What is a migraine and why do fragrances trigger my headaches?

When I often tell people that fragrances can give me migraine headaches, they say something about allergy issues. Most people do not understand that a migraine headache is a neurological disorder and can be triggered by fragrances.

I get migraines because my brain easily gets over stimulated. It’s this stimulation that tells my brain to increase production of certain chemicals. These chemicals can cause other reactions to happen which can result in nausea, throbbing pain, blood vessels dilating and constricting, difficulty concentrating, and a range of other unpleasant side effects.

The best way for me to manage my headaches is to avoid my triggers, keeping the stimulation under control. I think of it on a point system. It takes 100 points to get a headache. Not sleeping 7 hours is worth 25 points, eating poorly is worth 25 points, chocolate is worth 10 points, smelling strong perfume is worth 65 points, drinking 2 cups of coffee is worth 15 points, stress can be worth 35 points and so on. If I combine too many triggers in a day I’m done for. And yes, fragrances would be the trigger I assign the most points to.

With certain perfumes/ fragrances all it can take is a whiff of a passerby and my brain starts to tingle. I know I have to be extremely careful the rest of the day or I need to take Excedrin as a preemptive strike.  I am in complete control of most of my triggers except fragrances. People close to me avoid fragranced products but all the acquaintances I run into in a day, well that’s a different story. I don’t expect everyone to stop wearing fragrances but I would hope people would keep them a little more to themselves. You should not be smelling them unless you are in their personal space. When they walk past you and leave a scent trail, well that’s a bit much.

Why is my nervous system so sensitive? I suspect genetics has something to do with it but I’m not certain.

There are good resources out there that give more details about the chemicals involved in migraines, here are a few….

A short video that contains animation which shows the biological process of a migraine headache happening and explains which chemicals are involved… http://video.healthination.com/usnews/migraines.html

Magnum – Migraines awareness group detailed article about myths and facts of Migraines…  http://www.migraines.org/myth/mythreal.htm

HealthCentral- a website that has lots of good information on migraines…. http://www.healthcentral.com/migraine/understanding-migraine-000097_3-145.html


10 responses to “What is a migraine and why do fragrances trigger my headaches?

  1. Thank you for the edification! I’ve only read the second link so far, but that alone was extremely informative. Thank you so much. I’ve very interested in the part about vaso-dilators in particular and would love to know more about which genes are involved in migraines. I’ll keep reading after I make dinner.

    BTW, I would love to tweet this, but I don’t see the new wordpress.com tweet button in this article; not sure if you need to do something to turn that on. You can also add all the other social icons to the bottom of your posts (it’s easy) so people have an easy time sharing your posts. I use “add to any” (you can look at my posts to see what I mean) – just google addtoany (I think it’s add to any (dot) com) and follow the easy instructions for how to place it at the end of your posts. Makes it really easy to share then.

    Thanks again for the great info.

  2. I am also a migraine sufferer. I have found that avoiding triggers is my best solution. For me that means no coffee, no peanuts, adequate sleep, adequate hydration, no bright lights, and stress reduction.

    I do not think that fragrances trigger migraine attacks in my case, but I can see how they could do so for other people.

    It’s good that you are briging awareness on this issue.

  3. Sandra Lee ,

    Love the twitter idea. I’ve added it and am looking into the add to any plugin as well. It’s great to have the help of bloggers like yourself. Thanks for your support.

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  5. This post explains it perfectly. I too, struggle with a sensitive brain and finally saw enough doctors to figure out that I was just easily susceptible to migraines. Perfume is the worst for me. Which is sad because I love perfume!

    I have to stick with light body sprays, though.

  6. For me, it’s a sinus headache and occassional migraine; I found that if I control my dry-eyes and sinuses (thru’ using eye drops , saline nose spray, and humidifiers in my house) if I get a wiff of perfume, it does not result in an instant dagger to the head. Thanks for this website and forum.

  7. this is me TOTALLY … With certain perfumes/ fragrances all it can take is a whiff of a passerby and I suffer for DAYS! People close to me also avoid fragranced products but all the acquaintances I run into in a day, I want to scream at them for being so insensitive.

    I have a coworker whose perfume is a real killer to me and I do mention it, only for her to get extremely angry at me and tell me she has the right.

    I also smoke, not much, but I do, and she states she does not complain about me smelling like smoke and I need to shut up. The difference being, my smoke does not make her viciously ill.

    There seems to be many people like us with this problem and I wish they would make “public perfume wearing” the same as smoking … NOT ALLOWED IN PUBLIC buildings. (especially on the job)

    A little ridiculous? yes, but this subject really ticks me off, sorry. I needed to vent and thanks for letting me.

    I used to only work 3rd shift to get away from the hen factory which is a smell that has never been bearable to me. These days, there are no 3rd shift jobs around and I suffer most of the time at work with migraines due to having to put up with their smells.

    I get home in the dark and away from the smells, ice bag on my head, and begin to feel my migraine subside, only to come back to work and have it start all over again. But it is their right, right? 🙂

  8. I have this problem too. I am setting up a website soon and hope to be able to make some difference to large chains especially hotels and work places that use strong cleaning products. It would be great if it was law to have a no perfume work place…. for the time being we can only dream…

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