Here's What an Allergy Headache Feels Like, According to an Allergist
Headaches are one of the most common types of pain—according to the US National Library of Medicine, they're so common, they're a major reason many people miss school or work. But while some headaches—like cluster headaches and tension headaches—can occur on their own without a specific reason, other headaches can be related to outside circumstances, like allergies.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), two different types of headaches are linked to allergies: sinus headaches, which typically feel like facial pain and pressure; and migraines, which can cause moderate to severe pain that can feel like throbbing and can be accompanied by nausea. The triggers of those headaches often include nasal or sinus congestion, stress, certain foods, or smoke, per the ACAAI.
But before you definitively start blaming your headaches on allergy season, it's important to note that allergy headaches in general are controversial in the medical community. "A true allergy headache is probably very rare," Ronald Purcell, MD, an allergist at Cleveland Clinic tells Health. That's because some experts believe that what people call allergy headaches may actually be a different type of headache—like a migraine or tension headaches—independent of a person's allergies.
The National Headache Foundation (NHF) also highlights the controversial connection between allergies and headaches, sharing that, while many people with migraines may attribute them to reactions to certain foods, that's often not the case (they note the difference between headache-triggering chemicals, which are bodily reactions but not allergic reactions). The NHF adds that respiratory issues or seasonal allergies can contribute to or cause sinus headaches (and in some cases, migraines), and patients who experience those issues should be evaluated by a medical professional for a proper diagnosis.
Regardless of the controversy—and whether you're suffering from a true allergy headache or just a headache triggered by allergies—the pain is real. "Most commonly, what people will describe is a sense of pressure in the face," says Dr. Purcell. That pain is typically caused by inflammation in the sinuses, or the hollow air spaces behind the eyes, cheekbones, forehead, and nose (though Dr. Purcell notes that sinus pain may also be due to a sinus infection rather than allergies).
The treatment for a headache possibly caused by allergies is pretty simple: You treat the allergies to make the headache or facial pain go away. Allergies can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications, as well as allergy shots. But other than treating your allergies, there’s no specific treatment for allergy headaches.
The ACAAI also recommends avoiding the headache or allergy triggers as much as possible. That means limiting outdoor exposure when pollen counts are high, avoiding fans that can draw air from outside into your home, and wearing sunglasses that limit allergen exposure to your eyes, washing your hands after petting any animals you're allergic to, and keeping the humidity in your home at low levels to limit exposure to mold, among other things.
And if you keep getting headaches even after you’ve gotten your allergies under control, your head pain may be due to something else, says Dr. Purcell. Remember: There are loads of different types of headaches, so if the pain persists, don’t hesitate to see a headache specialist to get some relief and make sure further testing doesn’t need to be done.
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