For her entire childhood, Eileen Zollinger suffered from migraine attacks. However, it took years for her to understand what she was experiencing.
“Looking back, my mom would say when I was 2 years old I vomited on her, [but didn’t show other symptoms of illness], and that may have been the start,” Zollinger told Healthline.
“I continued to have terrible migraines growing up, but they were treated as headaches,” she said. “There wasn’t much known about migraines and there weren’t many resources available.”
Because Zollinger had complications with her teeth, which required jaw surgery when she was 17, she attributed her continued headaches to her mouth.
After fighting through her teenage years and early adulthood in discomfort, she finally received a migraine diagnosis at 27 years old.
“I had gone through a stressful time at work and switched from a finance job to a production role. At that point, I had a letdown stress headache, which I began to understand would happen to me with migraines,” said Zollinger.
At first, her primary doctor diagnosed and treated her for a sinus infection for 6 months.
“I had a lot of pain in my face, so that may have led to the misdiagnosis. Finally, one day my sister took me to the doctor because I couldn’t see or function, and when we got there, we turned off the lights. When the doctor walked in and realized my sensitivity to light, he knew it was migraine,” Zollinger said.
He prescribed sumatriptan (Imitrex), which treated the attacks after they occurred, but by this point, Zollinger was living with chronic migraine.
“I went on for years trying to figure it out, and unfortunately my migraines didn’t go away or respond to medications either. For 18 years, I had chronic daily migraine attacks,” she said.
In 2014, after visiting several doctors, she connected with a headache specialist who recommended she try an elimination diet in addition to medication.
“The diet and medications together are finally what broke that cycle for me and gave me a huge 22-day break from pain — the first time I had that (without being pregnant) in 18 years,” said Zollinger.
She credits diet and medication for keeping her migraine frequency episodic since 2015.
After finding relief from migraine, Zollinger wanted to share her story and the knowledge she gained with others.
She founded the blog Migraine Strong to share information and resources with those living with migraine. She teamed up with other people living with migraine and a registered dietitian to help deliver her message on the blog.
“There’s so much misinformation about migraines out there and doctors have so little time to spend with you in the room every time you go in for an appointment. I wanted to connect with other people and get the word out that there’s hope. I wanted to share how finding the right doctors and [learning] about the elimination diet combined with exercise and medication can make a difference in how you’re feeling,” she said.
Helping people who are in a place she was for so long is most rewarding.
“So many people are living with the symptoms they have and don’t know where to go from there. We want to be that bright light at the end of the tunnel,” Zollinger said.
Keeping it inspiring while truthful is the goal of her blog.
“There are a lot of [online] groups, but they can be sad… I wanted a group where it was more about wellness than it was about sickness, where people come to try and figure out how to battle through migraine,” she said.
“There are always going to be days where we are just down and we try not to be those toxic positive people, but those people who are there when you are looking for answers. We are wellness oriented, the how-do-we-get-better group,” she added.
Zollinger says her approach is perfect for her latest advocacy role with Healthline’s free app, Migraine Healthline, which aims to empower people to live beyond their disease through compassion, support, and knowledge.
The app connects those living with migraine. Users can browse member profiles and request to match with any member within the community. They can also join a group discussion held daily, led by a migraine community moderator like Zollinger.
Discussion topics include triggers, treatment, lifestyle, career, relationships, managing migraine attacks at work and school, mental health, navigating health care, inspiration, and more.
As a moderator, Zollinger’s closeness to the community ensures a direct line to valuable insight and feedback into the wants and needs of members, helping to maintain a happy and thriving community.
By sharing her experiences and guiding members through relevant and engaging discussions, she’ll bring the community together on a basis of friendship, hope, and support.
“I’m excited for this opportunity. Everything that the guide does is everything I’ve been doing with Migraine Strong the last 4 years. It’s about guiding a community and helping people along their path and journey with migraine, and helping them understand that with the right tools and information, migraine is manageable,” said Zollinger.
Through the app, she looks forward to making more connections with people outside her social media channels and she aims to relieve the isolation that can accompany living with chronic migraine.
“As much as our families and friends are supportive and loving, if they don’t experience migraine themselves, it’s hard for them to empathize with us, so having others to talk to and chat with in the app is so helpful,” said Zollinger.
She says the messaging part of the app allows for this seamlessly, and the opportunity for her to gain from others as well as give.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t learn something from someone, whether through the Migraine Strong community, social media, or the app. No matter how much I think I know about migraine, I’m always learning something new,” she said.
In addition to connections, she says the Discover section of the app, which includes wellness and news stories reviewed by Healthline’s team of medical professionals, helps her stay up-to-date on treatments, what’s trending, and the latest in clinical trials.
“I’m always interested in gaining knowledge, so it’s great to have access to new articles,” said Zollinger.
With almost 40 million people in the United States and a billion worldwide living with migraine, she hopes others will use and benefit from the Migraine Healthline app, too.
“Know that there are so many people like you with migraine. It’ll be worthwhile to come join us in the app. We’ll be happy to meet you and make connections with you,” she said.
Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories around health, mental health, and human behavior. She has a knack for writing with emotion and connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here.