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Trigger or Treat! How to Avoid a Halloween Migraine

By October 24, 2019 Health, Lifestyle

Halloween and Autumn Migraine Tips

We’re at that strange time of year where we’re between two worlds, just like the ancient Celts believed. The light is fading early and appearing late, the weather is changing, the world is changing colour before our eyes and our poor brains think we should still be in bed when we’re having our breakfast… To add to that, we have Halloween to cope with, which brings its own stresses; bangers, fireworks, bonfires and all sorts of mayhem. No wonder we’re nuts… it is the time of the year for nuts after all! There are some tips below which I hope you find useful.

First of all, the Halloween tips:

  • Halloween automatically turns children into sweet-thirsty ghouls, try to avoid giving them too much sweet stuff, not only is it unhealthy, it can trigger migraines, and turn your little ghouls into screaming banshees
  • If necessary, wear ear plugs/muffs/phones to block out the bangers and fireworks – they are inevitable, but will eventually stop
  • Try to avoid going to a bonfire – if it’s an unsupervised or unplanned one, you have no idea of what’s fuelling it – the burning of some plastics and other materials can give off toxic smoke and smells that may trigger a migraine
  • If you have no choice and the little ghouls insist on seeing a bonfire, try to go to a permitted and supervised one, and stand as far back as possible. If it’s windy, keep further back as flames and sparks can be blown a fair distance from the fire. If the flickering light causes you problems, concentrate on the little ghouls instead and try not to look at it, however, large fires can be mesmerising, so a pair of sunglasses would be handy to have with you. Stay as safe as possible
  • If you’re going trick-or-treating with the little ghouls, try to go out as early as possible so that you can be back before the main mayhem begins, and don’t be tempted to pinch stuff from their goody bags along the way!
  • Try to keep your pets indoors and as calm as possible – a terrified and continuously barking dog can really add to the noise and migraine, and the stress on the poor animal itself is terrible.
  • Nuts can be triggers for some, but almonds, cashews and peanuts are all good sources of magnesium, which can be helpful for migraineurs
  • Pumpkins are also high in magnesium, so when finished carving your pumpkin, roast the seeds in your oven or make soup or a pie from the pulp!
  • Avoid foods with the following (where possible)
    • MSG or Monosodium Glutamate  – this is widely used in tinned, packaged and frozen foods to preserve flavour
    • Aspartame – a sweetener used in fizzy drinks
    • Nitrates  – foods which contain nitrates and other additives include processed meat, ham, hot dogs, spinach
    • Avoid cheese – the tyramine in fermented cheese is cited as being responsible for migraine attacks
    • Avoid/reduce alcohol – and reduce your intake of caffeine. Try organic wines and light or non-coloured spirits if you want a drink. Try to get wines with low sulphites and tannins where possible. If you suffer from Cluster Headache be very wary of beer, in one study in the US it was found to have been a major trigger of Cluster Headache attacks[i]
    • Avoid citrus fruits – No oranges or lemons in the Halloween games
    • Avoid the Halloween sweets and chocolate don’t be tempted to dip into the leftover treats or steal from the harvested pumpkin buckets!

All the above foods are regarded as typical food triggers, but they may not be triggers for some, in fact food may not be triggers in many cases; undoubtedly some migraineurs can identify that a certain food triggers their migraine, however, for other people, it may actually be a symptom of the migraine and not an actual trigger. E.g. some experts think that when you enter that first stage of the migraine, known as the prodrome phase, your brain releases certain chemicals, so your body starts to crave certain food items, such as chocolate or caffeine, or indeed sugar. You go to the fridge, take out a bar of Dairy Milk and eat it. An hour or two later, your pain begins and you identify that pain with eating the chocolate, hence blaming the poor innocent chocolate bar as the trigger and depriving yourself of one of life’s simple pleasures!

General Autumn Tips: (some of which can apply all year round)

  • Sleep/rest/retreat – Rest, sleep, retreating from the mayhem can all help you. Have some alone time. Maintain a regular sleep pattern if possible
  • Make sure your medication is to hand
  • Stay hydrated
  • The sun is low and bright this time of year and will be from now on, so wear sunglasses with polarised lenses, or wear wrap-around shades so it can’t sneak in the corners
  • As the dark evenings and mornings are coming in we get less and less light. If you think you’re affected by this, or experience symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) you could try some ‘Light Therapy’ I know some people with migraine are sensitive to light, but this can be helpful for those who aren’t affected by light to treat symptoms such as SAD and severe PMS. Light therapy has also been touted as a possible treatment for migraine.
  • If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, and it’s affecting you badly, or more than usual, you could try some counselling techniques such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) or  contact an organisation like ‘MyMind‘  which offers counselling without the necessity of being referred, and in some cases offers counselling over the internet.
  • Find a relaxation technique that suits you, such as yoga, mindfulness, or even sitting in a dark room listening to soft music. Beaumont Hospital has a mindfulness and relaxation centre, with some exercises on their website here. Massage, Yoga and reflexology can be helpful.
  • As it’s the time for colds, it’s easy for a migraine to be dismissed as a sinus or flu-associated headache, so if you haven’t been diagnosed with migraine yet but you suspect that’s what it is, get a migraine diary and keep note of your symptoms. This diary combined with a good history should enable your doctor to diagnose correctly and hopefully give you a treatment that will help. We’re happy to post them to anyone who needs them. This goes for sufferers who have been diagnosed with migraine too.
  • If you decide to get the flu shot for the winter, speak to your GP first about how it might affect you, and if it could actually trigger migraines or not. Different people have different reactions to this jab so make sure you are safe to take it.
  • Cold Therapy – Try using something like the Migra-Cap which you can find in some pharmacies around the country. Migra-Cap combines cold therapy and complete darkness to relieve pain. Between uses, you leave it in your fridge or freezer. Sometimes, combining this with your feet in a basin of warm water can be helpful.
  • Light exercise – Exercise helps to balance your blood sugar levels, improves breathing and releases the feel-good endorphins, leaving you feeling much happier and healthier. Discuss with your doctor which exercise would suit you the best. If the physical impact of running is too much for you, try an exercise with smoother movements like cycling or swimming.
  • It’s also the beginning of silly and sparkly season where everyone starts getting ready for that other big festival at the end of the year which I won’t mention, but there are only ?? shopping days until… so try not to put too much pressure on yourself to get organised.

Oíche Shamhna Shona Dhaoibh go Léir!!

[i] Alcoholic beverages as trigger factor and the effect on alcohol consumption behavior in patients with migraine G. L. J. Onderwatera,* , W. P. J. van Oosterhouta,b,*, G. G. Schoonmana,c, M. D. Ferraria,† and G. M. Terwindta,†