External Triggers for Migraines

If you get migraine headaches, you know all about how tough they can be to get through. Not knowing when one will strike can make it worse.

Some things around you can trigger a migraine. You can control a lot of them.

Computers

Sitting in front of your laptop or desktop for a long time can trigger that pain. This is especially true if you have a low-resolution monitor. They put more strain on your eyes.

You can:

  • Put a glare screen over your monitor.
  • Make sure no reflection from the sun hits the screen.
  • Use a bigger font size.

Good posture is important, too. It'll ease stress on your head, neck, and shoulders. Don't forget to get away from your computer for a few minutes every hour, too.

Bright Lights

Sensitivity to light is called photophobia. Fluorescent lights or flickering lights can bring it on. A slow flicker, in particular, can irritate your brain cells.

When you’re outside, sunlight reflecting off snow or water or suddenly breaking through clouds can also start a migraine. Sunglasses with polarized lenses can help dim the glare.

Stress

The day-to-day stuff is more likely to bring on a migraine than stress caused by something sudden or life-changing. You can help avoid this if you:

Staying out of stressful situations also can help. For example, if driving to work puts you under pressure, consider the bus or subway. That'll also let you relax by reading or listening to music.

Noise

A loud or bothersome sound can bring on a migraine. It can often add to your stress level. Certain patterns of noise also can be a trigger.

If you know you’re going to be where loud sounds are common, wear earplugs. You could also listen to calming music or sounds with earbuds.

Food and Drink

What you eat could cause you pain. Some common culprits make a substance called tyramine. It’s been linked to migraines when the foods with it are broken down by your body.

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These include:

  • Soft cheeses
  • Nuts
  • Red wine

If you think what you eat and drink may be the cause of your migraines, keep a food diary to track what you’ve eaten before a migraine hits. Then, see if staying away from those foods or drinks helps.

It's important to know that migraines can also come if you:

  • Skip meals
  • Eat unhealthy snacks instead of a meal
  • Don't drink enough fluids

Eat small, healthy snacks, and make sure you get enough water.

Weather

Changes in humidity, temperature, or barometric pressure are among the most common weather-related triggers. They can cause chemical changes in the body that can bring migraines.

Extreme cold, high winds, and storms also can bring them on or make them worse.

Changes in pressure, such as what happens when you’re flying or deep-sea diving, can also bring migraines. Spending a lot of time above sea level can cause them, too.

Cigarette Smoke

The nicotine in cigarettes affects the blood flow to your brain. That can lead to lower brain activity and some pain. Breathing in secondhand smoke can have the same effect.

If you smoke, quit. Even if you don't, stay away from smoky areas. It's good for your overall health, and it may ease your migraines, too.

Change in Habits

Migraines can sometimes happen when you get out of your normal routine, like if you:

  • Are away from the structure of work and everyday life, even if it’s for a vacation
  • Drink more or less coffee or tea than usual
  • Get too much or too little sleep

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 09, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “Smoking and Headache.”

The Migraine Trust: “Symptoms and Stages of Migraine,” “Common Triggers.”

National Headache Foundation: “Environmental & Physical Factors,” “Headache Sufferer’s Diet,” “Reader’s Mail: Specific Sounds Trigger Migraine.”

Womenshealth.gov: “Migraine Fact Sheet.”

Help For Headaches: “Identify Migraine Triggers.”

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