Synthetic Environmental Factors and Migraine

Living with Migraine disease involves many factors.  The most challenging aspect is figuring out what your triggers are.  Many patients do not know that they have triggers that bring on their migraine.  There are food triggers, environmental factors, lack of sleep, and stress which can all affect how often and how severe your migraine can be.  One of the most uncontrollable triggers in my opinion are environmental factors, whether natural (weather, sunlight, etc.) or synthetic (pollution).  Synthetic environmental factors bother me most because they are the most unpredictable and uncontrollable.  What affects me most are cigarette and cigar smoke, exhaust fumes, burning leaves and wood, perfumes, scented candles and sprays, fluorescent lighting and chemical odors/pollution.

     These things are very frustrating for me because at any given moment when I'm outdoors, any one of them can present itself.  Something as simple as going to the grocery store can leave me with one of the worst migraine attacks ever.  For example, upon leaving my car and walking toward the entrance I may encounter someone smoking outside of the store.  I try my best to hold my breath as I walk past the cigarette smoke but I always wind up smelling it because it sticks to my clothing.  After I semi-successfully get through that obstacle, I am bombarded by the glare and fumes of fluorescent lighting throughout the store.  I wear sunglasses to reduce the glare but they still make me feel lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous, sweaty and clammy.  Sometimes I need to walk around with a bag of frozen peas on my neck to cool me down.  This is way more intense in a Wal-Mart, Target, or appliance store as the gases given off by the HDTV's makes it 1,000 times worse.  Then there are all of the scented laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and air fresheners that I need to duck and dodge.  An even more daunting task when I need to traverse those aisles.  By the time I am ready to checkout I may very well have a full-blown migraine.

    Venturing outside of my home is a huge risk that I take because I just never know what type of pollution I will encounter.  On a beautiful sunny and warm day, driving with the window down is my favorite thing to do.  I love the smell of fresh, crisp air.  But if I drive past someone holding a cigarette out of their window I have to roll up my windows as quickly as possible and turn off the vents to prevent the smell from getting into my car.  I avoid malls as much as possible because of all the perfume counters, candle stores, and bath and body products.  It always feels like I cannot breathe in the mall.  Going to a doctor's appointment and sitting in the waiting room can be horrible also.  So many people douse themselves in cologne and perfume.  I literally feel like they are trying to kill me with obscene floral scents and musk.  Or there are the chain smokers who reek of tobacco and leave a trail of the stink.  It's complete and utter torture.

     How do I prevent these factors from triggering a migraine?  Well, it's not something I can truly prevent but I can arm myself with some tools to help lower their effect.  My biggest help is my neurostimulator.  I always have it on and depending on where the pain is and how intense it is, I can switch my program to help manage it as best I can.  I have eight programs which gives me a lot of options on pain management.  Drinking a lot of water is very helpful also.  Staying hydrated is very important.  My dōTERRA oils help a lot also with non-medicinal pain relief.  I keep a roller applicator with a combination of frankincense, marjoram, and lemongrass oils in non-fractionated coconut oil or NFCO called morphine bomb.  I just roll it across my forehead or on both temples and it helps lower the pain.  I keep Benadryl and an over the counter pain reliever (ibuprofen or Aleve) and Salonpas pain relief patches (used on the back of my neck or shoulders), in my purse also.  Using those together helps knock the pain down a lot quicker if my stimulator and morphine bomb aren't able to do it alone.  Sunglasses are a must for keeping either sunlight or artificial light out of my eyes.  I am extremely sensitive to bright lights.

     As far as odors go, I always tell myself to buy some Filtrete masks to wear when they are unavoidable (like being stuck in traffic with a truck or car with a really smelly exhaust).  For now, I just remove myself from the area, hold my breath until the odor passes, or take a quick whiff of the morphine bomb in my purse.  When any of these factors cause nausea I pop a ginger chew in my mouth.  Ginger is awesome at combatting stomach and digestive issues. They are very spicy, which I love, and do the trick very effectively.  Keeping a washcloth in my bag helps with the lightheadedness.  I can wet it with cold water and keep it on my neck to help feel less unsteady and woozy.  I do have to travel with a big purse to keep all of my remedies close at hand!  There is also caffeine that can help with my migraine.  For me, caffeine can help if the migraine is really intense.  Not everyone benefits from caffeine and it can be a trigger for a lot of people.  I will stop at a Starbucks for a small Cafe Misto or a Dirty Chai (chai tea with a shot of espresso) when needed, but don't do it often as caffeine can cause a rebound headache.

     Since I no longer try to rely on prescription medications for preventive or acute treatment, I use as many natural remedies as possible.  I can be in terrible shape when I get back home, so I use a combination of things to treat the migraine.  I drink my golden tea, which is a combination of a paste made out turmeric, ginger, black pepper and honey in hot water.  I add a drop of lemon oil and drink two to three cups of it.  Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory and the ginger helps with the nausea.  Putting magnesium oil on my forehead, temples, and back of the neck helps also along with ice packs.  If none of these help in any way and the migraine is out of control then I wind up going to urgent care for a cocktail of toradol, dilaudid and phenergan.  I do not like going to urgent care or the ER to treat a migraine because often the pain comes back after a few hours and I'm in the same boat I was in before I went.  I tough it out a lot of the time unless it's extremely severe and need medical intervention.

     Migraine disease has many layers and many triggers.  Identifying each one as best that you can will help you manage your specific migraine or headache disorder that much better.  Make a list of your known triggers and take notice of how environmental triggers you never considered could be affecting you.  Being prepared is the best way to deal with migraine.  Keep an emergency kit in your car stocked with what works for you.  Instant cold packs and/or heat pads for hot and cold therapy, medications, ginger candies, peppermints or pepto bismol for nausea, masks to cover your nose and mouth and an extra pair of sunglasses are some things to start out with.  Knowing what helps for your set of triggers makes a world of difference.  If you'd like more information on some of the things I use, I have put links on the bottom of the article.  

     Migraine is as individual as the person it affects, so what works for me may not work for you.  When you are a chronic migraineur, life in itself can feel like a trigger.  Although doing things outside of the home is a risk, there are ways to make it less problematic so you can get through the task at hand the best way you can.  We cannot stay indoors forever and we will encounter things that can ruin our day, week or month.  Preparation, knowledge and a well-stocked toolkit can make it less scary and more manageable.

Products I Use

dōTERRA Essential Oils -

Medtronic Neurostimulation Devices for Chronic Pain (RestoreSensor and MyStim Programmer) -

Salonpas Pain Relief Patches - (Check local drugstores, Wal-Mart or Target)

Golden Tea Kit -

Gold Kili Chewy Ginger Candy with Lemon -

Reed's Ginger Products (chews, ginger brews, crystallized ginger, etc.) -

Yogi Ginger Tea -

Instant Cold Pack/Compress -


Jaime Sanders, The Migraine Diva