Research suggests that people with asthma have migraine headaches more often than people without asthma.

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes narrowing of the airways in your lungs, leading to respiratory symptoms like trouble breathing and shortness of breath.

People living with asthma may also experience certain types of headaches. Recently, researchers are looking into a possible link between asthma and migraine.

Migraine is a type of neurological disorder often characterized by recurring and severe headaches. Migraine head pain usually affects one side of the head and is accompanied by other symptoms.

Research in 2021 suggests people with asthma develop migraine episodes more often than people without asthma. More research will be needed to confirm this link and understand why it occurs.

In this article, we examine what researchers have found so far about the link between asthma and migraine.

According to 2019 research, certain underlying factors that cause inflammation and immune system dysfunction may make migraine more common in people with asthma.

Underlying factors may include:

  • increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system
  • raised neuropeptide levels (chemical messengers made of protein-like molecules)
  • allergic reactions triggered by allergens like grass or pollen

Allergies can trigger allergic asthma in some people.

When someone has an allergic response, it involves a type of white blood cell called mast cells. When mast cells are activated, some scientists believe the tissue around the brain can stimulate pain receptors and active trigeminal nerve fibers. The trigeminal nerve is thought to play a role in the development of migraine.

Environmental and other factors

Environmental factors like air pollution may also play a role in the relationship between migraine and asthma.

In a 2018 study, researchers found that higher rates of people were seeking hospital treatment for migraine with increased air pollution. Air pollution can also trigger asthma symptoms.

Sleep disorders may also be linked to both conditions. Poor sleep is very common among people with asthma and has consistently been associated with migraine.

How common are migraine episodes in people with asthma?

In a review of research in 2018, researchers looked at eight studies with close to 400,000 participants. They found that being diagnosed with either migraine or asthma was associated with an increased chance of having the other condition:

  • People with asthma were 62% more likely to have migraine than people without asthma.
  • People with migraine had a 56% higher chance of having asthma than people without migraine.

In a 2021 research review, researchers identified some limitations to this 2018 study, such as including studies examining both headaches and migraine instead of just migraine.

Still, in the newer research, they found that people with asthma had an 85% higher chance of developing migraine than people without asthma.

Asthma and tension headaches

In a small study in 2017, researchers found that both migraine and tension headaches were more common in people with asthma.

More research will be needed to understand the potential link between tension headaches and asthma.

Migraine headaches are the type of headache most commonly seen in people with asthma. Migraine episodes can cause severe throbbing or pulsing, usually on one side of your head.

Other symptoms include:

Learn more about migraine symptoms here.

Migraine in people with asthma may cause a number of symptoms other than head pain and breathing difficulties.

Asthma, headaches, and dizziness

People with migraine can develop:

These symptoms can last seconds to days.

Asthma, headaches, and fatigue

About 60% of people with migraine report chronic fatigue. Severe asthma can also cause low blood oxygen levels, which can lead to feeling tired and fatigued.

Asthma, headache, and vomiting or nausea

Migraine may cause gastrointestinal symptoms like:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Asthma, headache, and fever

Both asthma and migraine are unlikely to cause a fever. A rare type of migraine called hemiplegic migraine is linked to fever in severe cases.

Headaches can be a side effect of some asthma medications. For example, headaches are one of the most common side effects for salmeterol, a common daily medication used to manage asthma symptoms.

The most typical asthma symptoms include:

When symptoms get worse for a short time, it’s known as an asthma attack. Signs of an asthma attack include:

You may want to change your environment to avoid certain lights, smells, or sounds during a migraine episode. Many people find lying in a dark room helpful.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, or ibuprofen may help you manage your pain. However, aspirin and some other medications are known to make asthma symptoms worse. Speak with a doctor to see which medications would work best for you.

If OTC medications don’t relieve your symptoms, a doctor may suggest a prescription migraine medication like a triptan. They may also recommend anti-nausea medications to treat nausea or vomiting.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a newer possible treatment that may help prevent and manage migraine. The FDA first permitted the marketing of TMS for treating migraine pain in 2013.

The American Lung Association recommends contacting a healthcare professional right away about asthma when you:

  • feel dizzy, faint, or weak
  • have trouble with routine activities
  • have a persistent cough
  • are wheezing and out of breath, especially if this is not typical for you
  • notice your wheezing is getting worse even after quick-relief medication

It’s also a good idea to contact a doctor if you have frequent or severe migraine episodes. Make an appointment if you have more than 5 days of migraine in 1 month. You may benefit from preventive treatment.

Medical emergency

Call emergency medical services or go to the nearest emergency room if you or somebody you’re with experiences a headache with:

People with asthma may develop migraine episodes more often than people who do not live with asthma. It’s not clear yet why this happens, but researchers believe an underlying immune system dysfunction, inflammation, air pollution, and sleep may play a role.