Coping with Migraine and Sensitivity to Smells

Coping with Migraine and Sensitivity to Smells

My Personal Experience with Migraines and Sensitivity to Smells

As someone who has dealt with migraine attacks and sensitivity to smells for many years, I understand the challenges it can bring to daily life. Migraines are not just headaches; they are intense, debilitating attacks that often come with a range of symptoms, including sensitivity to smells. In this article, I will share my experiences and provide valuable insights into coping with migraine attacks and sensitivity to smells.

Understanding Migraines and Sensitivity to Smells

Migraines are a neurological condition characterized by recurring headaches that can last for hours to days. They are often accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. While the exact cause of migraine attacks is still not fully understood, research suggests that they are influenced by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors.

One of the environmental factors that can trigger migraine attacks is smells. When exposed to certain odors, such as perfumes, cleaning products, cigarette smoke, or strong odors from food, some individuals may experience a migraine attack or an intensification of their symptoms. This sensitivity to smells is believed to be due to the overstimulation of the olfactory system, activation of the trigeminal nerve, and the release of neurotransmitters and inflammatory substances.

Identifying Triggering Smells

Keeping track of triggering smells is essential for managing migraine attacks. I highly recommend keeping a migraine diary to document your daily activities, symptoms, and any exposure to smells. By doing so, you can identify patterns and specific smells that consistently trigger your migraine attacks.

While certain smells like perfumes, cleaning products, and cigarette smoke are known to trigger migraine attacks in many individuals, it is crucial to recognize that triggers can vary from person to person. Some individuals may be sensitive to specific flowers or plants, while others may have unique individualized triggers. For example, I discovered that the smell of freshly cut grass consistently triggers my migraine attacks. Developing awareness of your personal triggers and maintaining a list of them can be instrumental in avoiding triggering smells.

Minimizing Exposure to Triggering Smells

Reducing exposure to triggering smells is an essential step in managing migraine attacks. Here are some strategies that can help:

  • Avoidance: Stay away from known triggering smells as much as possible. If you can, inform your coworkers, friends, and family about your sensitivity to smells to create a supportive environment. For example, I kindly asked my colleagues at work to avoid wearing strong perfumes or colognes around me.
  • Create a fragrance-free environment: Opt for unscented personal care products and avoid using scented candles and air fresheners. I switched to fragrance-free soap, shampoo, and laundry detergents to minimize my exposure to triggering smells.
  • Proper ventilation: Open windows to allow fresh air flow and consider using air purifiers to filter out odors. I found that having good air circulation in my home and workspace helps reduce the concentration of triggering smells.
  • Use a mask or scarf: Cover your nose and mouth when you are exposed to triggering smells. Carry a small mask or scarf with you for unexpected encounters with strong odors. I always keep a mask in my bag when I go out to protect myself from various smells.

Implementing these strategies can significantly reduce your exposure to triggering smells and help prevent migraine attacks.

Coping Strategies during Smell Sensitivity Episodes

Despite our best efforts, there may be occasions when we are exposed to triggering smells and experience smell sensitivity episodes. Here are some coping strategies that can help:

  • Step away from the smell source: When you encounter a triggering smell, remove yourself from the area and find a well-ventilated space to breathe fresh air. For example, if you’re at a restaurant and the smell of food is triggering your migraine, politely ask to be seated in a less odor-intensive area.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises: Inhale slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Deep breathing can help alleviate stress and relax your body. You can also try techniques like progressive muscle relaxation or meditation to further calm your mind and reduce the intensity of the migraine.
  • Apply cold compresses: Place a cold towel or ice pack on your forehead or neck to potentially reduce the intensity of the migraine. This can provide temporary relief and help numb the pain caused by the headache.
  • Drink plenty of water: Staying hydrated can relieve some migraine symptoms and flush out toxins from your body. Make it a habit to carry a water bottle with you and sip water throughout the day to maintain proper hydration.

Remember, these coping strategies may not completely eliminate the symptoms, but they can provide some relief during smell sensitivity episodes.

Seeking Professional Help

If you are struggling with migraine attacks and sensitivity to smells, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional. They can help you understand your symptoms, identify triggers, and explore potential treatment options. In some cases, it may be beneficial to see a migraine specialist who can provide specialized advice and treatment plans.

It is also crucial to address any emotional distress related to migraine attacks and smell sensitivity. Consider seeking therapy or counseling to learn stress management techniques and healthy coping strategies. Taking care of your mental well-being is an integral part of managing migraine attacks.


Managing migraine attacks and sensitivity to smells requires a multi-faceted approach. By understanding the causes of migraine attacks, identifying triggering smells, minimizing exposure, and adopting coping strategies, individuals can reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks. Remember, each person’s experience with migraine attacks and sensitivity to smells is unique, so it is essential to find what works best for you. Seek support from healthcare professionals and loved ones to navigate this journey and improve your quality of life.

Jenny from Migraine Buddy

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