What are migraine triggers and how can I avoid them? Those are the questions that plague people with migraine! Their loved ones would like to know too. We can travel down this road of triggers and how to manage them together.
Migraine Triggers can feel like your worst enemy, but if we are intentional we can try to conquer a few of them and maintain the rest. It may be surprising to some that everything from that lovely rainstorm to flashing lights could cause a migraine. However, Healthline explains the pulsing of fluorescent lights can trigger a migraine attack. We might suspect loud noises or even stress, but would we expect a long list of potential foods?
Wait, you mean that innocent cheese and cracker snack or appetizer could cause a migraine? Yep, depending on the person. Everyone has different triggers. Bonus, it may even depend on the type of cheese! Aged cheese is the guilty one. It’s like we are solving a mystery.
In fact, there is a pretty hefty list of foods that are culprits, but my hope is knowing will be power. So it’s a big list, but it might be only one of these things that is a trigger for you. Or it would be great if none of the foods was a trigger! Cleveland Clinic lists these as foods potentially headache/migraine triggers:
- aged cheese (blue cheese, brie, cheddar, English stilton, feta, gorgonzola, mozzarella, muenster, parmesan, swiss)
- Alcohol (red wine, beer, whiskey, Scotch, and champagne are the most commonly identified headache triggers)
- Peanuts, peanut butter, almonds, and other nuts and seeds
- Pizza or other tomato-based products
- Potato chip products
- Chicken livers and other organ meats, pate
- Smoked or dried fish
- Pickled foods (pickles, olives, sauerkraut)
- Sourdough bread, fresh baked yeast goods (donuts, cakes, homemade bread, and rolls)
- Brewer’s yeast found in natural supplements
- Bread, crackers, and desserts containing cheese
- Most beans including lima, Italian, pole, broad, fava, navy, pinto, snow peas, garbanzo, lentils, and dried beans and peas
- Onions, garlic
- Certain fresh fruits, including ripe bananas, citrus fruits, papaya, red plums, raspberries, kiwi, and pineapple
- Dried fruits (figs, raisins, dates)
- Soups made from meat extracts or bouillon (not homemade broth or bouillon cubes that do not have MSG or “all natural preservatives” on the label)
- Canned soups
- Cultured dairy products, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt
- Caffeinated beverages, including coffee, tea, and colas
- Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners
- Nitrate/nitrite-containing meats including hot dogs, sausage, bacon, lunchmeats/deli meats, pepperoni, and other cured or processed meats
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) contains products including soy sauce, meat tenderizer, Asian foods, and a variety of packaged foods. MSG is an often disguised ingredient; also look for these common aliases: monopotassium glutamate, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed protein, sodium caseinate
Now, I know that was a comprehensive list! Hopefully, information can give you more power over your attacks. There is a list of smells that could accompany the list of foods. For the person with migraine when it comes to smells let’s just say strong is a dirty word. I have had my worst migraine from being near too much perfume or the honest truth is around some serious body odor.
Two other triggers mentioned above deserve more attention and those are lack of sleep and stress. These are two things depending on the circumstances that may feel hard to control as well, but if you can they may make a positive difference. They are big triggers for me so I know the challenge in maintaining them. For example, if you have a sweet little one that keeps you up or a stressful situation out of your control you just have to do your best. Try to give your body the most rest you can and take care of yourself. Eat well, reach out for support, and if able exercise can be beneficial. A migraine attack is no one’s fault. We can do all the things and know we tried.
A couple of other triggers not mentioned yet are allergies and hormones. You may choose to work with your healthcare professional, but you can’t totally control them either. The National Headache Foundation explains that the fluctuation in estrogen is what causes migraine attacks. Both are triggers for me. In my other post, “Help Now Please: Can These Painful Migraines Be Hormone Related?” I discuss hormones and how my neurologist approached them. It might be medication with your doctor or you may find something else that works for you. Taking care of your body is a priority and how you do that is your choice.
Working with your doctor and finding what works for you is the most important. I know for me having a plan has made a big difference. That has actually worked for allergies too. I start taking my allergy meds before prime allergy season to get myself ready. I also make sure I take that medicine when I should as it can be hard to distinguish between an allergy headache and a migraine attack starting at times. Then if you wait to take the migraine medication you could have a problem. It is usually recommended to take your migraine medication at the first sign of an attack or the onset of the attack. If needed I may have to avoid some activities which isn’t ideal but may be necessary.
I also know my limits. With both of these triggers being out of my control I have to really work hard to keep everything else in life in check so I don’t compound issues. All we can do is our best and I know on a daily basis that it takes determination and perseverance.
How to Avoid Migraine Triggers
So, there is the other layer. Not just knowing what the triggers are, but having the ability to avoid them. Perhaps, we can choose at times what is in our environment. For example, we know bright lights or fluorescent lights can also be migraine triggers. In my classroom, I have placed lamps that have bulbs specifically targeted for migraine sufferers. This helps me avoid the not so migraine friendly fluorescent lights.
There are also settings that you can put on your phone or computer to adjust the lighting and if you desire you could try out the blue light glasses. I dim the lighting on my computer and phone. Some androids actually have a specific blue light setting.
Although there are some triggers we can avoid, there are some we cannot control. The big one is the weather. Barometric pressure, storms, and big temperature changes are not things a person with migraine loves to hear about. Cleveland Clinic explains it is those changes that can trigger a migraine.
When the weather strikes it is helpful to be sure you have avoided all other triggers you can and are up on your medications. You could also have some other items to soothe you during this time if that is helpful. An eye mask is a great option to provide some additional relief.
What is most important is that you find a way to be as comfortable as you can and away from all the triggers you can avoid. I find the compounding of triggers makes things harder to control. Then we just have to find peace with the truth that the weather isn’t ours to control. The line “this too shall pass” are words I live by.
The answer to what are migraine triggers and how to avoid them lies not just in this information, but in the power of the individual. Each person must do their own investigation of what brings on their migraine. Tracking your migraine attacks and what triggers may have caused them can be a great way to do this. There are many options that make it both manageable and meaningful. This can be done on paper or in many apps that are available. Read more about it here in Tracking Migraine: What, Why, and How?
Some Helpful Tools
A complete medication list ensures that you get the best care and nothing gets missed. A place for directions, doses, and contact information is included. This is great for a medicine cabinet, someone helping care for someone else, or for communicating with healthcare providers. You might also check out the migraine attack tracker. You can …
Starting a new habit can be intimidating. Having a plan, taking it one step at a time, and tracking your progress can mean more success! This habit tracker does all that for you. Check out this post on gratitude here. Join the Facebook Community for support and encouragement. Follow this new page to stay in …
It is so helpful to have your medical information handy at all times. This can be especially true if you are in a situation where you are not well and you need someone else to advocate for you. Having important details written down ensures you will get the best care. This card includes a place …
There are many misunderstandings about migraine. Here are a few in this free download. Confirm, clear up questions, and feel free to discuss with others. Awareness creates understanding. Find out more in Migraine 101 Also, find the Facebook community here. Check out product updates and migraine information on our new page here.
This migraine tracker will reveal triggers, symptoms, and what medicines are working. It is a great piece of data for the patient and doctor to discuss. Migraine Tracking is discussed more on migraineroad.com and this migraine tracker is one way to take back some control of your migraine attacks so you can live your best …
Be In The Know
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professional, C. C. medical. (2021, March 3). Migraine headaches: Causes, treatment & symptoms. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5005-migraine-headaches
Silver, N. (2022, August 18). The best lighting for chronic migraine. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/migraine/lightbulbs-for-chronic-migraine#10
Hormones and Migraine. National Headache Foundation. (2007, October 25). https://headaches.org/hormones-and-migraine/
Although we strive to provide accurate general information, the information presented here is not a substitute for any kind of professional advice, and you should not rely solely on this information. Always consult a professional in the medical and health area for your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any medical or health-related decisions. For your health-related questions, please seek the advice of a licensed physician or any other qualified healthcare provider immediately.