Allergy Causes & Symptoms

Everything to Know About the Connection Between Headaches and Allergies

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You’re familiar with some of the more common allergy symptoms. You can’t stop sneezing, your eyes are relentlessly itchy, and you can’t go anywhere without tissues handy.

But the fun doesn’t stop there: You might notice that your forehead or even the top of your head feels like it’s full of concrete—and it’s even worse when you bend over to pick something up. Your cheeks are sort of tender and even your teeth have a dull pain radiating through them.

What’s going on? Can allergies cause headaches? How can you tell if that’s actually what you’re dealing with? And, most importantly, how can you feel better? Here’s what you need to know.

What causes allergy headaches?

The short answer is, yes, allergies can cause headaches. You might also hear this referred to as a sinus headache, a tension headache from allergies, or even rhinosinusitis, if you’re feeling fancy.

Why does this happen? Well, you probably don’t need us to tell you that allergies tend to cause a lot of congestion in your nasal passages.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) explains that all of that swelling in your sinus cavities can actually block the openings and cause pressure to build—and it’s that pressure that ultimately causes the discomfort in your head.

Can allergies trigger a migraine?

It makes sense that stopped-up sinuses are bound to cause some pain. But, it’s important to note that true sinus headaches are actually pretty rare. Instead, if you’re experiencing allergies with a headache, you might actually be dealing with a migraine.

That’s right—the American Migraine Foundation states that your allergies (also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis) can actually make you more likely to experience a migraine. Consider these stats:

  • One study found that migraine headaches occurred in 34% of people with hay fever, but only 4% of people without hay fever.
  • A separate study found that if you deal with both migraines and allergies, then you’ll have an increased frequency of migraines. Headaches were 14-28% more frequent in those with migraine and hay fever than those with only a migraine.

It’s unclear whether an allergy flare-up is what ultimately causes the migraine, but there’s little doubt that your sniffling and sneezing can often be accompanied by a migraine headache.

Allergies can be such a headache.

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How do I know if my headache is from allergies?

If you’re constantly reaching for the tissues anyway, it’s easy to assume that you’re dealing with an actual sinus headache. However, it’s not always so cut and dried.

45% of migraine patients have at least one allergy-like symptom like a stuffy nose or watery eyes—making it all the more challenging to differentiate between a true sinus headache and a migraine that accompanies your allergies.

So, what does an allergy headache feel like? The Mayo Clinic says that signs and symptoms of an allergy headache can include:

  • Achy feeling in your upper teeth
  • Fatigue
  • Pain, pressure, and fullness in your cheeks, brow, or forehead
  • Pain that worsens if you bend forward or lie down
  • Stuffy nose

If you think that has a lot of overlap with a migraine, it’s true. Migraine headaches and allergy headaches often have the same location (front or top of the head) and even symptoms that mirror each other. However, a migraine will usually have a few other telltale indicators, such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to noises, lights, and even touch or smell

If you’re experiencing any of those, then chances are high that you’re actually dealing with a migraine from your allergies—and not a sinus headache at all.

How do I treat an allergy headache?

Perhaps it really is an allergy headache that you’re dealing with. Now what? How can you get some relief from that tight, full, and throbbing sensation in your head?

The ACAAI recommends a couple of remedies to help you relieve that pressure, including:

  • Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Using a saline nasal spray or neti pot to clear out your sinuses
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to keep mucus thin

Applying a warm, moist washcloth to your forehead or face can also help reduce some of the pain you’re saddled with.

But, if you’d rather take a more proactive approach, then your best bet is to find the right allergy medications to hopefully prevent your symptoms in the first place. After all, less congestion in your nasal passages means less swelling—which reduces your chances of having to deal with a miserable headache.

If you’re not sure where to start, we can help. Take our quiz and get an allergist-picked treatment Pack that’s customized for your needs.

ARTICLE REVIEWED BYAmina H. Abdeldaim, MD MPHPicnic Medical Director
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