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Common Headache Triggers and Causes of Headaches and Migraines

Almost everyone experiences headaches during their lifetime. It is a sensation of pain which may arise when one of many structures in the head or neck is irritated. The pain caused by this irritation is then transmitted from one area of the body to the other through associated nerves.

Take a look at the list of common headache triggers below and see if you can identify a possible cause for your headache. Remember that this information is not a substitute for an honest, professional opinion. If your headache is chronic, it is imperative that you seek a specialist immediately.

  • Changes in Weather – Changes in the weather can increase the likelihood of developing migraines or other severe types of headaches. A recent study shows that for every increase of 9 degrees Fahrenheit, there is a 7.5% increase in headache risks. Low barometric pressure, which often precedes rain, was linked to a small bump in non-migraine headaches.


  • Hair Accessories – Wearing your hair up in a tight ponytail may give you a well-kept look, but it can also give you a headache. Aside from ponytails, wearing headbands, braids, hair clips, and tight-fitting hats can strain the connective tissue in the scalp, leading to what is called a hairdo headache. For this type of headache, letting your hair down usually brings fast relief.


  • Exercise – Strenuous physical activities, including exercise and sex, can cause blood vessels in the head, neck and scalp to swell, producing a build-up in pressure. Examples include jogger’s headache and sex headaches. These headaches fall under the category of exertion headaches which are most common in people who are susceptible to migraines.


  • Poor Posture – The risk of developing a headache is another reason to have good posture. Take a look at your workspace to see if this is causing posture problems that can trigger headaches. Hunching your shoulders, using a chair with no lower-back support, staring at a monitor that is too low or too high, and cradling a phone between your ear and shoulder are examples of poor posture that can trigger a tension headache.


  • Cheese – Tyramine, a known migraine trigger, forms when certain types of protein break down when food is aged. The longer food ages, the more tyramine it contains. Aged cheese, including blue cheese, brie, cheddar, feta, mozzarella, parmesan, and Swiss cheese have a high tyramine content, which can trigger migraine headaches.


  • Red Wine – Some liquor and alcoholic drinks, including red wine, also contain tyramine. Aside from this, alcohol also increases blood flow to the brain which can intensify an already severe headache. If red wine is a trigger for you, but you’d like to enjoy a glass on special occasions, ask your doctor about taking a preventive dose of medication.


  • Processed Meat – Cold cuts and other processed meat contain tyramine, as well as food additives called nitrates or nitrites. These additives appear to increase blood flow to the brain in some people. Nitrate-induced headaches are different from migraines as they are usually felt on both sides of the head instead of just one side like with a classic migraine.


  • Skipping Meals ­Hunger headaches are caused by a dip in a person’s blood sugar level. This type of headache isn’t always obvious because the headache can occur even before you realize that you’re hungry. Curing the headache with a candy bar isn’t a good idea because while sweets can cause blood sugar to spike, it drops even lower when the sugar rush is over.


  • Tobacco Smoke – Nicotine, which is absorbed by the body not only by smokers, but through second hand smoke as well, causes blood vessels in the brain to narrow which can lead to a terrible headache. Giving up cigarettes or reducing exposure to secondhand smoke can be helpful in patients who experience painful one-sided headaches that occur in groups called cluster headaches.


  • Caffeine – Caffeine is beneficial when taken in moderation – in fact, it’s found in many headache medications; however, too much of it can cause headaches. Those who try to quit drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages abruptly are also susceptible to caffeine withdrawal headaches.

When to See a Doctor

Most of the time, the headaches people experience are harmless and can be managed by taking over-the-counter pain medications. However, headaches aren’t something that should be taken lightly. Any new headache that is unusually severe or lasts more than a couple of days should be checked by a doctor. It’s also important to let your healthcare provider know if the pattern of your headaches changes like if new triggers are discovered or if the pain from recurring headaches becomes more severe over time. Immediate emergency medical care is needed if headaches are accompanied by paralysis, confusion, fever, or stiff neck.

If you’re experiencing any type of headache pain, cschedule an appointment with one of our headache specialists immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.


HeadacheMD is located at Healthpointe Medical Clinics, a multi-specialty healthcare organization located in Southern California. From headache care to orthopedic injuries, Healthpointe is here to treat all of your healthcare needs.

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