A migraine trigger is something that temporarily increases a person’s likelihood of developing a migraine headache. For some people with migraine, certain smells, foods, or even changes in the weather may act as migraine triggers.

A trigger might not cause a migraine every time a person encounters it. Sometimes, several triggers together can set off a migraine. These triggers will differ from person to person.

In this article, we discuss various types of migraine triggers, ways of managing them, and when to contact a doctor.

A person covering their face with their hands who may have a migraine.Share on Pinterest
Photo editing by Lauren Azor; Maskot/Getty Images

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), bright or flashing lights can trigger migraine headaches.

A 2014 review reports around 40% of those with migraine experience a migraine attack as the result of visual stimuli. Neuroimaging has shown that people with migraine have a different brain structure that processes visual information.

Authors of the review state that those with migraine appear to have an increased sensitivity to bright and flickering lights.

Additionally, people with migraine may have a condition called photophobia. This is a sensitivity to light that may occur even when a person is not having a migraine attack.

Tips to manage

A person may find it helpful to wear sunglasses when they are outside. Moreover, if a person is in an environment with artificial light, they can try to sit closer to the windows. It is also advisable to try to avoid sources of flickering light.

The American Migraine Foundation (AMF) states that green light is unlikely to trigger a migraine. A person can try to find bulbs that emit green light.

People with migraine are more sensitive to sound. Loud or sudden noises may be a migraine trigger for some people, according to NINDS. This can occur for approximately 50–75% of those with migraine.

Tips to manage

Avoiding loud noises can be challenging. If possible, a person should avoid spending time in loud and noisy environments, such as movie theaters and crowded clubs. They may also wish to try wearing hearing protection in noisy places.

According to AMF, certain odors can stimulate the nerves in the nasal passages, leading to a migraine headache. Some triggers include:

  • perfumes
  • household cleaning products
  • air fresheners
  • gasoline
  • strong-smelling foods

The 2014 review notes 50% of people with migraine report that perfumes and other smells can bring about a migraine headache.

Tips to manage

A person experiencing migraines can use unscented products to reduce their exposure to potential triggers.

Foods and ingredients act as triggers in approximately 50% of people with migraine headaches.

Potential triggers include:

A 2021 study of 3,935 people who experience migraine headaches found that plant food was a trigger for 40.3%, with the headache occurring within about 90 minutes of consuming the food.

The most common trigger in the study was watermelon, which caused a headache in 29.5% of the participants.

Tips to manage

A person can keep a food diary to help identify the foods that trigger a migraine headache.

Learn more about which foods help prevent migraine headaches here.

NINDS notes that hormonal changes may impact the occurrence of migraine headaches in a variety of ways.

For example, migraine headaches may occur around the time of a person’s menstruation or during pregnancy. They may also develop in people who start taking birth control pills.

NINDS also states that migraine headaches may improve after menopause.

Tips to manage

For hormone-related triggers, a person can seek guidance from a healthcare professional, such as a headache specialist or gynecologist, to find the most suitable treatment plan.

A person may also wish to try birth control methods to help stabilize their hormone levels.

Emotional reactions and stress may be triggers for some people with migraine. Almost 70% of people with migraine report that stress is a trigger.

Depression and anxiety are other potential causes.

Tips to manage

The AMF suggests a person make a list of stressors and attempt to reduce these in their daily life.

They can also try:

Learn more about stress and how to manage it here.

Just over a third of people who have migraine headaches say that certain types of weather sometimes bring about a migraine attack.

Research on the role of weather patterns in triggering migraine headaches is so far inconclusive. However, studies suggest that some people with migraines may be sensitive to the following weather changes:

Other potential migraine triggers may include:

If possible, a person with migraine should eat regularly and drink plenty of fluids. They should also aim for 7–8 hours of sleep per night.

Learn more about good sleep hygiene here.

People who have migraine attacks at least once per week may want to consider preventive therapy.

Medications that may help prevent migraine attacks include:

Learn more about tips and techniques for migraine prevention here.

Medical treatment for migraines involves addressing symptoms of an attack or taking steps to prevent or reduce attack frequency.

The following drugs may ease migraine attack symptoms:

  • triptan drugs, which are available as tablets, nasal sprays, and injections
  • ergot derivative drugs, which are available as injections and nasal sprays
  • over-the-counter pain relievers
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • antinausea medication, also known as antiemetic drugs
  • lasmiditan (Reyvow), which is a type of serotonin receptor agonist

A healthcare professional may also prescribe calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitors. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these drugs appear to decrease the number of migraine headaches and have fewer warnings and precautions than other types of migraine drugs.

CGRP inhibitors include:

Learn more about migraine medications here.

A person can take several steps to ease symptoms of a migraine attack. These include:

  • resting in a dark, quiet room with the eyes closed
  • placing an ice pack or cool cloth on the forehead
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • consuming a small amount of caffeine

A person may wish to seek guidance from a doctor if their migraine headaches are frequent or severe, especially if symptoms interfere with their daily life.

A doctor may prescribe medication or help develop a treatment plan for the migraines.

A person should seek immediate medical attention if they experience a headache that:

There are many triggers of migraine headaches, including bright or flashing lights, loud noises, stress, and weather. If possible, a person with migraine headaches should avoid any migraine triggers.

Causes of migraines will vary from person to person. Keeping a migraine diary can help identify these.

Making changes with regard to exercise, diet, and sleep patterns may also help prevent migraine headaches.

A person can use medications to relieve symptoms of a migraine attack or reduce the frequency of future attacks.