Image Credit: Getty Images/ Dmitry Titov
Woman with migraine triggered by barometric pressure shift due to rain

5 Surprising Things That Make My Migraine Attacks Worse

Reading time | 4 mins
Migraine triggers are wide-ranging and can be unpredictable. Danielle Newport-Fancher's include weather changes, strong scents, and cardio exercise.

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I have an extensive list of migraine triggers. The ones that lead to my migraine attacks most often include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress
  • Missing meals
  • Dehydration
  • Eating dairy or anything high in sugar
  • Not taking enough breaks throughout the day
  • Flying

Alongside my common triggers, I have some rare triggers that may surprise you.

1. Exercise

Do you know that feeling when you've finished a great workout? The energy that rushes through your body, and you're excited to accomplish something positive? I do.

I used to love that feeling after I crushed a workout. I'd feel re-energized for the day or night ahead.

Unfortunately, I haven't experienced that feeling in years. Thanks to my migraine, I'm exhausted when I finish a workout. The tiredness makes me feel as if I can barely stand upright.

My head becomes heavy and feels like it is being pulled. Then the pain sets in. Usually, it's a sharp pain around my eye sockets and in the back of my skull.  

Instead of feeling satisfied following a workout, I feel defeated. The spiral happens after running, jumping jacks, a spin class, or any cardio exercise.

I was once a college athlete. Nowadays, I can’t run for more than a few minutes.

How do I cope? I've found other effective means of exercise that won't trigger my pain. Yoga (even hot yoga) and Pilates make me feel accomplished without triggering more pain. I must avoid handstands or upside-down movements that place extra pressure on my head, that's all. With hot yoga, I can even break a sweat without any issues.

What works (or doesn't work) for me may be different for others living with chronic migraine.

2. The “rest and digest” period after stress

You'd think that the most stressful moments in my life would trigger my migraine attacks. But I've found that a migraine hits after the stressful time ends and my parasympathetic nervous system tries to make my body “rest and digest.”

This pattern started when I was young and in school. My migraine symptoms would kick in as soon as I'd finished my final exam. Similarly, a migraine always begins after some stress at work or in my personal life.

Often, these stressful situations are unavoidable. I focus on breathing exercises and writing to express my frustrations and anxiety during these moments.

3. Shifts in barometric pressure

It may seem odd, but weather changes can trigger my migraine.

I can feel when a weather shift is coming because my head senses the barometric pressure change. Sometimes, I can sense weather changes a day in advance.

When the weather drops or increases by 10 to 15 degrees, this often triggers a new migraine.

4. Perfume and cologne

Nothing is worse than walking into someone's perfume cloud or a store's perfume section. Even walking near the outside of a fragrance store is a threat to me. The smells can trigger a migraine or worsen my existing migraine pain.

I am sensitive to scents. Because of this, I've had to ask people not to wear specific perfumes. I also tell them not to light candles while they're around me.

Also, I'm often forced to cover my face when riding the subway with someone wearing too strong of a scent.

5. Bright, yellow, or flashing lights

I love darkness. I avoid harsh yellow lighting or bright lighting any chance that I get. My nose is sensitive to smells; likewise, my head and eyes get irritated by too much light.

I must cover my eyes when I see an ambulance go down the street or even a flashing bike light. Even still, the flashing continues as my eyes are closed.

The blue light from my electronics also bothers my head. Thus, my phone, computer, and TV screens always turn down to the lowest brightness level. I even put screen protectors on my computer monitors for extra protection from the light.

Many others have surprising triggers, too

While writing this article, I checked in with online friends about their "unusual" migraine triggers.

Some surprising triggers include: 

  • Lying flat
  • The sun
  • High-pitched or repetitive noises
  • Deep sleep
  • Rain
  • Long car rides
  • Beer
  • Jumping about
  • Ponytails or tight hair-dos
  • Smoke
  • Limes
  • Deli meat
  • Sex
  • White chocolate

Our triggers are wide-ranging. We all must respect each other's triggers, whatever they are.

And, ideally, maybe we can all agree to stop wearing perfume around people with migraine.

NPS-IE-NP-00672 January 2023