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Three ‘unavoidable’ migraine triggers and how you actually can avoid them
Migraines are not simply headaches. That’s something that people who suffer from migraines will have had to explain to at least a handful of people in their life. It’s so, so much worse, like your brain is tearing itself in half. If a headache is a dime, a migraine is all the gold in Fort Knox.
They have been variously described as “like you are trying to give birth through your forehead,” or “like being hungover without having had a party,” or – and this is great – “like being trapped in an alternate reality where everyone is shouting.” It’s a pain that can be hard to articulate to someone who doesn’t suffer from migraines without taking a hammer to their head to show them.
Then, in addition to the head-splitting pain on one side of the head, there’s all the other ailments that can come with migraines: nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, and if you’re especially unlucky, aura, which can include loss of sight, dizziness and even passing out. Not to mention the fact that migraines can last for hours, even days, and that you can’t always sleep them off.
To put it mildly, migraines suck.
Medication for dealing with migraines has come a long way, and Canadian Pharmacy World offers a range of drugs, including Topamax from as little as $0.49 per unit, Imitrex nasal sprays from $60 per pack, and Cafergot from as little as $1.59 per unit.
As migraines are often a combination of ailments, you might require a combination of drugs to tackle them effectively, such as metoclopramides to tackle nausea (available from CPW from $0.25 per unit) in tandem with pain relief medicine like Motrin (available from CPW from $0.58 per unit).
But as anyone who has migraines will know, sometimes there’s not much you can do about them. As a colleague who used to suffer as a teenager and still gets them remarked, “When you feel it coming, it’s already too late.” This will no doubt ring true for many reading this, so what can you do if you can’t cure the pain? The answer: prevention.
There are a number of things that can trigger migraines. Some people know very clearly what sets them off, for others it’s a mystery. If you know what sets you off, you know to avoid it; for example if alcohol is a trigger, then unfortunately you have to accept that getting drunk is not really an option, unless you want the hangover from hell. If you know that dehydration is an issue, you have to remember to drink lots of water.
But what if a trigger is harder to avoid or not directly within your control? We’ll look at three common triggers for migraines that can’t necessarily be avoided all the time and see how you can prepare yourself in order to lessen the likelihood of getting one.
Light and sensitivity to light are often major factors for people suffering with migraines, and more often than not it’s fluorescent lighting that’s the culprit. At home you can have a little more control over the lighting situation, but many offices and other places of work have fluorescent lighting that you can’t just go ahead and remove.
However, there are a couple of solutions that can help you deal with the situation. If your workplace is fairly small and you have a good relationship with your employers, they might be open to installing diffusers or filters to reduce the strength of the light. For example, on Amazon you can get a set of five filters for less than $30. They attach magnetically and help reduce the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting.
If directly altering the light fittings is not an option, when in a shopping mall, for example, you can get glasses that filter out the fluorescent light for you. There are several brands that offer these glasses: Axon Optics and TheraSpecs to name two. The glasses start from around $99 and work in much the same way as the light fittings do. Even if fluorescent light isn’t a trigger for you, they can help your migraines less awful when you do have them.
Changes in the weather seem to be a major factor in triggering migraines for many people. Unless you have some kind of magical power – and if you do, please let us know, because we’d like to be friends with you – you can’t do much about the weather, but you can look ahead to see what the day is going to bring.
The normal weather forecast probably won’t be much help, but there are migraine-specific forecasts that you might find useful.
AccuWeather’s Personalised Forecasts has a number of options for tracking health-affecting weather, including migraines – we’ve used New York as an example, but swap out the city for your own and see what the day will bring. Weather.com also has its Aches & Pains Index Map, which is less detailed but might also be useful.
Unfortunately there’s not much that you can directly do to change the effects of the weather, but at least you can prepare yourself for the day ahead: forewarned is forearmed.
As if periods weren’t bad enough, for a significant number of women, menstruation and migraines go hand in hand. The fluctuations in hormone levels and balance between estrogen and progesterone can lead to migraines, usually just before or during menstruation. Tracking when your migraines occur relative to your menstrual cycle is key to tackling the issue, so begin by starting a diary of your migraines – data is your friend.
Once you have a clear understanding of when your migraines are occurring, it’s best to talk to your doctor to see what they recommend. If necessary, they may advise hormone balancing treatments; estrogen and progesterone supplements are available from Canadian Pharmacy World from as little as $0.46 per unit.
However there is one major factor that affects both your hormone levels and migraine triggering, and you can find it on the end of your fork. Food is a legitimate category of migraine trigger in its own right, but it’s worth mentioning in the context of hormones as many of the same foods that trigger migraines also cause hormonal imbalances.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame (artificial sweetener) and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins (HVP) are all found in processed and fast foods, and have been found to both trigger migraines and disrupt hormone balances, so if you’re not avoiding these already, it’s worth trying to see if they lessen your migraines.
Hopefully some of these hints and tips will be helpful to you and will enable you to manage your migraines better. Through technology, medicine and a few changes to your routine, you don’t just have to grit your teeth and bear it.
Rich Cooper is a writer based in London, England. He is Senior Writer at JOE.co.uk and works as a freelance writer for Canadian Pharmacy World. He writes about mental health, technology and masculinity (and sometimes pizza).