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Migraines and Poor Quality Air

Migraines aren’t Headaches. Lets find out why.


Migraines are not just a headache and this dismissal is often the bane of migraines sufferers’ patience. Symptoms aren’t just confined to a severe headache but many sufferers also experience sickness, skin sensitivity, inability to concentrate, problems with balance, vision, and speech.

All of these symptoms can make earning a living and leading a normal life very very difficult.

For those living with chronic migraines, both work life and social life are greatly impaired. Some sufferers get occasional respite or relief from medicine; however, many are never free from the grip of the pain and symptoms. In total, twelve types of migraines have been identified – some people have just one of the symptoms but others less fortunate are plagued by a variety.

Here are some of the remedies which can help with migraines:

  • Botox injections
  • Medical prescriptions – both oral and inhaled and injected
  • Implement
  • Chinese medicine
  • Acupuncture
  • Over the counter self-medication
  • Massage


What does air pollution have to do with migraines?

While few can debate that cleaner air is healthier to breathe, a 2010 study shows a correlation between migraines, headaches, and air pollution. American Society 2010 was presented with the findings of a study into a migraine and pollutants and reported that,

‘Migraines sufferers are at greater risk of attacks on poor air quality days’.

The study authors, led by Dr. Elizabeth W. Loder, Associate Neurologist, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Associate Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, conducted a systematic review to evaluate evidence of a link between “measures of headache severity or frequency and levels of the 6 criteria outdoor air pollutants routinely monitored in many developed countries:


•Carbon monoxide (CO)

•Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)

•Particulate matter  (PM10 and PM2.5)

•Sulfur dioxide (SO2.)

While positive associations for all five pollutants were noted in some studies, the most consistent associations were seen for NO2 and particulate matter. A 2015 study reporting a link between a chronic migraine and asthma could be due to people with sensitivity to both, although more research is needed. The study shows there may then be a link between a chronic migraine and asthma. An observation made by a migraine sufferer is that

“A scarf is completely useless against pollutants. A mask which filters them out specifically – note: not even a regular surgical mask will do, as this is as useless as a scarf.”


What are migraine sufferers sensitive to?

The air we breathe has many dangers which one might not think about. For example, cleaning materials, cosmetics, perfumes and cigarette smoke. Both smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke can trigger a headache. Nicotine is a vasoactive substance, meaning it changes the size of blood vessels. As your blood vessels narrow, less blood is able to reach the tissues surrounding your brain. Since nicotine also affects’s the liver’s ability to break down migraine medication, a migraine sufferer will not be able to experience pain relief while smoking. Headache pain may also be triggered by cigarette smoke irritating your nose and throat or by causing an allergic reaction. This one is an easy fix: don’t smoke, stay away from smokers or wear a respirator to protect your airways from secondhand smoke inhalation.

While more research is needed to understand and treat a migraine, so far as we have seen there are remedies that are successful for some and not for others. It would appear that pollution plays a part in triggering the migraine. Since we now have little choice in society to avoid pollutants, patients can protect themselves by wearing a respirator to prevent exposure to bad quality air.