Allergy Migraines and Hay Fever

allergy migraines

More sunshine and better weather surely has to be a mood-booster right? Maybe. Maybe less so if you suffer from allergy migraines.

Allergies and migraines both trigger inflammation and affect the immune system, and both activate the parasympathetic nervous system, so it’s hardly surprising that they can be linked. If you have an allergy, you’re more likely to experience migraines, and for those migraines to be more frequent and severe than those experienced by people without allergies. That’s not to say that all head pain when you have an allergy is migraine though.

Sinus-related headaches are common with people with allergies too, but these tend to feel like a pressure or a dull ache between or behind the eyes, rather than an intense stabbing or throbbing pain on one side of your head as migraine is – and that pain being one which comes with other symptoms such as nausea and light and sound sensitivity. Knowing the difference so you know whether you have a sinus-related headache or an allergy migraine will matter because what you use to treat a normal headache won’t usually work so well on a migraine.  

Food allergies can bring on allergy migraines, but the more common culprit of allergy migraines is a pollen allergy – or hay fever to give it it’s common name.

There’s no cure for hay fever, just as there’s no cure for migraine, but there are some things you can do to help reduce its impact (and in doing so hopefully reduce the frequency and intensity of your migraine attacks).

First a couple of more obvious ones – avoid areas which are going to be high in pollen like fields or woodland, and take your hay fever medication. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and take note of days when the pollen count is particularly high – it may be an idea to stay inside on these days. 

Limiting contact with the allergen, in this case pollen, continues at home. It’s a good idea to keep home and car windows and doors shut during hay fever season, and to install a pollen filter in your car’s AC system if it doesn’t already have one. When you get home after having been outside, shower and wash your hair and change your clothes so that you remove any pollen which may still be clinging to you.  

Should Companies Screen For Migraines?

screen

At first reading, this proposal may sound like a terrible idea. After all, if companies screen for migraines then, even despite the Equality Act which bans workplace discrimination against those who have a disability (suffering from chronic migraine is a disability), won’t companies just find excuses to get rid of employees who suffer from migraines since they may need more time off than people who don’t?

While this is certainly a fear that is well-founded. Despite the law, there are many migraine sufferers who have stories of being discriminated against, and even losing their jobs due to their migraines. However, there could also be significant positives to companies screening their employees for migraines.

When the Spanish Postal Service implemented a migraine management program which involved a routine voluntary health screening survey, researchers tracking the impact of this program found that there were significant positive results. 

Those employees who completed the survey and reported migraine symptoms were asked to visit their branch’s Occupational Health Office for an evaluation by a physician. If they met the formal migraine diagnostic criteria they were then offered preventative medications, medications for acute treatment of attacks, and/or counselling sessions in which a doctor explained lifestyle and diet factors which can trigger or increase migraine attacks.

After the study was launched it was found that employee absences due to migraines fell by 53%, and the productivity levels on days when workers experienced migraine attacks went up from 59% to 94.8%. This meant that there was a total reduction in productivity costs from €34.50 per migraine per employee down to €4.60 per migraine per employee!

Linked to these remarkable results is the fact that migraines are currently undiagnosed and undertreated in at least 50% of patients, and less than 50% of migraine patients consult a physician. Not knowing that they have migraines means that sufferers cannot receive treatment and so the number of attacks they have will probably not go down and days of absence are taken which, if the migraine sufferer was receiving treatment and seeing a decrease in the number of and intensity of their attacks, might not need to happen.

It may not be ideal in all ways, but screening employees for migraines may help unknown sufferers who would not otherwise discover that what they were suffering from was migraines, to get the help they deserve.

Botox and Migraines – What Are The Risks?

botox

Botox and its role in preventing migraines has been the subject of many studies and, following positive findings, was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in 2010 for the treatment of chronic migraines.

Botox is probably more commonly associated with being a way to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Botox injections work by blocking chemical neurotransmitters that tell your muscles to contract and this is how it can diminish the appearance of wrinkles. Happily for migraine sufferers, Botox also blocks the release of these chemicals from reaching your nerve endings and causing pain.

Normally Botox is a well-tolerated preventative migraine treatment, and one which comes without the risk of a rebound headache – something which can come with many oral migraine medications. There are a few side effects which are still possible however, and it’s important to know what these are before making a decision about whether Botox injections are the right treatment for you.

Neck pain is the most common side effect of Botox. Though the term “most common” does not mean that it is something which many Botox users experience.

A 2014 study found that just 4.3% of study participants experienced neck pain, and that other side effects included drooping eyelids (1.9%), muscular weakness (1.6%), and pain at the injection site (2.1%). These symptoms, along with fatigue, dry mouth, bruising, chills, and redness or swelling at the injection site usually go away after a day or two though. If some minor side effects occur after Botox, this may not seem so bad when weighed against the fact that the positive effect of the Botox injections on reducing migraine frequency and intensity lasts for about three months.

As for potential longer-term side effects, these are eyebrows that seem to droop or be uneven, and muscle weakness. These effects also subside but they can take a few weeks to do so rather than a few days. When it comes to serious side effects, these are uncommon, but the symptoms to look out for that may point to there having been a serious complication are; blurry vision, a swelling of the tongue or throat, and difficulty speaking or swallowing.

Screen Time Migraines and How To Guard Against Them

screen time

With working from home being the new normal for many, and large-scale socialising in public banned and being replaced with online meet-ups using the likes of Zoom and Skype, it’s hardly surprising that our daily screen time has hugely increased.

This is bad news for migraine sufferers as too much screen time is one trigger of migraines. In one study from 2015, over two hours of screen time per day resulted in an increased likelihood of reporting a migraine episode.

 A great many of us are far exceeding just two hours of screen time a day now, so it’s also hardly surprising that a number of migraine sufferers have found that the frequency and intensity of their migraines has gone up. 

Unfortunately, unless we want to become even more cut off from friends and family, and with a continued need to work, we may not be able to get away from our screens as much as we would ideally like to in order to help reduce the impact on our migraines. There are other things we can do to help lessen the triggering effect of all that screen time though.

Adjust the light levels

To keep eye strain to a minimum – eye strain being something which can trigger a migraine – keep the lighting in the room balanced with the brightness of your screen.

Increase your font size

That or zoom in on pages so that you don’t have to squint to read text.

Use the 20-20-20 rules

Every twenty minutes look up from your screen for twenty seconds at something which is twenty feet away (six metres). These frequent breaks can help to reduce eye fatigue and so reduce the chances of a migraine.

Keep your distance

Position yourself at least 50cm away from the screen.

Use a filter

Using an antiglare screen on your computer monitor could help to further reduce eye strain.  

Turn off your screen

When you’re on a conference call or video chat, when it’s possible and appropriate, try turning off your screen and just listening so your eyes get a break.

Adjust your refresh rate

When the refresh rate on a screen is set too low the image can subtly flicker and this can cause more eye strain than necessary. Adjusting your refresh rate so that it’s as high as it will go should help.

Child Feeling Sick? It Could Be Migraines

child sickness migraine

If you were to ask a lot of people what a migraine is, odds are that most people would say it’s a kind of headache. If you’re lucky, they might say that it’s a really bad headache. What they probably wouldn’t say is that it’s an attack of nausea, but for some who experience migraines, and especially for children, that is exactly what the main symptom of their migraines is – their attack might even be completely without head pain.

Studies suggest that approximately 60% of children between the ages of 7 and 15 experience migraine but, as the symptom of head pain which is experienced in most adult attacks is not always involved and the symptom of nausea is more common, diagnosis can be delayed and nearly half of children with migraine never receive a diagnosis.

For children, migraine attacks often manifest themselves as abdominal pain and/or vomiting. Recurring bouts of headache or abdominal pain accompanied with nausea and/or vomiting (while between bouts there are no symptoms and the child is perfectly healthy) are probably migraines.

Other symptom variations which make migraine attacks in children different from those in adults are that the head pain usually affects the forehead and temples rather than being felt in one side of the head; that the head pain may be a minor symptom of the attack or absent entirely; and that attacks in children are usually shorter in length – sometimes lasting less than an hour.

Diagnosing migraine early on is important as otherwise inappropriate medications may be used to manage symptoms, anxiety around the attacks may occur, and there could be a resulting negative impact on home life, school life and social life. With this in mind, if a child is often feeling nauseous for no obvious reason, consulting a doctor on the possibility that it may be migraines is a key thing to do.

Migraines, Work Productivity and Education Programmes

work

When you have a migraine, doing even small tasks like having a shower can be a seemingly insurmountable challenge, let alone getting any work done.

For those who suffer with migraines personally, and also those who employ people who suffer with them, the issue of how best to manage migraine attacks is a knotty one. You want to be boosting productivity, but also making sure that you’re looking after migraine sufferer(s) and doing all you can to help them.

There are ways both of these aims – of caring and of boosting productivity – can be done.

It’s been found that putting in place migraine education programmes can be hugely beneficial. One study found that by organising educational events such as lunch conferences and webinars, sending out email newsletters, and making available online materials covering topics like ‘communicating with your colleagues about migraine’ and ‘lifestyle changes that can mitigate symptoms’, resulted in an increase in productivity of between 29-36%. This was thanks to fewer days missed because of migraine attacks, fewer days worked with migraine attacks, and increased effectiveness on days which employees worked with migraine attacks. 

Naturally these education programs can be useful for employees and employers who are directly affected by migraines, but they can also help by working to dispel the myth that migraines are “just a bad headache” and in so doing dispel the stigma around migraines. This certainly needs doing as, according to one survey which involved almost 200,000 U.S. workers, only 22% thought that migraine is a serious enough condition to warrant staying home from work.

How to Relieve Migraine Nausea Without Medication

migraine nausea

Not everyone is able to, or happy to, take prescription medications or over-the-counter pharmaceutical remedies for migraine nausea. Some migraine sufferers also find that while it may take the edge off, the medications they have to relieve their migraine nausea isn’t effective enough on its own.

If this sounds relatable then the following nausea remedies may be of use.

Ginger

Doubtless you’ve heard of this one, but with good reason. Ginger has been used by people to help digestion and calm the stomach for hundreds of years.

It can be taken as supplements if you don’t like the taste, or else eaten or drunk in a variety of ways such as ginger tea or ginger beer (though when you’re feeling sick carbonated drinks aren’t so great), or eaten in biscuits. Dry ginger biscuits can be good to nibble on while you’re feeling queasy because they’re quite plain and they’ll help ensure that your blood sugar levels don’t drop too low thereby making your migraine attack worse.

Peppermint (or menthol)

Peppermint is another good one. Peppermint tea, whether hot or cold, could be good to sip throughout your bout of nausea. Alternatively, you might find that peppermint oil applied to the temples and forehead could help, or inhaling peppermint oil via an oil diffuser is another option.

Acupressure or acupuncture

Acupressure uses the same principles of acupuncture – stimulating key points across the body to bring pain relief – only without the needles and using pressure instead, which could make it more tempting if you’re not a fan of needles.

One small study involving 40 patients showed that those who received acupressure had notably less nausea with their migraines and less of a need for migraine anti-nausea medications than those who didn’t have the treatment.

All three of these treatments could be worth exploring if you suffer from migraine nausea because they have few to no side effects and can be used in conjunction with other medications. 

Spring, Hay Fever, and Migraines

hay fever and migraine

The coming of spring is much needed after the chill and dark days of winter, but despite the warmer weather and brighter days, for migraine sufferers it’s not all good news.

The arrival of spring can mean the coming of more migraine attacks. This is especially the case for migraine sufferers who suffer from pollen allergies. People who suffer from allergies are more likely to suffer from migraine attacks, and to experience them more frequently, than those who don’t have allergies.

Hay fever season starts in spring, and runs from late March through to September. Tree pollen is the first type released – from late March to mid-May, then grass – from mid-May through to July, and finally weed pollen – from the end of June through to September.

If you suffer from migraines and have an allergy to one of these types of pollen, you may well find your attacks are more intense and/or frequent during these peak times. Although how bad and how long the pollen season and ensuing migraines triggered by it are will be dependent on average temperature and rainfall. For example, a drier season reduces the amount of pollen produced. 

Doctors aren’t sure why allergy sufferers are more susceptible to migraines, but they do know that the nervous system, hormonal system, and immune system all play a part. One part of the problem may be that when you’re exposed to allergens and your immune system is triggered, certain chemicals are released which can fuel inflammation throughout the body, and in doing so trigger a migraine attack.

With this in mind, now is the time to make sure that you have enough of your anti-histamine hay fever medication ready to use. While anti-histamines won’t help with reducing migraine pain or symptoms, they can help by easing your allergy symptoms and so reduce the migraine-triggering impact of hay fever.

Migraine and Alice In Wonderland Syndrome

alice in wonderland syndrome

Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AIWS for short) is where objects, and even parts of the body, can appear to be much smaller or much bigger than they really are. These impressions of distorted size can last for many minutes, and sometimes longer. This is much as Alice found herself to be in Lewis Carroll’s books – hence the name. In fact, based on his diary entries, it has been hypothesized that Carroll himself suffered from migraines and may have experienced the sensory distortions which characterise the syndrome.

Although not actually a migraine syndrome, it’s worth talking about Alice in Wonderland syndrome here because so many of its symptoms are like those of a migraine aura. AIWS can also accompany migraines as one part of a migraine aura, or it can happen during the headache phase of a migraine attack, or even both. In a situation where no head pain is experienced, but other migraine symptoms and AIWS are, it may be part of what is commonly referred to as a “silent” migraine.

Although it was first described in 1952, and named in 1955 by the English psychiatrist John Todd, not that much is known about what causes AIWS, but it may stem from disruption to the parieto-occipital part of the brain. The parietal part of the brain is what deals with perception of space and the body, while the occipital area is what deals with vision.

This would tie in with why migraine auras might involve AIWS – since cortical spreading depression (CSD), which has been thought to cause migraine aura symptoms, moves through the brain during a migraine aura and disrupts different senses in turn and so resulting in symptoms such as seeing flashing lights and having difficulty speaking.

Migraines, Magnesium, and Pregnancy

magnesium and pregnancy

Pregnancies are rarely an easy walk-in-the-park kind of an affair whoever you may be, but when you suffer from migraines being pregnant can get even more complicated. Many of the migraine medications you normally take may suddenly become off limits as they’re not recommended for use during pregnancy. This is where things start to get complicated.

Well the good news is that many migraine sufferers find that their migraines decrease in frequency and intensity during pregnancy. Research has shown that between 50%-80% of women who had migraines before they were pregnant noticed a reduction in their migraine attacks during pregnancy, and especially so during the second and third trimesters.

That’s not all migraine sufferers though, and if you are one of the unlucky few who doesn’t see a positive change; or not enough of a reduction; or (please no!) a worsening of their migraines during pregnancy, what do you do? What can you do to manage your migraines without causing potential harm to your baby?

As well as discussing with your doctor which medications are suitable to take during pregnancy (paracetamol and, for the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, ibuprofen are common recommendations), you might find taking magnesium supplements to be beneficial.

There has been lots of research which has shown that people with migraines often have lower levels of magnesium than those who don’t have migraines and, linked to this, one study found that giving participants a regular intake of magnesium reduced the frequency of migraine attacks by an average of 41.6%.

Aside from migraine-related benefits, in terms of pregnancy-related benefits, research suggests that magnesium supplements may reduce some risk of additional complications such as foetal growth restriction.

It may not eliminate your migraine attacks completely, but even so given the research results, magnesium supplements could be beneficial for both mother and baby.