Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
April 23, 2024 ·  5 min read

8 Surprising Triggers You Didn’t Know Were Causing You Headaches

Headaches are a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. While some headaches are minor and easily treatable, others can be debilitating and interfere with daily activities. You might be aware of some of the well-known triggers for headaches, such as stress, lack of sleep, and dehydration. However, there are some surprising triggers for headaches that you might not know about. These are 8 unexpected headache triggers and what you can do to prevent or treat them.

What is a headache?

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Before we delve into the surprising triggers for headaches, let’s briefly discuss what a headache is. A headache is defined as pain or discomfort in the head, neck, or scalp. There are different types of headaches, including tension headaches, migraine headaches, and cluster headaches. The symptoms and severity of headaches can vary depending on the individual and the type of headache they are experiencing. Migraines and headaches can also be symptoms of other medical conditions. Understanding what is triggering yours is the first step to preventing them. (1)

Read More: 4 Natural Ways to Stop Teeth Grinding and the Headaches, Poor Sleep and Tooth Decay It Causes

8 Surprising Headache Triggers

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There are many things that can cause headaches, or worse, migraines. Some people are more prone to them than others, and what causes them will vary wildly from person to person. These are 8 surprising migraine and headache triggers that you may have not considered before.

1. The Stack-Up Effect

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While some people can identify certain triggers that initiate the throbbing head pain, it can be hard to figure out what is causing the headache. Irregular patterns of headache frequency can be caused by multiple triggers interacting simultaneously, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause. Often, the cause is multiple factors that are all happening simultaneously. (2)

2. Sensitive Brain Cells

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One theory suggests that the brains of people who suffer from migraines are fundamentally more sensitive than those of others. This sensitivity can cause over-excitable brain cells to trigger an electrical wave that spreads across the brain, leading to the release of prostaglandins, serotonin, and dilated blood vessels – all of which can cause a killer headache. (3)

3. Hormones

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Hormonal shifts can play a role in triggering migraines, which is why many women tend to suffer from them. A 2012 study found that nearly half of women who experience migraines are likely to experience the pain during their periods. However, hormones could also be a cure, with some studies suggesting that the love hormone oxytocin may reduce headache frequency. (4)

Read More: The Link Between Your Serotonin and Headaches and Migraines

4. Lightning

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You might not think that thunderstorm lightning could cause you to have a headache, but studies have shown that patients were around 28% more likely to experience migraines on days when lightning struck near their homes. The disruptions in electrical currents in the air are believed to be responsible for this surprising headache trigger. (5)

5. Flashing Lights

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For the majority of migraine sufferers, bright or flashing lights can trigger a headache episode. Recent studies suggest that this trigger may not be as strong as previously thought, with a small uptick in headache frequency being observed following exposure to flashing lights. This is why certain activities, such as night driving, can be difficult for those whose flashing lights are a migraine trigger. (6)

6. Perfumes

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Strong odors and perfumes have been known to trigger headaches in many people. A 2014 study found that certain perfumes and other strong odors can reliably cause migraines in some patients. (7)

7. Wine and Cheese

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While a romantic dinner with wine, chocolate, and cheese might seem like a perfect night in, it can be a nightmare for migraine sufferers. Many patients report that certain foods trigger splitting headaches, with red wine, chocolate, and cheese being the most common culprits. Studies suggest that the exact chemicals responsible for these triggers are still unknown. (8)

Read More: What Are Cervicogenic Headaches? How To Avoid These Headaches

8. Hunger

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Going without food for a period of time can provoke migraines in some individuals. According to The Migraine Trust, hunger is often tied to migraines, especially migraines accompanied by visual disturbances. (9)

Natural Ways to Cure a Headache

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  • Essential oils: Applying peppermint or lavender essential oils to the temples can provide relief for tension headaches. (10)
  • Cold and Heat Therapy: Placing a cold compress or a hot towel on the affected area can reduce inflammation and pain. Alternatively, taking a warm bath or using a heating pad on the back of your neck can also provide relief. (11)
  • Hydration: Dehydration can cause headaches, so drinking plenty of water can help prevent them. Drinking caffeine in moderation can also help, as it can constrict headache-causing blood vessels. (12)

When to See Your Doctor

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If you experience frequent headaches that interfere with your daily life, it’s important to see your doctor. Your doctor can help determine the type of headache you’re experiencing and recommend proper treatment. If you experience any of the following symptoms alongside your headache, seek medical attention immediately! A headache that comes on suddenly and severely, a headache accompanied by a stiff neck or fever, a headache that occurs after a head injury, a headache that worsens with time, a headache that won’t go away or that is reoccurring.

The Bottom Line

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Headaches can be caused by a variety of factors, with some triggers being more surprising than others. While medication can help treat headaches, there are also natural remedies that can provide relief. If your headaches are interfering with your daily life, it’s important to seek medical attention to determine the underlying cause.

Read More: 3 Vitamin Deficiencies Linked to Headaches


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  2. Headaches.” Cleveland Clinic
  3. Migraines.” MSD Manuals. Stephen D. Silberstein.
  4. Impact of sex hormonal changes on tension-type headache and migraine: a cross-sectional population-based survey in 2,600 women.” NCBI. Necdet Karlı, et al. August 31, 2012.
  5. Nearby lightning may be linked to migraines.” Reuters. Andrew M. Seaman. January 25, 2013.
  6. Light and Headache Disorders: Understanding Light Triggers and Photophobia.” National Headaches Foundations
  7. Odorant substances that trigger headaches in migraine patients.” Pubmed. R P Silva-Néto 1, M F P Peres and M M Valença. January 2014.
  8. Migraine Triggers.” Associations of Migraine Disorders
  9. Migraine attack triggers.” The Migraine Trust
  10. Essential Oils as an Alternative Treatment for Migraine Headache: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” NCBI. Pireimathy Murtey, Norhayati Mohd Noor, Azlina Ishak and Nur Suhaila Idris. October 30, 2023.
  11. Comparing the Effect of Heat and Cold Therapy on the Intensity of Nitrate Induced Migraine Type Headache in Cardiac Inpatients: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Pubmed. Aynaz Bagherzadi, Roghiyeh Emani, Haleh Ghavami, Hamid Reza Khalkhali, and Marziyeh Ebrahimi. July 2021.
  12. Dehydration Headache.” Cleveland Clinic