Headaches are a pretty common ailment and there is a lot of strong evidence that they go hand in hand with allergies. I know for me – someone who is prone to headaches, but not allergies – even has a connection. If I have a headache in the works and eat certain foods (like peanut butter) the headache gets worse. If I have no headache to start with and eat peanut butter, I’m fine. So what is the connection with allergies and headaches? And is the connection food related, allergic rhinitis related or both?
According to http://allergies.about.com/od/noseandsinusallergies/a/ar_migraines.htm, allergic rhinitis is closely linked with migraine headaches.
Allergic rhinitis may often lead to a “sinus headache”. An allergic reaction leads to the release of histamine, which can also lead to the dilation of blood vessels in the brain, and therefore cause or worsen a migraine headache.Do People with Allergies Suffer More Migraines?
In at least one study, this appears to be the case. People with allergic rhinitis were determined to meet criteria for migraine headaches far more likely than people without allergic rhinitis. In fact, those with allergies were approximately 14 times more likely to report migraine headaches compared to those without allergies.
Studies show that while using antihistamines for the treatment and prevention of migraine headaches isn’t effective, it has been suggested that more aggressive treatments including nasal sprays and allergy shots may help prevent headaches in those seem to have migraines caused by allergic triggers.
Do food allergies cause headaches/migraines?
Though usually headaches induced by food are considered the result of a food intolerance rather than an allergy, to me it is a warning that the food isn’t agreeing with the body for whatever reason. Though it may not lead to the more dangerous effects of a food allergy, like anaphylaxis, I would think that if a particular food is definitely linked to causing a headache, you may want to stay away from it. Just like in my case, if I have a headache, I stay away from peanuts and peanut butter.
An interesting study entitled “Maybe it was Something I Ate, the Headache Nutrition Connection” states that chocolate, alcohol and cheese are big culprits of migraines. But it has also been found that many foods ingested on a daily basis also bring on headaches, like oranges, wheat and sugar.
Allergies are leading to headaches
We often focus on certain allergy symptoms, the runny noses, the sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. Sometimes we talk about the general discomfort that comes with allergies. Then there are the food allergy symptoms like itchy mouth and stomach aches, even anaphylaxis, but we don’t talk or even think too much about the headaches associated with allergies.
Many people with food allergies became aware of their allergy after ingesting the food. Some of the symptoms can be hives, swelling and yes, headaches. Usually those that suffer from migraine headaches will be more prone to get them as a symptom if they have a food allergy as well. Of course, avoidance is key to any type of food allergy because more severe reactions can occur.
With hay fever, headaches can occur due to the inflammation in the nasal passages which also bring on the congestion and runny noses. Because certain parts of the face and head are undergoing stress, this can lead to a headache as well. Again, people who suffer from headaches will be more likely to add them to their list of allergy symptoms. If you notice that your headaches are seasonal/environmental, try treating them with an allergy medicine, like Benadryl or Zyrtec, rather than a headache medicine like Tylenol or Advil.
Some experts say that the link to headaches and allergies is controversial and that one does not cause the other. However, there is no question that constant allergies and drainage can lead to sinus problems and infections, which in turn can lead to sinus headaches. From this argument, the symptoms need to be treated separately, focusing on both the allergy and the headache pain (see article on sinus headache at WebMD.com.) This explains the reason for the production of certain dual medications, like Benadryl Severe Allergy and Sinus Headache Medication.
Another aspect to consider is the fact that migraine symptoms sometimes mimic those of allergies, including congestion. So though it could be a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, it may be worth a trip to your doctor to try to the pinpoint the cause of your headaches. As mentioned above, if the headaches are due to allergies, then you need to take an allergy medicine to block the histamine reaction. If you feel the allergy symptoms are caused from the headaches (especially migraines), you’ll need to seek relief from a headache specific medicine.
Inhalants are often the culprits of headaches, and this isn’t always seasonal. Two common headache inducing inhalants are cosmetic fragrance and smoke. These can also go insofar as to cause nausea (or is this caused by the headache, the big question again?). Though this may not be considered a true allergy, an antihistamine will probably work better for relief than a pain medication, because there is a histamine issue going on here.
As often is the case with headaches, they are a mystery. Those who suffer may often give up on the cause and concentrate on the cure. So whether your headaches can technically be called allergy headaches or not, try an antihistamine next time your pain reliever doesn’t work. Also, keep a headache diary if you can, just like those with food allergies keep food diaries. You may find something that triggers your headaches, whether it’s a certain food, a time of the year or something else inhaled, like perfume or cigarette smoke. You may then be able to determine the trigger and even if you can’t avoid it, you’ll know what medication will work best.