Can perfumes trigger migraines?

It smells so nice, but it can make your head hurt so badly.
It smells so nice, but it can make your head hurt so badly.
Jeffrey Hamilton/Getty Images

We've all experienced the pounding of a headache. But how do you know if it's a garden variety pain brought on by stress or a sinus infection or allergies, or if it's something else, say, a migraine? And if it's a migraine causing the problem, how was it triggered? Look around -- the answer could be right on your dresser. As crazy as it may seem, your favorite perfume may be causing those painful headaches. So, grab a cold compress and see what you can do to ease your own sick headaches (as migraines are often called) or those of someone you love.

Migraines most often mimic sinus headaches. In fact, some people who complain of sinus headaches find they really suffer from migraines. The most similar symptom is a pounding in the sinus area. But most migraines have additional symptoms that distinguish them from other types of headaches.

Most often migraine pain begins in the morning on one side of the head. A migraine can last for several hours or up to three days. Pain varies from medium to debilitating, and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, thus the "sick headache" label. An increased sensitivity to light, sound, sudden movements and even smells -- including perfume -- can intensify the problem, sending a migraine sufferer to a dark, quiet room until the migraine passes.

The mechanics that occur in the brain to make some people suffer from migraines are still unclear, but a couple of things are known. Migraines seem to be both hereditary and environmental. A person may inherit a tendency toward migraines, then have a set of triggers that cause them.

According to the Mayo Clinic, uncontrollable triggers include:

  • Weather
  • Air pressure
  • Hormonal changes for women

Controllable triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Lighting
  • Food
  • Smoke
  • Loud noises
  • Changes in sleep
  • Medications
  • Smells (including perfume)

On the next page we'll look more closely at the perfume trigger, talk about what you can do to figure out what triggers your migraines (which isn't easy), and finish up with a little about treating or preventing migraines.