Figuring out my migraine triggers has been tricky. The condition is unpredictable, and triggers can change over time. With so much uncertainty, it can be quite exhausting to make basic decisions. There is always a looming threat that any food I eat or activity I decide to partake in might trigger a migraine episode.

It’s frustrating. Often, my triggers don’t make much sense! They can be strange and random. It can also be that the smallest, most specific thing will set off a migraine that has been brewing for days. I never really know what to expect

What I do know is that I need to be especially critical about my decisions so that I don’t push my luck and set off my migraine symptoms.

Here’s a look at some of my strangest migraine triggers:

Pressure changes

When barometric pressure changes, I feel it, and it’s painful. This is my most intense trigger, and it’s something I have no control over. It feels like I’m on an airplane that’s experiencing extreme turbulence.

When I learn that the temperature outside is going to drop or increase significantly, I know that a migraine is coming. Sometimes, I can even feel the pressure shift in advance.

Light

Light hurts. Whether it’s light from the sun or indoor lighting, it pierces my eyes and stings my brain. The worst is fluorescent lighting (the kind of lighting used in most workplaces, doctor’s offices, and hospitals). It’s incredibly debilitating.

I also have to be particularly careful about any flashing light. It makes my head throb, and can sometimes be what takes me from the early prodrome stages of a migraine to the full-on attack.

If I’m at a concert or watching a movie and things get flashy, I have to cover my eyes. The same rule applies to any moving vehicle I may encounter with its lights flashing.

I try to keep any room I’m in as dark as possible. I hate to admit it, but I prefer dark, dreary days because my head usually feels better in those conditions.

Scented products

If I’m out and about and get a whiff of someone’s perfume, it hurts.

Perfume isn’t the only culprit though — any scented skin care beauty products can be triggering for me. For instance, all scented shampoos, lotions, soaps, and body scrubs are off limits.

For this reason, I try to work in places with scent-free policies and avoid the perfume section at any store or shopping center.

Physical activity

Before I started getting migraines, I was a competitive athlete. These days, I can’t even run a whole block without triggering a migraine.

Any type of physical activity that gets my heart rate up or involves quick movement is a challenge for me. I can’t even do a few jumping jacks without setting off the pain.

It’s frustrating, but I’ve learned it’s best to avoid cardio entirely to reduce my migraine pain.

Nothing at all

It’s the truth. Sometimes I’ll get a migraine for no apparent reason. Even if I avoid all my known triggers, eat well, and get plenty of sleep, I can still experience a migraine attack. Most times, it feels completely out of my control.

I’m not alone

I was curious to know what other strange triggers people with migraine have, so I asked my migraine community to share theirs with me. Things they mentioned include:

  • rain
  • chocolate
  • cinnamon
  • wind chimes
  • deodorant
  • cherries
  • sunlight
  • almonds
  • white dinner plates
  • fermented foods
  • limes
  • deli meat
  • wearing a ponytail
  • sex
  • artificial sweeteners
  • apple juice
  • bananas

It’s comforting to know I’m not alone and that many people face the same challenge of avoiding so many migraine triggers.

Takeaway

Other odd things that have triggered my migraines in the past include:

  • chai tea lattes
  • soft-serve ice cream
  • diet soda
  • the sound of a car alarm
  • bumpy car rides
  • steep hikes
  • the letdown after a stressful incident

Although it can be tough to stay positive when you’re living with migraine, I’m always on the lookout for new tools or tricks that can help me have more control over my condition.

I’m still unable to get through a single day without experiencing migraine symptoms, but I have been able to make my episodes more manageable by making certain lifestyle adjustments.


Danielle Newport Fancher is a writer, migraine advocate, and the author of “10: A Memoir of Migraine Survival. She’s sick of the stigma that a migraine is “just a headache” and she’s made it her mission to change that perception. Fancher attended Skidmore College, where she received her BS degree in management and business. She currently lives in Manhattan and, in her spare time, can be found writing at her favorite coffee shop in Gramercy. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @MigraineWriter.