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  • Dr. Mark Freund

What's Triggering Your Headaches?

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

What triggers headaches

Do you have headaches often? Has your doctor told you that your headaches are caused by something specific that you are doing or eating? These are the questions commonly raised to identify your headache triggers. Headaches can be caused by many factors, including stress, exhaustion, poor diet, environmental factors, and more. Well-known headache triggers include loud noises, skipping meals, lack of sleep, exposure to certain smells like ammonia or chlorine, and anxiety. If you suffer from chronic headaches which occur more than 3 times a week, then more than likely, your headaches are triggered by one of the factors mentioned above.

Track the day, time, symptoms, and circumstances surrounding your pain, such as what you ate before you got the headache. The sooner you identify them, the sooner you can get rid of the headache symptoms and the better your chances of being free of them in the long run.

Common Headache Triggers

Many people have occasional headaches, but severe headaches can easily destroy your clarity and frequent headaches that impair your ability to sleep and manage the day can be crippling. Here are the most common headache causes and triggers.


Stress can lead to muscle tension in the shoulders and neck. This often leads to tension headaches, which begin in the neck and back and spread down to feel like a tight band around the head.

Stress is also a major cause of migraine, which starts on one side of the head, makes you sensitive to light and sound, and can last for hours or days. These impulses put you in a state of high stress and anxiety, which causes headaches. As soon as the tension subsides, the stress hormone level drops, leading to a reduction in blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels.


Some foods contain chemicals that can trigger migraines, and headaches can follow. For example, processed foods contain high levels of glutamate, a neurotransmitter responsible for brain activity, and can thereby cause headaches. Glutamate can be particularly problematic and can be found in many other types of food. Other culprits include processed meat and fish, as well as dairy products such as milk, eggs, cheese, and yogurt.

If you suspect that a particular type of food might be the cause of your headaches, take it off your diet for a few days to see if you get fewer headaches. Keep a diary of these triggers and if there are triggers associated with eating, consult your doctor or a dietitian for advice on what you should eat regularly to avoid headache recurrences.


Alcohol is a trigger for headaches and migraines. Consuming too much of it may lead to a piercing pain in the eyes that can last for hours, disappear or occur several times a day. It is difficult to determine the volume and type of alcohol that is to blame for headaches as factors vary widely. A few ounces of red wine, for example, is enough to cause headaches, as is an ounce of beer or even a glass of vodka.


If caffeine is normally consumed in coffee or tea, an abrupt stop in caffeine intake can trigger migraines. Caffeine may narrow the blood vessels, and when they dilate and bulge, it can cause throbbing pain, nausea, dizziness, headaches, or even seizures.

causes of headaches


Due to the changes in the environment as the weather and seasons change, headaches can be common in spring and autumn, and they can lead to migraines in the summer months. The pressure changes that cause weather changes are likely to trigger chemical and electrical changes in the brain. Those prone to headaches may find that the rising temperatures and air pressure are more intense than normal. This irritates the nerves and causes headaches, and people with a history of headaches may experience more frequent headaches.

There is not much you can do about the changing weather, but forecasting will help you predict when you are likely to have a headache, as you can better prepare to have painkillers ready when you need them.

Hormones and Other Health Factors

Menstrual cycles can be associated with migraines in young women as changes in estrogen levels can trigger them.. A drop in estrogen levels in most women may trigger migraines, while menopause seems to end them, though for some, it can still cause headaches. Women are more likely to suffer from migraines than men, but migraine is not only associated with the menstrual cycle but also with other health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.


When you’re angry, it creates a tight ligament sensation in the head and it can be a sign of tension headaches. When anger takes over, take a deep and slow breath and breathe in again through your nose and out of your mouth. The head and neck muscles should be relaxed so that it does not cause pain in the head.

Sleep Deprivation

Lack of sleep is associated with migraines and tension headaches which shows that there may be a link between getting good sleep and pain relief. Sometimes, people feel better after a nap; sometimes, they do not.

Eat healthily, limit alcohol consumption, reduce stress, and ensure a good night’s sleep to reduce the frequency of headaches.

Poor posture

Poor posture leads to tension in the upper back, neck, and shoulders, which can lead to headaches. The pain typically throbs at the base of the skull and sometimes in the face, especially the forehead.

headache caused by poor posture

It is best to avoid sitting or standing in one position for a long time. Sit straight and support your lower back with your hands on your knees, back, and shoulders, not your hips or back of your head.

If you spend a lot of time on your phone, keep a good posture so that you do not strain your muscles. You could also see a physical therapist or a chiropractor who can help you identify and correct postural disorders.

Strong Fragrances

If you are prone to headaches caused by certain smells, avoid them. Use products that do not emit too much of carbon monoxide and keep them in a cool, dry environment. Strong perfumes may also be a trigger, and it is wise to avoid using them, use a fan or ensure good ventilation in the room.


Bruxism, which is the medical name for teeth grinding, causes your jaw muscles to contract, resulting in a dull headache. Your dentist can equip you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth while you sleep. Seek a chiropractor for treatment if the pain does not go away, as headaches and pain caused by bruxism can also be linked to TMJ disorder.

headache due to bruxism

Bright Lights

Bright , glaring, and especially flickering lights can trigger migraines. Bright flickering light increases the levels of certain chemicals in your brain that can activate your migraine center. Fluorescent tubes tend to flicker, so it is worth replacing them with another type of lighting.

Remember to also keep your devices on low light and take breaks if you have to use computers and light-emitting devices for long periods. Polarizing lenses can also help reduce glare, and sunglasses are great for reducing light intensity and can be worn indoors or outdoors.

Types of Headaches

Common types of headaches are chronic and tension headaches. While migraines usually cause pain on one side of the head and are often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light, the typical headache that often occurs is similar to tension in the head.

In cervicogenic headaches, the neck is the cause of the problem, and pain is felt in one or more areas of the head or face. The causes of headaches are not always well known, but common factors include sleep deprivation, fatigue, stress, or a combination of these factors.

How A Chiropractor Can Help You Find Headache Relief

A chiropractor can assess the diagnosis and treatment of headaches, but how can they help you and how do they work with your symptoms? Current evidence suggests that chiropractic treatments, including manual therapy, can be effective against cervicogenic tension headaches. Acupuncture and other forms of manual therapy can also help reduce the intensity and frequency of migraines.

managing headache triggers with a chiropractor

If you often have headaches and take painkillers that are no longer working for you, you can see a chiropractor at Natural Care Chiropractic to find other pain relief options that are natural and non-invasive. If your headache is sudden and severe, such as after a head injury, you should immediately seek a doctor.

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