Migraine triggers are wide-ranging and aren't always predictable. Danielle Newport-Fancher's include weather changes, strong scents, and cardio exercise.
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, and flying.
In addition to my common triggers, I experience migraine attacks in response to some rare triggers that might surprise you.
Here are a few of the surprising things that make my migraine attacks worse.
You know that feeling when you’ve just finished a great workout, energy rushes through your body, and you’re overcome with excitement for accomplishing 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, when I finish a workout, I’m overcome with exhaustion. It’s the kind of exhaustion that makes me feel as if I can barely stand upright.
My head becomes heavy and feels like it’s being pulled down to the ground. Then, the pain sets in. I feel a sharp pain around my eye sockets and in the back of my head.
Instead of feeling elated following a workout, I feel defeated. This happens after I go for a run, do jumping jacks, go to a spin class, or pretty much any sort of exercise that has a cardio element. Thus, the college athlete that I once was can no longer run for even a few minutes.
How do I cope? I’ve found other means of exercise that are effective, but don’t trigger my pain. Yoga (even hot yoga) and Pilates on a reformer machine make me feel accomplished without triggering more pain. The one caveat is that I need to be careful to avoid handstands or upside-down movements that bring additional pressure to my head, as this triggers my pain. With hot yoga, I can even break a sweat without any issues.
That said, what works (or doesn’t work for me) may be entirely different for others living with chronic migraine.
2. The letdown of stress
You’d think that the most stressful moments in my life would trigger my migraine attacks. But I’ve actually found that a migraine hits just after the stressful time has ended.
This was true when I was young and in school. When I’d finish my last final exam, my migraine would start. Similarly, after a stressful work week or difficult personal circumstance, a migraine always begins.
Often, these stressful situations are unavoidable. During these moments, I try to focus on breathing exercises and I write to let out my frustrations and anxiety.
3. Shifts in barometric pressure
It may seem odd, but changes in weather can trigger my migraine.
For the most part, I can feel when rain showers or a temperature shift is coming because I sense a pressure shift within my head. Sometimes, even a day in advance, I can feel something coming. When the weather drops or increases 10 to 15 degrees, this often triggers a new migraine.
As a result, I often find myself hiding from weather updates.
4. Perfume and cologne
Nothing is worse than walking into someone’s perfume cloud or accidentally walking into the perfume section of a store. Even walking near the outside of a fragrance store is a threat to me. The smells can instantly trigger a migraine or worsen my existing migraine pain.
I am quite sensitive to scents. Because of this, I’ve had to ask people in my life 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 who is 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. Just as my nose is sensitive to smells, my eyes are sensitive to light — all thanks to my migraine brain.
When I see an ambulance go down the street, or even a flashing bike light, I must cover my eyes. Even still, the flashing continues as my eyes are closed.
The light from the screens of my electronics also bother my head. Thus, my phone, computer, and TV screens are always turned down to the lowest level of brightness. 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 connections via my Instagram about the surprising things that trigger their migraines.
Some of their surprising triggers include lying flat, the sun, high pitches, repetitive noises, a deep sleep, rain, long car rides, beer, jumping, ponytails, smoke, limes, deli meat, sex, and white chocolate.
It’s clear that our triggers are wide-ranging. It’s important that we all respect each other’s triggers, whatever they may be. And, ideally, maybe we can all agree to stop wearing perfume around people with migraine.
The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for caregivers or the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.
NPS-ALL-NP-00942 MAY 2023