Common Migraine Triggers and How To Avoid Them

Migraine Triggers

Anyone who has ever suffered a migraine knows that the intense headaches can be completely debilitating. Chronic migraines (defined as having 15 or more headache days a month) and episodic migraines (having less than 15 a month) can be even harder to deal with. Many times they require prescription medication to alleviate the intense pain.

Most people agree that prevention is key when working with migraines. If you never get a migraine, you won’t have to treat it. The best way to avoid triggers is to be aware of them! If you’re just beginning to suffer from migraines and want to know what to look out for, or if you just want to know more, we’ve put together a pretty inclusive (but not exhaustive) list of common migraine triggers.

Food Migraine Triggers

There are so many foods that can trigger migraines. If you’re on a natural, plant-based diet, you’ve made a good start at eliminating triggers. First, let’s go over the things that aren’t very healthy anyway that are also migraine triggers.

  • MSG (Read a whole lot more about MSG allergy here.)
  • Preservatives
  • Nitrates and nitrites (found in processed meat)
  • Artificial sweeteners (like aspartame)
  • Some artificial colors (notably Yellow 5)

Hopefully you’re already avoiding all those things, though. It’s no secret that they’re unhealthy for everyone, on top of causing migraines. But there are a lot of foods that are allowable for most people but harmful for migraine sufferers.

High tyramine foods

  • Cured meat
  • Fermented foods (such as sauerkraut or pickles)
  • Aged cheese (cheddar, swiss, gorgonzola, blue cheese, etc.)
  • Citrus fruits (these aren’t too high in tyramine, but should be eaten in moderation)
  • Avocado
  • Yeast breads

Caffeine

  • Coffee
  • Sodas (that’s on the don’t drink list, of course!)
  • Chocolate
  • Tea

Alcohol

  • Beer from the tap
  • Red wine
  • Whiskey

Miscellaneous

  • Bananas
  • Nuts/nut butters
  • Some beans
  • Cultured dairy products

Environmental Migraine Triggers

I know it’s overwhelming to read such an inclusive food list, but now I have to give you a few more common migraine triggers. It turns out that your environment can have a huge effect on your neurological well-being. These are some of the more common environmental migraine triggers:

Scents and smells

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Heavy perfume
  • Cleaning products (We can help with that – learn to make all your own natural homemade cleaners!)
  • Gasoline
  • Diesel smoke

Weather

  • Barometric pressure changes
  • Allergens (dust, mold, pollen)

Lighting

  • Fluorescent lights (Ever notice how your headaches are always worse at the office? It could be the lighting!)
  • Flashing lights (Be careful around haunted houses, movie theaters, and video games.)
  • Computer/cell phone screens
  • Bright sunlight (Squinting too much can cause a headache, plus the light hurts your eyes.)

Lifestyle Migraine Triggers

If you’ve cut out all food triggers and environmental triggers for your migraines and you’re still suffering, you might have to take a closer look at your lifestyle. The routine that you go through every day could be causing you migraines.

Sleep

  • Sleeping too little
  • Sleeping too much
  • Changing your sleep schedule
  • Using the wrong pillow and/or mattress

Hairstyles

  • Ill-fitting headbands
  • Tight buns or ponytails
  • Bangs that obstruct your vision

Eyewear

  • Wearing the wrong prescription contacts or glasses
  • Tightly-fitting glasses
  • Tightly-fitting sunglasses
  • Sunglasses that obstruct your vision

Stress

  • Tension
  • Anxiety

Exercise

  • Getting too little exercise
  • Getting too much exercise (Elevating your blood pressure and heart rate can give you a headache.)

Take Heart!

I know I’ve just thrown a lot of information your way. Keep in mind, though, that it’s very unlikely that all of those migraine triggers apply to you and your headaches. You might not even have triggers from every category.

Migraine Triggers 1

If you are overwhelmed and unsure of where to begin to understand what causes your migraines, starting a migraine journal can be very helpful. Write down every potential trigger you encounter, and keep a coordinating calendar of your migraine days. Eventually, you should be able to notice a pattern of what is giving you headaches.

Be aware that even with the best of prevention plans, it’s likely that you won’t be able to get rid of every single migraine. The point of identifying your triggers is to be able to avoid them when you can. Every migraine you prevent makes all of the work worth it!

Do any of these migraine triggers affect you?

Are there any I’ve missed? Let us know in the comments!

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Comments

  1. Canola oil , rape seed . Just the smallest amount will trigger migraine in my son in law took over a year and lots of test that did not find it. He found it himself after not being able to eat solid foods for a week after surgery. The family now reads labels and asks all restaurants what oil they cook with. No more migraines he had suffered for 30 years

  2. One of the ways that I know that I have eaten soy (I am soy intolerant.) is with a nasty headache (for starters!). If someone has a nasty reoccurring headache, perhaps it is a food allergy.

  3. I suffered for over 30 years with migraines. Mine were not caused by any of the things you mentioned in your article. I started keeping records of when they occurred and found out it was hormonal. I would get them a few days before, after or during my periods. As soon as my periods stopped due to Menopause I never had another one.

  4. Patchouli causes raging migraines for me. Also Musk, especially Jovan and Brut. So I try to avoid people wearing these smells, and close my windows when they do their laundry.

    I used to use OTC headache remedies, and tried a few migraine meds, but now I use Feverfew exclusively. It’s an herb and I buy it in capsules. It works amazingly well.

    • I found that it was exclusively exhaust from Chevies (both old and new) that did this to me. I know I am going to have issues when I smell the exhaust. I don’t have to see the vehicle to know what it is…the smell alone is enough. I really have to be careful in parking lots, and also who I am behind at stop lights as the air intake whips the exhaust right in and concentrates it.

      I find it is worst if the air is colder, pushing city exhaust down, concentrating it, or if the wind helps to concentrate it by keeping the exhaust in a certain area, like in a city valley. We also suspect that exhaust from nearby factories might also contribute to my migraines on those days as well.

      Someone suggested that it could be a symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning?

      I know someone else who gets migraines from tartrazine (yellow #5).

  5. I had migraines for 20 years that got worse and worse over the years. Several of the items on the list triggered intense pain for me. However, none of the items were the actual cause. My husband signed us up with a Maximized Living chiropractor. After three weeks of seeing him, I never had another migraine (it’s been over 2 years and I was having them on an almost daily basis). Turns out the bone in my neck that deals with blood pressure was misaligned, so no regular doctor ever found the cause. And, my Maximized Living chiropractor helped us to see all of the toxins in our surroundings and our foods. I would definitely recommend ANYONE to find the Maximized Living doctor in your area!

  6. My husband suffers from episodic migraine. It’s difficult to know exactly what causes all of them. Many are environmental; perfume or other strong odors; lighting, stress, long work hours and/or several 12 hour days in a row, dehydration, and the biggest one is barometric pressure and/or weather changes. Does anyone know if there is anything at all he can do to avoid getting a migraine with the weather change??? It doesn’t have to be much of a change at all it seems! He started seeing a chiropractor recently and he has helped him tremendously but also takes preventive meds, and abortive meds when necessary and also has his pain meds when he gets full blown pain. Staying hydrated has also helped. Can someone address how important it is to quit smoking? If you did quit how much relief did you see from migraine?

    • I have the same trigger: barometric pressure changes. Also, most nights I get sinus pressure headaches when in bed. I have used hot peppermint tea, steam, cold packs, vibrator. Different things work at different times, but mostly the steam and hot tea are helpful.

      I have never found any solution to barometric pressure headaches. PLEASE share if you have any solutions!

      • This was my worse trigger. When the chiropractor adjusted that pressure bone back into place, my severe headaches went away. I still occasionally get small headaches with this, but nothing like they were. Look up Maximized Living and find one of their doctors in your area. They are not your usual bone-cracker chiropractor.

  7. I have a friend that had daily migraines as a child. Long story short, it turned out to be- apples! His mom had given him an apple every day in his lunch. They finally connected it, he ‘quit’ apples, and he never had another one!

    • For me, I have narrowed it down to “some GREEN apple SKINS”. (My brother and sister are the same. We get headaches, migraines, and/or incredible rush-me-to-the-hospital stomach aches.)
      I’ve also had this with some grapes, grape juice (on an empty stomach specifically), or a few red wines.
      I have since learned that (for me, anyway) it’s due to the particulars of the tannins (sp?) in the skins of those foods, and has to do with the specific composition of the earth in the orchard/vineyard where they were grown. (?! ya.) So there’s no way to know which ones will trigger, really; I just have to be on my guard.

  8. Hi — I would also add “hormonal changes” to your list (ie. certain times of the month, and when I was having thyroid imbalance issues). I never had migraines before having children, but after 4 kids, I get them often, usually in “migraine clusters”.

    Also note: I find that if I can get my migraine medicine into me *at the first sign of one* (and every 4-6hrs afterwards until I know it’s gone), I can avoid most of the pain. But if I wait to see if it’s just a headache or a migraine, it’s too late. It’s like trying to stop an avalanche with a shovel. Catch them early — it makes all the difference!

    • Yes I agree I have to take medication at the first sign. I’ve been sorry too many times after waiting. I would have to add uncomfortable shoes. I can’t wear summer shoes with the strap between the toes. My head would be pounded after a short peri

  9. I suffered from migraines and one required 3 ER visits in a 24 hour period. When all else failed my doctor finally put me on B2 800 mg a day and it changed my world. That has been 12 years ago and I have not had a migraine that required an injection, IV or an ER visit since .

  10. Gluten! I reduced my lifelong headaches after going gluten-free. And totally eliminated them when I got rid of all grains. I discovered that Hops helps to reduce inflammation and provide over-all calmness/relaxation as well.

  11. I don’t have pain with mine; they are the visions balance variety. However, dehydration and stress are the primary factors. I do get headaches from wine, any color so assume the alcohol as I don’t drink other stuff anyway.

  12. Hormonal changes for sure and constipation. Sadly, I have triggers from nearly every category mentioned but being constipated gets me the worst. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often!

  13. Only citrus, tomato sauce, red wine, and whisky from the foods; and heavy perfume were ever triggers for me. Most of my migraine episodes are post-stress events. After I get off a ladder, after I took my professional license exam, and after a pitch to investors are the times when I might experience a migraine. But, after adding magnesium supplements, my migraine episodes are greatly reduced.

  14. I’ve had migraines since i was 13. The triggers are a variety of smells, patterns and florescent/strobe lights. Out of these Axe body stuff, small dot or line patterns and the light flashes (not colored lights) are the worst triggers and will cause a migraine every time. If none of these are present at the time I start getting symptoms of the aura stuff before the pain hits it is always stress related. Just thought I would mention the patterns its not listed above.

  15. This may sound like a no Brainer but my mother tends to use Raid brand spray bug killer to the extreme. Every time i walk into her home the next day I’m laid up in bed with a migraine.

  16. I suffered almost daily until we purchased new pillows – they are memory foam and were about $100 australian each. The headaches cleared up overnight. If I am traveling and do not take the pillow, the headaches return. I can only assume it’s something to do with my neck?
    Before this solution, I went to doctors, only to have them offer valium even though I had no other complaints about my life and advised that I didn’t feel overly stressed. Doctors are too ready to throw addictive drugs down our throats.