But I Have A Stuffy Nose?This is probably the most common comment I get from patients about their migraines. If you need to review migraine symptoms in order to figure out your symptoms, please do so. If you are having a stuffy nose in reaction to pollen, animal dander and other known allergens please see your doctor as becoming sensitized to these items could eventually result in a severe allergic reaction such as swollen lips and closing of the throat. Having said that, some foods such as shellfish can cause severe allergic reactions, but usually no headache!
So What Causes My Migraine When I Eat These Foods?
When people have a reaction to food items that cause a migraine, usually something in the food is triggering the migraine headache symptoms. Tannins in red wine are famous, as is monosodium glutamate (MSG) which is a preservative and flavor enhancer found in many items.
So really what is happening here is a food intolerance, not allergy headaches. Many people notice that when their migraines come under control, they are able to tolerate small amounts
of migraine food triggers that previously provoked a headache.
But What If It Isn't A Migraine?
If you are not having migraine headache symptoms such as throbbing head pain, nausea and the light bothers you, then you may be having a sinus headache as a reaction to allergens. This headache is commonly known to allergists and involves inflammation of the lining of the sinuses. The frontal, maxillary and ethmoid sinuses may all be involved and this may indeed be allergy headaches.
If this is true then you may benefit from medications such as Flonase. These particular treatments are directed towards calming down the inflammation. Sometimes if you are having seasonal allergies, you may have to use this only at certain times of the year. Low dose steroid for a few weeks may also help.
Allergy medications can be prescribed or over the counter for treatment of allergy headaches. In addtion to steroids, there are anti-histamines, decongestants and allergy shots which may increase your tolerance to allergens.
In the anti-histamine class there are several medications and many are OTC now, but at lower doses than prescription. These drugs function by inhibiting the release of histamine in the body which comes from mast cells. This is all part of the immune repsonse to an allergen and the idea is to interrupt this response somewhere along the way. The most common side effect is sedation.
- OTC antihistamines: Claritin, Allegra, Benadryl, Clortrimatone, Tavist, Zyrtec and Dimatane.
- Prescription antihistamines: Claritinex, Astelin nasal spray and Xyzal.
The next class of drugs is the decongestants. This is where you might get in trouble if you also have migraine as overuse of decongestants can cause more migraines. Decongestants function to relieve swelling in nasal tissues and improve stuffiness and sinus pressure. Mucus production and redness, all a reaction to an allergen, are also reduced. In addition to provoking more migraines, decongestants can raise blood pressure, provoke existing glaucoma and if used for several days, cause sleeplessness and cause urinary retention. Several of the OTC formulas are combined with an antihistamine for maximum effect. When you see a "D" in the title of the medication that means decongestant and it is usually a form of pseudofed.
- OTC decongestants: Claritin-D, Allegra-D, Benadryl-D and Tylenol Cold and Sinus formula
- Prescription decongestants: Vasocon and Semprex-D, also topical eye drops.
How to Avoid Food Allergy Headaches
One of the simplest ways to avoid migraine triggers is to keep a diary. I know, I know..you have heard this before but sometimes if you haven't done this for awhile you might find something new! Once you figure out what foods are not good for you well then..the rest is obvious.
Something else to consider is the amount of packaged foods and chemicals in your diet. Many migraineurs are neurologically sensitive to medications and chemicals that can trigger a migraine. It would make sense then that
perhaps the chemicals in packaged foods may also affect you. I recommend to many patients that they try organic foods in their diet..perhaps a few things at first as they can be expensive. It will take some time and experimenting with your migraine diet to determine the best results in regards to food allergy headaches.