Migraine, sinus and cluster headaches can all have allergy-based origins. Depending on the kind of headache the person suffers from, he needs to begin with some basic detective work in order to obtain eventual relief. People generally think of sinus headaches as the only “allergy-based” headaches, but foods and additives can trigger the nontraditional allergy headache.
The main symptom of this type of headache is pain concentrated in and around the patient’s nose, eyes, forehead and cheekbones. This pain is caused by pressure and congestion inside the sinus cavities; this congestion can come from a cold or respiratory allergies. If any sinus congestion is left untreated (no use of allergy medications or steroidal nasal sprays), a sinus infection could result.
Migraine headaches can cause disabling, throbbing pain, often on one side of the patient’s head; the patient is usually sensitive to light and sound, often becomes nauseated and might vomit. If she suffers from a classic migraine, she will experience an “aura,” which could be a visual disturbance, a temporary partial loss of vision, a strange smell or an unusual sound. Her pain will be severe and last for several hours (4 to 72 hours). The common migraine will not last that long, but it can be just as disabling; there is no aura associated with common migraine. The patient will want to lie down in a quiet, darkened room until the headache and its symptoms have passed. Migraines can be genetic in origin, or they be allergy-based.
The cluster headache starts suddenly; it can last for only a few minutes or extend over several hours. The pain occurs at approximately the same time every day for several weeks, usually four to eight, called the cluster period. Cluster headaches are more common in men than in women. The pain is centered around one eye and nostril, which will become red, weepy runny and swollen; the patient might report feeling restless with this kind of headache. The pain is severe, and the patient might attempt to relieve his pain in ways that can frighten those around him.
Migraine headaches can be instigated by substances in food, such as tyramine or phenylethylamine, which are found in chocolate, certain cheeses and other foods. Each migraine patient needs to begin and keep a food diary in which she will note which foods seem to be related to her migraine headaches; this diary will be helpful to her doctor and allergy specialist as they try to help her alleviate the severity and frequency of her headaches.
Seasonal Respiratory Allergies
Specific times of the year can trigger allergy headaches in people who are susceptible to respiratory allergies. The pain will center in the patient’s sinuses or nasal passages; he should report this to his doctor, who can arrange allergy testing in order to find out which specific substances the patient reacts to. Medications and immunotherapy can help.
Food additives include monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame and many others that can aggravate migraine symptoms in those who are sensitive. MSG is found in many packaged foods. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener; those who are sensitive to this substance usually have to use another sweetener in order to avoid triggering a migraine.