Most of us are familiar with common causes of headaches like dehydration, stress, and a lack of sleep. But your seasonal and environmental allergies can also be the reason for your headache. In this article, we'll explain why allergic rhinitis can lead to headaches and provide tips on reducing their impact on your life.
Can Allergies Cause Headaches?
Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever and allergic rhinitis, are a known cause of two types of headaches - migraines and sinus pains. They both occur as part of the body's adverse response to allergens but in different parts of the head. Migraine headaches are generally centered on a single side of the head.
Migraines cause throbbing, pulsing pain. In some cases, they may be worsened with exposure to light and occur along with nausea.
Sinus pains also cause pain in the head but are usually local to the nose, forehead, and cheeks. They're the result of a blocked sinus, which can be caused by an allergic reaction. The pain is generally dull and constant rather than sharp and pulsating. Allergies can also cause congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose. All of these can eventually lead to headaches.
How Do Seasonal Allergies Cause A Headache?
Allergy-induced headaches form in several ways. For migraines, pain occurs when histamines irritate the nose's nasal passages and trigeminal nerves. The agitated nerve sends signals to the brain, which can result in a headache. Sinus pains are the result of congestion caused by an allergic reaction.
The sinuses are cavities inside the face, and when they are blocked, air cannot move freely, leading to pressure on either side of the head. This can cause pain in the forehead, cheeks, and temples that is usually at its worst in the morning and slightly relieved by sitting upright.
Allergies can also cause inflammation in the body, further irritating the nerve pathways, and leading to headaches. In some cases, the intensity of symptoms can increase with exposure to the allergens that trigger your allergies.
While cluster headaches - defined as cycles of short but very debilitating pains - are commonly mistaken for allergies, they aren't the same type of reaction. These headaches occur due to abnormalities in the body's biological clock (hypothalamus) and don't change with allergy treatment.
What Does an Allergy Headache Feel Like?
In almost all cases, an allergy headache will feel exactly like a regular headache. But specific symptoms can differ slightly depending on which subtype you have. The following is an overview of both migraine and sinus headaches, along with the particular effects they cause.
Migraine headaches can yield several symptoms.
Severe Throbbing or Pulsing Pain
The most recognizable characteristic of a migraine is severe throbbing or pulsing pain. This symptom usually worsens with exercise and lasts between a few hours and a few days.
Localized Pain to the Side of the Head
Migraines tend to cause localized pain on one side of the head, although sometimes, the pain can shift to different sides. The pain may be relieved by lying down in a dark room.
Nausea and Vomiting
Many people with migraines also experience nausea and vomiting. This is thought to be caused by inflammation in the brain stem.
Increased Sensitivity to Light and Sound
People with migraines may be more sensitive to light and sound. This is known as photophobia and phonophobia, respectively.
Unlike migraines, sinus headaches are usually not severe. But they can still be very uncomfortable and cause several unpleasant symptoms. These include:
Dull, Constant Pain
Sinus headaches cause dull, constant pain in the forehead, cheeks, and temples. This pain may be worsened when lying down or bending over.
Pressure in the Sinuses
Sinus congestion can cause pressure that you may feel around the eyes and cheeks, leading to an aching sensation throughout the head.
Achy Feeling In the Upper Teeth
The pressure from sinus congestion can sometimes radiate to the upper teeth, causing an achy feeling.
Fatigue and Drowsiness
The constant pressure and lack of sleep caused by sinus headaches can make a person feel tired, sleepy, and irritable.
What Else Causes Headaches?
Although allergies are a common culprit of headaches, they're certainly not the only reason pain in the head can occur. There are several other reasons why headaches might occur. Below are examples of other conditions that may cause a headache, along with a short explanation of how.
Stress, anxiety, and depression are all common causes of headaches. Pains can occur as part of the body's physical response to the mental distress they create.
Not drinking enough water can lead to dehydration, which causes headaches due to a decrease in the volume of fluid circulating through the body.
As mentioned earlier, certain neurological imbalances can cause head pain. These include cluster headaches, trigeminal neuralgia, and post-traumatic headache syndromes.
Caffeine is a stimulant that can relieve headache pain in the short term. However, when someone abruptly stops consuming it, they may experience a withdrawal headache as the body adjusts to its absence.
Acute or Chronic Infections
Infections can trigger headaches in many ways, such as by increasing inflammation or causing a fever.
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and causes dehydration. This can lead to headaches, particularly when drinking in excess.
Nicotine is a stimulant that can cause the arteries in your brain to constrict. This increases the risk of migraine-like headaches.
Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation is known to cause headaches in some people. This can occur either from not getting enough sleep in a single night or having an irregular sleeping pattern.
Staring at screens or other bright objects for prolonged periods of time can cause pain in the head and neck due to eye strain. Taking regular breaks and using blue light filters can help reduce this type of headache.
Bad posture and sitting in a hunched position for too long can cause headaches due to neck and upper back muscle tension.
Certain foods, especially processed meats that contain nitrates, can trigger headaches in some people.
How to Diagnose Allergy Headache
If you are experiencing allergy symptoms, such as a headache, it is important to get tested and diagnosed by a professional. Knowing what your triggers are will help you find more effective treatment plans and long-term relief from your symptoms. There are two primary methods of allergy testing available.
Skin Prick Test
Skin prick testing is conducted in a doctor's office and is the most common way to test for allergies. During the test, a small amount of an allergen is pricked into your skin to observe and track any allergic reaction. If you are allergic to any tested substances, you will likely develop bumps or hives at the injection site.
At-Home Allergy Test
If you're looking for a less painful, more convenient alternative to prick testing, an at-home kit may be your best option. Here's how it works:
- Get Wyndly’s at-home allergy test. We ship our CLIA-certified test straight to your door.
- Take the allergy test and send it back to us. Just do a quick finger prick test to provide us with a blood sample and mail it back when you’re done.
- Receive your personal allergy profile. Our doctor will interpret your results, create an allergy profile, and walk you through a treatment plan.
Wyndly's at-home testing can offer insight into the full breadth of your allergies. Results will detail exactly what substances you're reactive to and the steps you can take to mitigate the symptoms.
How Do You Prevent Allergy Headaches?
Dealing with allergy headaches can be incredibly frustrating and disruptive. Successfully preventing allergy headaches comes down to identifying and reducing exposure to the irritant responsible for causing them. Here are some steps you can take to do just that and reduce the occurrence:
Avoiding allergens is the best way to prevent an allergy-induced headache. This means avoiding contact with the allergen triggers, such as pet dander, dust mites, mold, or outdoor pollen. If you are allergic to pollen, check the local pollen counts before going outside. If the pollen count is high, try to limit time outdoors.
Use Air Filters
Air filters can reduce the number of allergens present in a room, making it easier to breathe.
Wear a Mask
A mask can help reduce exposure to allergens outdoors or in an indoor environment with many irritants.
Clean and Dust Regularly
Cleaning surfaces of dust and other potential allergens regularly can help reduce the risk of triggering an allergy headache.
How Do You Treat Headaches From Allergies?
If you're dealing with an allergy-induced headache, several home-based and over-the-counter (OTC) solutions can help. If you're working with home-based solutions, it's crucial to identify the allergen triggering the headache. Then, you can use a combination of lifestyle changes and natural remedies to reduce inflammation and alleviate the pain.
Great home-based options include drinking more water, using a cold compress, or trying relaxation techniques.
In some cases, OTC medications may be recommended to help temporarily reduce the symptoms. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), antihistamines, and decongestants are two popular options for treating headaches due to allergies. OTC medications like aspirin, Tylenol (acetaminophen), and Advil (ibuprofen) can also help relieve your headache. It's important to follow the directions on the packaging and talk to your doctor if you experience any adverse effects.
If you are not getting enough relief from home remedies and OTC medications, immunotherapy might be right for you.
Sublingual immunotherapy is an effective way to treat allergies without frequent visits to the doctor. Sublingual immunotherapy, also known as allergy drops and tablets, is placed under the tongue and slowly introduces small, gradually increasing amounts of the allergen to your immune system. Over time, this re-trains your immune system to ignore harmless allergy triggers as opposed to responding with an allergic reaction. This results in long-term relief from your symptoms.
When to See a Doctor
There are some situations when you should seek medical attention for headaches. If you experience frequent headaches may be indicative of an underlying problem, and you should get professional support. You should also see a doctor if your headaches are particularly severe, long-lasting, or start interfering with your daily life.
It is also essential to seek medical attention if you experience sudden changes in your headache symptoms, such as seeing flashes of light or having trouble speaking. This goes for both regular and allergy-induced headaches - any significant change or increase in frequency is a cause for concern, and you should speak to a doctor.
You should also see an allergist if you are having trouble finding an effective allergy treatment plan and want to get rid of your allergies for life instead of masking your symptoms with OTC medications.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
Find a long-term solution to your allergy headaches with Wyndly. Our doctors can help you identify your triggers and create a personalized treatment plan to help you live free from allergies.
Take our quick online survey today to see if Wyndly is right for you!