What can give me a headache?

Many headache sufferers experience headache attacks more frequently following certain types of exposures or events, called triggers. Identifying and modifying headache triggers can help reduce headache frequency and eliminate the need for medications.

Certain exposures or events can activate, or bring on, a headache. Triggers include certain foods, climate or environmental changes, emotional states, physiological states, or for women, hormonal cycles.

Food triggers include:
  • aged cheese and other dairy products
  • alcohol
  • broad beans, peas, and lentils
  • caffeine
  • chocolate
  • nuts
  • peanut butter
  • pickles
  • pickled food
  • processed meat (hot dog and sausage, products containing nitrites)
Environmental triggers include:
  • a change in temperature
  • a change in humidity
  • a change in altitude (including air travel)
  • bright light, glare (including computer monitor)
  • loud noise
  • strong odor
Emotional triggers include:
  • anger
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • excitement
  • stress
Physiological triggers include:
  • exercise
  • eyestrain
  • fasting or missing a meal
  • fatigue
  • lack of sleep
  • motion
  • oversleeping
Hormonal triggers for women
  • birth control pills
  • estrogen and/or hormone supplement
  • hormonal change
  • menstruation
  • ovulation
  • pregnancy
There are multiple triggers of headaches including food, alcohol, stress, fluorescent lights, exercise, lack of sleep, strong smells and changes in barometric pressure.
There are a number of causes and contributing factors of headaches:
  • Stress (often the most commonly recognized trigger)
  • Alcohol, which is consumed in beverages such as liquor, wine and beer
  • At times, migraine and other headache patients may get headaches related to allergic problems.
  • Eyestrain with TV/computer use as well as other factors such as posture, stress and long periods of concentration may contribute to headaches.
  • Changes in hormone levels, especially with menses, menopause and pregnancy
  • High blood pressure or side effects with medications used to treat high blood pressure
  • Light and sensitivity
  • Smoking and nicotine use or smoking-related odors in sensitive patients
Steven A. Meyers, MD
Diagnostic Radiology
Many things have been reported to trigger a headache in given individuals. Common triggers include:
  • Stress
  • Certain foods such as alcohol, aged cheeses, organ meats, food additives such as MSG, and caffeine
  • Weather change
  • Sleep alterations
  • Hormonal changes associated with menstrual periods in women
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Some people get chronic headaches and don't even know what's causing them. In this video, I will discuss some uncommon headache triggers and how to avoid them.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.