Allergies and Migraines: Differences, Similarities, and Treatments

People can mistake allergy symptoms for migraine symptoms. However, people with allergies are more likely to experience migraine headaches, so they should see a doctor to identify their triggers and resolve their symptoms.

Migraine headaches may be more common in people with allergies. An allergic migraine is a type of migraine that can trigger allergies. It can start with mild nasal allergy symptoms and then progress quickly.

However, not all headaches are caused by migraines, and allergies do not always result in migraines.

Knowing the difference between allergies and migraines can help a person choose the right treatment.

This article explores the similarities and differences between allergy symptoms and migraine symptoms, whether or not allergies can trigger migraine headaches, and the causes, treatments, diagnosis, and prevention of migraines.

Some similarities between allergies and migraines are as follows:

  • Both can occur in response to certain triggers.
  • Environmental allergy symptoms can trigger migraine headaches.
  • Both can cause nausea, but this is less common with allergies.

Because the face is heavily innervated, people sometimes mistake sinusitis or migraines for what is known as sinus headaches. Although people usually blame allergies for this, in most cases allergies alone shouldn’t be causing a headache unless they’re severe.

In severe cases, when allergies cause headache resulting in sinus pain, the headache typically causes some symptoms that are not present in a migraine headache, including:

  • stuffy nose
  • Pressure on the face that gets worse when a person presses on it
  • other allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes or runny nose

Some migraine symptoms that do not usually occur with allergies include:

  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • an aura that creates unusual sensations, such as flashing lights or sounds, before the headache
  • Changes in thoughts or mood

If an allergy sufferer notices new headache symptoms, it is possible that the allergies have triggered a migraine headache.

Migraine headaches are often environmental, food, or sound triggers.

A migraine headache is not an allergic reaction. Rather, the allergen can trigger neurological changes that lead to migraines.

There is also evidence of an increased risk of migraines in allergy sufferers.

A 2012 study compared 46 allergy sufferers with 60 who did not test positive for allergies. It found that 37% of allergy sufferers had a history of migraine, compared with only 5% of allergy sufferers.

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes migraines. These headaches are a type of neurological headache, which means that they happen when something changes in the brain.

Although people with migraines often get headaches in response to triggers such as stress or allergens, many people do not get a headache from these triggers.

This suggests that other factors contribute to the development of a migraine headache. Some options include:

  • Hormonal Differences and Changes: Migraine headaches are more common in women than men, and many women experience migraine headaches associated with their menstrual cycle.
  • Genetics: Researchers haven’t identified a single gene or group of genes that could cause migraines, but the condition appears to run in families.
  • Allergies: People with allergies are much more likely to have migraine headaches.

Some common migraine triggers include:

  • stress
  • hunger
  • hormonal changes
  • Weather change
  • fatigue
  • Neck pain
  • certain smells, such as perfumes
  • alcohol
  • sleep too late
  • physical activity
  • certain foods
  • sex

Migraine treatment is the same for people with and without allergies.

However, people with allergy-related migraine headaches should also get allergy treatment, as treating the allergy can eliminate a migraine trigger.

Some options for treating migraine headaches include the following.

Medications used to treat migraines

These are some medications that a person can take at the first sign of a migraine headache to reduce its severity and intensity. Over-the-counter pain and migraine medications can also help.

A doctor may also prescribe medication for nausea, steroids, or other medication for acute migraines.

Working with a neurologist can be helpful for optimal migraine management.

Medicines to prevent migraines

Several different types of medication – such as beta blockers, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants – can help prevent migraines.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the drug topiramate specifically for the prevention of migraine headaches. Botox also appears to be beneficial for many people with migraines.

Changes in habit

Some people find relief when they change their diet, exercise more, or remove migraine triggers as much as possible.

psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can help a person manage stress and thereby reduce migraine headaches when stress is a trigger.

Alternative remedies

Some people find relief through alternative and complementary remedies like yoga, acupuncture, or herbs like butterbur.

According to a 2012 review, people with allergies who receive immunotherapy for their allergies are less likely to develop migraines.

This suggests that treating allergies may reduce the risk of developing migraine headaches in people who have never had one.

In people who have had migraine headaches, controlling allergies may reduce the risk of other allergic migraine headaches.

A person should try to keep a record of their migraine triggers and then avoid those triggers as much as possible.

If allergy symptoms return or worsen, it is worth seeing an allergist for treatment.

Doctors sometimes mistakenly diagnose migraines as an allergy, so people with diagnosed allergies who don’t get relief from allergy treatment should return to see their doctor.

There is not a single test that can diagnose migraines. Rather, doctors diagnose migraines by ruling out other possible causes and identifying the pattern of the headache.

A doctor may recommend the following tests:

  • Imaging the brain to look for other possible causes
  • a complete medical history
  • Blood tests to look for infections
  • neurological tests to measure brain function

To diagnose migraines, a person’s headache pattern must meet all of the following criteria:

  • A person has had at least five previous headaches that match the migraine criteria.
  • Headaches last 4–72 hours.
  • Headaches have at least two of the following characteristics:
    • one-sided position
    • pulsating sensations
    • causes the person to avoid routine activities or worsen when engaging in these activities
    • moderate to severe pain
  • The person feels sensitivity to sound or light during the headache.
  • A different diagnosis doesn’t better explain the person’s symptoms.

Both migraines and allergies can be uncomfortable, painful, and even affect daily life. However, this does not have to be the case. Proper treatment can relieve or even eliminate symptoms.

A person with allergies, migraines, or both should see a doctor, ask lots of questions, and keep asking for support until symptoms improve.