People may confuse allergy symptoms with migraine symptoms. However, people with allergies may be more likely to experience migraine headaches, so they should consult a doctor to help them identify their triggers and resolve their symptoms.

People with allergies may be more likely to experience migraine headaches. An allergy migraine is a type of migraine headache that allergies can trigger. It may begin with mild nasal allergy symptoms, then quickly progress.

However, not all headaches are due to migraine, and allergies do not always lead to migraine headaches.

Knowing the difference between allergies and migraine can help a person choose the right treatment.

This article explores the similarities and differences between allergy symptoms and migraine symptoms, whether or not allergies can trigger migraine headaches, and the causes, treatments, diagnosis, and prevention of migraine.

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Some similarities between allergies and migraine headaches include the following:

  • Both may appear in response to specific triggers.
  • Environmental allergy symptoms may trigger a migraine headache.
  • Both may cause nausea, though this is rarer with allergies.

Because the face is highly innervated, people sometimes confuse sinusitis or migraine headaches for so-called sinus headaches. Although people typically blame allergies for this, in most cases, allergies alone should not cause headaches unless they are severe.

In severe cases, when allergies cause a headache that leads to pain in the sinus region, the headache typically causes some symptoms that are not present with a migraine headache, including:

  • nasal congestion
  • pressure in the face that gets worse when a person presses on it
  • other allergy symptoms, such as itchy eyes or a runny nose

Some migraine symptoms that are not usually present with allergies include:

  • sensitivity to light or sound
  • an aura that causes unusual sensations, such as flashing lights or sounds, before the headache
  • changes in thoughts or mood

If a person with allergies notices new headache symptoms, it is possible that the allergies have triggered a migraine headache.

Migraine headaches often have environmental, food, or sound triggers.

A migraine headache is not an allergic reaction. Rather, the allergen may trigger neurological changes that lead to migraine headaches.

There is also evidence of a higher risk of migraine among people with allergies.

One 2012 study compared 46 people with allergies with 60 who did not test positive for allergies. It found that 37% of those with allergies had a history of migraine, compared with just 5% of those without allergies.

Doctors do not fully understand what causes migraine. These headaches are a type of neurological headache, which means that they happen when something changes in the brain.

Although people with migraine often get headaches in response to triggers such as stress or allergens, many people do not get headaches from these triggers.

This suggests that other factors contribute to the development of migraine headaches. Some possibilities include:

  • Hormonal differences and changes: Migraine headaches are more common in females than in males, and many females experience migraine headaches related to their menstrual cycle.
  • Genetics: Researchers have not identified a single gene or group of genes that could cause migraine, but the condition does seem to run in families.
  • Allergies: People with allergies are significantly more likely to have migraine headaches.

Some common migraine triggers include:

  • stress
  • hunger
  • hormonal shifts
  • weather changes
  • fatigue
  • neck pain
  • certain smells, such as perfumes
  • alcohol
  • sleeping too late
  • physical activity
  • certain foods
  • sex

Migraine treatment is the same in people with and without allergies.

However, people who have allergic-induced migraine headaches should also seek allergy treatment, as treating the allergy may remove a migraine trigger.

Some options for treating migraine headaches include the following.

Migraine treatment medication

These are some medications that a person can take at the first sign of a migraine headache to reduce its severity and intensity. Over-the-counter pain and migraine medication may also help.

A doctor can also prescribe antinausea drugs, steroids, or other acute migraine medications.

Working with a neurologist may be helpful for optimal migraine management.

Migraine prevention medication

Several different types of medication — such as beta-blockers, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants — may help prevent migraine headaches.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the drug topiramate specifically for the prevention of migraine headaches. Botox also seems to be beneficial for many people with migraine.

Habit changes

Some people find relief from making dietary changes, getting more exercise, or removing migraine triggers to the greatest possible extent.


Psychotherapy may help a person manage stress, thereby reducing migraine headaches when stress is a trigger.

Alternative remedies

Some people find relief from alternative and complementary remedies, such as yoga, acupuncture, or herbs such as butterbur.

According to one 2012 review, people with allergies receiving immunotherapy treatment for their allergies are less likely to experience migraine.

This suggests that treating allergies may reduce the risk of developing migraine headaches in people who have never had one.

In people who have had migraine headaches, controlling allergies may reduce the risk of experiencing other allergy-induced migraine headaches.

A person should try to keep a log of their migraine triggers then avoid these triggers to the greatest extent possible.

If allergy symptoms return or worsen, it is worth contacting an allergist for treatment.

Doctors sometimes misdiagnose migraine as allergies, so people with diagnosed allergies who do not get relief from allergy treatment should return to the doctor.

There is no a single test for diagnosing migraine. Rather, doctors diagnose migraine by ruling out other potential causes and identifying the headaches’ pattern.

A doctor may recommend the following tests:

  • imaging of the brain to look for other potential causes
  • a complete medical history
  • blood work to look for infections
  • neurological tests to measure brain function

To diagnose migraine, a person’s pattern of headaches must meet all of the following criteria:

  • A person has had at least five previous headaches matching migraine criteria.
  • Headaches last for 4–72 hours.
  • Headaches have at least two of the following features:
    • unilateral location
    • pulsating sensations
    • causes the person to avoid routine activities or gets worse when they engage in these activities
    • moderate-to-severe pain
  • The person experiences sound or light sensitivity during the headache.
  • Another diagnosis does not better explain the person’s symptoms.

Both migraine headaches and allergies can be unpleasant and painful, and they may even interfere with daily life. However, this need not be the case. Receiving the right treatment can reduce or even eliminate symptoms.

A person experiencing allergies, migraine headaches, or both should contact a doctor, ask lots of questions, and continue asking for support until symptoms improve.