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Updated:

January 7, 2020

What Do Allergies Have to Do With Headaches?

When people think of allergy symptoms, they most often imagine sneezing and a runny nose, or maybe hives or itchy eyes. Although these are definitely common allergy symptoms, they are not the only ones. 

Did you know that allergies can frequently lead to headaches? Learn what causes allergy-related headaches and what you can do about them.

Where do you usually feel allergy headaches?

The skull has a series of connected, hollow spaces known as sinuses, which are lined with soft tissue and a layer of mucus. These sinuses help humidify and filter the air you breathe, and help drain the nose. Allergy symptoms often appear in the sinuses, like when your nose is running or stuffed up.

Some of the spaces that make up the sinuses are found in the:

  • Cheekbones
  • Forehead
  • Between or behind the eyes
  • Behind the nose

When you experience a headache caused by allergies, you may feel them in any of these spaces within your sinuses. It may even feel like your face, rather than your head, is what really hurts. You may have pain in the cheeks that radiates to your jaw and teeth. You may feel pain on the top of your head.

You may experience headaches and pain if your sinuses are swollen or their openings are obstructed. This often happens with allergies. Swelling and blockage in the sinuses can prevent normal drainage and airflow, causing a buildup of pressure. Other allergy triggers, such as smoke or certain foods, can lead to headaches.

Allergies may also trigger a migraine headache. This type of headache may include throbbing, and is usually felt on one side of the head. You may find that the pain gets worse in sunlight or that you also feel nauseated.

The degree of pain from an allergy headache can vary widely, from dull to almost debilitating. The level of pain may also change with your position, such as whether you are standing or lying down.

How do you treat headaches from allergies?

If your headache is caused by congestion from allergies, some over-the-counter medications can help reduce these symptoms, which can then reduce your headaches. Over-the-counter allergy medications usually need to be taken every day, for as long as you are exposed to the allergen.

There are several different types of over-the-counter treatments for allergies and allergy headaches.

  • Antihistamines block the effects of the chemical histamine, which is responsible for the sneezing, itchy eyes, and runny nose often associated with allergies.
  • Decongestants can be either oral or nasal, and may be your best option for treating nasal congestion that leads to headaches. They may relieve the stuffiness and pressure you may feel in your sinuses.
  • Intranasal corticosteroids are also effective against allergic rhinitis, and can help reduce your nasal congestion and runny nose.

How do you prevent allergy headaches?

Avoiding triggers whenever possible is the best way to treat or prevent headaches. 

If you aren’t sure what is causing your allergy headaches, consider keeping a “headache journal” over a few days or weeks. This may help you identify potential causes and triggers for your allergies and headaches.

Once you have a better idea about what is causing your allergies and headaches, you can make any necessary changes to your home, schedule, or behavior. Depending on the triggers, you may need to alter the way you clean your home or the products you use, or make changes to your diet. You may have to remove specific plants or odors that can trigger your symptoms.

If you notice that your allergies and headaches are usually triggered outside, there are some options to limit your exposure.

  • Stay indoors when triggers like pollen or mold are at their highest, or when it is windy.
  • Keep windows closed, or avoid using window fans that can pull outdoor allergens into the house.

Sometimes your allergy headaches are triggered by indoor exposure. Some prevention measures for this include:

  • Properly maintain air conditioning and furnaces, and change air filters regularly.
  • Use allergy-friendly covers for pillows, comforters, mattresses, and box springs.
  • Keep your home’s humidity between 30 and 50 percent to discourage mold.
  • Clean floors with damp rags or mops, since dry-dusting or sweeping can stir up possible allergens.
  • Wash your hands after handling animals and wash your clothes after visiting homes with pets.
  • Replace carpeting in your home with hardwood, tile, or linoleum to reduce dust and pet dander collection.
  • Avoid using products with strong fragrances, such as scented candles or air fresheners.

Should I see a specialist for headaches caused by allergies?

If over-the-counter medications and lifestyle changes do not fix your allergy headaches, this can lead to additional problems associated with nasal allergies, such as chronic sinus infections. When allergies cause congestion over a significant period of time, this can eventually cause sinus blockages, which can lead to a sinus infection. 

If your headaches and other allergy symptoms persist, it is important to see an allergy or sinus specialist. This specialist can perform an allergy skin test to evaluate your allergies, and even conduct a sinus CAT scan to evaluate your sinuses. An allergist can also recommend stronger, prescription treatments that may be more effective than over-the-counter medications for relieving your symptoms.

If you are struggling to stay on top of your headaches and other allergy symptoms, the experts at Aspire Allergy & Sinus are ready to help. Contact us to make your first appointment and start feeling better faster!

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