How to Recognize and Deal With an Allergy Headache

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An allergy headache occurs when allergy symptoms trigger a headache. Some symptoms of an allergy headache include sinus pressure, a stuffy or runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing. Not everyone who has allergies will experience headaches, and the type of pain may vary.

This article explores the symptoms and common triggers for allergy headaches and treatment options to find relief.

Woman with headache rubbing forehead

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Symptoms

The two main types of headaches that most often accompany allergies are migraine headaches and sinus headaches.

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches tend to cause pulsating or pounding pain in the head, neck, or face. They usually occur on one side and can cause moderate to severe pain.

Many people with migraines also experience extreme sensitivity to light, known as photophobia. Nausea is another common symptom, and it often worsens with physical movement. Other common symptoms include sensitivity to noise and smells.

Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches involve pain in the sinus area of the face, including the cheeks and forehead.

Under normal circumstances, the sinus cavities are open-air spaces that allow you to breathe oxygen and drain mucus. However, allergies can cause a combination of inflammation and swelling that leads to sinus blockage. The swelling results in pressure and pain in and around the sinus area.

Pain can extend from the top of the head to the forehead, between the eyes, behind the cheeks, in the jaw and teeth, or elsewhere on the face. Sinus pain can be mild to severe and often feels worse after lying down.

Triggers

Allergy headache triggers can vary from person to person. When you encounter something you are allergic to, your immune system causes inflammation in your body. In many cases, this can also trigger an allergy headache.

Microscopic pollen and changes in barometric pressure such as from heavy spring rains are some of the most common culprits for allergy headache sufferers.

Migraine headaches can be genetic, but common allergy-related migraine headache triggers include:

  • Food allergies, such as peanuts, eggs, or dairy
  • Environmental allergies, such as smoke, perfume, pollen, grass, or pet dander

Some allergy-related sinus headache triggers include:

  • Dust
  • Pets
  • Mold
  • Foods, such as peanuts, eggs, or dairy

Many allergy headache sufferers find that their symptoms worsen based on the season.

Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever)

Seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is a common trigger for allergy headaches. Hay fever is associated with symptoms that affect the nose, such as a stuffy nose, runny nose, and sneezing.

Breathing in an allergen can lead to these symptoms, as the body undergoes an inflammatory response that causes inflammation, particularly in the nose.

Food Allergies

Many food allergy–related headaches are genetic and can cause health problems. Some of the most common food allergy triggers include:

  • Wheat
  • Dairy
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Yeast

Histamine

Histamines are chemicals in the body that play a significant role in causing an immune response and managing allergic reactions.

When you are exposed to an allergen, histamines react by dilating your blood vessels to allow white blood cells to fight the allergen. Blood vessel dilation in the brain can be a trigger for headaches.

Any substance or environmental allergy that triggers an immune reaction can trigger histamines. Foods high in histamines include alcohol, packaged meat, aged cheeses, and some citrus fruits.

Reaction to Histamine

Everyone reacts differently to histamines. Some are highly sensitive to histamines, while others don't appear to have any noticeable reaction. Some people have too much histamine in their bodies, which is known as histamine intolerance.

Treatment

Fortunately, there are several treatment options available that can help people suffering from allergy headaches.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines block or reduce histamines. They can be purchased over the counter and come in nasal spray, liquid, or pill forms.

Nasal Sprays

Nasal spray options for treating allergies include:

  • Decongestant sprays: Constrict swollen blood vessels in the nose to minimize nasal congestion
  • Antihistamine sprays: Block histamine in the nasal cavity to reduce swelling and congestion
  • Steroid sprays: Can help with symptoms of congestion that cause allergy headaches, but may take several days to weeks to start working

Oral Decongestants

Oral decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, can minimize swelling by constricting blood vessels.

Home Remedies

Nasal irrigation, or manually flushing out the nasal canal with saline and purified water, can be a drug-free way of minimizing nasal pressure that causes headaches.

One way to do this is by using a neti pot. These devices are generally safe for relieving nasal symptoms and can be purchased online or in health food stores.

When to See a Doctor

If you have an excruciating headache, have nausea and vomiting occurring with your headache, or lose consciousness or vision, call your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room right away. These can be signs of a more serious health condition.

If you are experiencing headaches with frequency or have one that won't resolve, consult your healthcare provider. If you have questions or concerns about medications or other treatments, discuss them during your appointment. Your healthcare provider can offer additional information and instructions on how to treat your headaches safely.

Summary

In some cases, allergies can trigger headaches. This is due to inflammation in the face and head caused by allergies and allergy symptoms. Having an understanding of your triggers and how your body responds to allergies can help you find lasting relief from allergy-related headaches in the future.

A Word From Verywell

Allergy headaches can be painful, frustrating, and, in some cases, even debilitating. But treatment is available. Some people have to try several treatments or combinations of treatments to find what works best for them. Talk to your healthcare provider about allergy medications that are right for you. If you have allergies, you may want to consider talking to an allergist, who can help you determine what food or other substances you should avoid to prevent an allergy headache from occurring.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does an allergy headache feel like?

    Allergies can cause two types of headaches: migraine and sinus. Migraine headaches tend to cause pulsating or pounding pain in the head, neck, or face. They usually occur on one side and can cause moderate to severe pain. Sinus headaches are head pain in the sinus area of the face, which often includes the cheeks and forehead.

  • How can you get rid of an allergy headache?

    There are many treatments for allergy headaches such as antihistamines, nasal sprays, oral decongestants, and nasal irrigation.

  • How do I know if allergies are causing my headache?

    Talk to your healthcare provider about your headache symptoms and how you are treating them. They can determine if allergies are the cause. You may want to visit an allergist to determine if you have any food or substance allergies. That way you can avoid them to see if they might have been a trigger for your headaches.

  • Can allergies cause migraines?

    Yes. When people encounter a substance they are allergic to, the immune system reacts by creating inflammation in the body. In many cases, this can trigger an allergy headache.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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