctor to work towards a correct diagnosis.

Migraines and Food Allergies

Some people have identified a relationship between their migraines and their consumption of particular foods. Studies have investigated this relationship, and seem to support this idea. However, there is controversy over whether this relationship is related to allergies, or if the migraine may be triggered by a particular chemical or ingredient in the food.

Possible Food Triggers for Migraines

  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Beef
  • Cane sugar
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Corn
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Seafood
  • Sodium nitrate / nitrite (a preservative)
  • Tartrazine (an artificial color commonly known at FD&C Yellow 5)
  • Tea
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat
  • Yeast

If You Suspect a Migraine and Allergy Connection

If you suspect that foods (or food allergies) are causing your migraine headaches, there are a few steps you can take:

  • Visit one of our New York allergists to determine if you are allergic to foods or other environmental allergens. Allergy tests to the potential food allergies will help identify what you are allergic to.
  • Keep an allergy food diary – a record of which foods are eaten, when you eat them, and what symptoms you experience later. This can help your NYC doctor identify suspicious patterns. Keep in mind that an allergic reaction could occur immediately, or could take time to develop.
  • Avoidance of food triggers may decrease the frequency of your migraines, but should be approached cautiously in order to avoid adopting an unbalanced or unhealthy diet. We recommend that you consult an NY doctor or dietician before beginning an avoidance diet.

Migraines and Allergic Rhinitis

There are a few ways that respiratory allergies could affect your migraines. First, there is a clear relationship between inflammation and allergies. An inflammatory reaction caused by allergies leads to the release of chemicals (histamine and leukotrienes, for example) and these chemicals can, in turn, trigger migraines. Second, allergic rhinitis causes nasal congestion. This could irritate nerves in the nose and sinuses and could provoke a migraine. Third, allergies have been shown to worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, which could also affect the number of migraines you experience.

At least one study has suggested that people with allergic rhinitis are more likely to experience a migraine than people without allergic rhinitis. Also, it showed that allergic rhinitis may increase the frequency on one’s migraines. Other studies have shown a relationship between allergic asthma and migraine headaches. Unfortunately, it is not clear what is causing allergies and asthma in these patients.

Treatment of allergic rhinitis may help prevent or treat headaches in people that seem to have allergy-based triggers to their migraines. Unfortunately, there have been few studies performed that can prove or disprove this.

Why Get Diagnosed at NYASC?

Our allergy and asthma clinic has the only MiniCAT™ low-radiation in-office CT scanner in NYC. This scanner is very helpful in diagnosing sinus problems - like nasal polyps, sinus infections, concha bullosa, and swollen turbinates - that can cause migraine-like symptoms. Treatment of these underlying sinus problems will often resolve the headaches.

Summary

The precise relationship between migraines and allergies is still unknown. Nevertheless, people who suffer from migraines should consider the possibility of a relationship between the two. After all, it could bring you one step closer to comfort and relief from severe headaches and their symptoms.

If you believe allergies or sinus problems may be causing your migraines, our allergists and specialists @ the NY Allergy & Sinus Centers would like to help. Our doctors can also help you find relief for your respiratory and food allergies, nasal and sinus problems, ENT (ear, nose, and throat) symptoms, skin conditions, & asthma. We see pediatric and adult patients from all around NYC, including the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens. We have access to the latest treatments and testing, and we have convenient clinics throughout the NYC metropolitan area: Murray Hill, Midtown, Upper West Side, Chelsea, and Queens.  Call NY Allergy and Sinus Centers at 212-686-6321 for an appointment.

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