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Headache Triggers

Common Culprits for Causing Cephalgia


Updated June 26, 2014

Headache triggers vary widely, and no one person experiences headaches the same way as another. There are common triggers, however, and learning to anticipate problems before they start is a great way to prevent headaches. For now, consider if any of the following triggers could be causing your headaches.

Your Boss

It’s not just your boss, although he may be a large part of it. Your job itself can be the problem. It’s a commonly held belief that increased stress levels can contribute to headaches, especially the tension variety. Demanding employment, stressful work environments, and problems with conflict in the workplace can all be great sources of stress. So if there is a way to soften your work environment or even change jobs all together, it may be time to consider it.

Warm Weather

Studies are beginning to show that warm weather may actually trigger headaches. In a March 2009 study, researchers found that a higher temperature was associated with a higher incidence of headaches. There may not be much you can do to change the weather, but you can be prepared when the warmer months are approaching.

Strong Scents

Your sense of smell can be sensitive, and in the end, it can end up playing a large role in headaches. Every person is quite different, but many people report that certain scents seem to trigger headaches. Paints and solvents, strong perfumes, dust, and even some flowers can be a source of migraines. It will take a lot of trial and error to determine if there are any offensive smells, but knowing what to avoid will pay off in the long run.

Hair Accessories

There are urban legends about dangerous hairstyles and life-threatening hairdos, but there is at least an element of truth in them. Any hairdo, especially a tight ponytail, can cause strain on the connective tissue of the scalp, which can lead to headaches. Some men report that extended use of baseball caps can also cause a similar problem. Try to avoid keeping your hair pulled back too tightly if you notice problems.


Physical exertion can be a trigger for headaches, especially in those who are prone to develop migraines and other headaches. Exercise, including sexual activity, creates a greater demand for blood in the head and neck, which leads to a build up of pressure in the blood vessels. This pressure can end up causing a headache. Exertion headaches usually respond to typical headache treatments.

Poor Posture

Tension headaches are often a result of muscular problems in the head and neck. Hunching your shoulders, using a chair with poor low back support, staring at a computer monitor that is too low or too high, or using your shoulder and ear to steady a phone are all examples of poor posture. If you are working, your office should have someone who can do an ergonomic assessment of your work space to ensure it is set up in a way to prevent headaches.


We all know smoking is bad for your health, but headache sufferers can add “headache trigger” to the list of reasons to quit. Nicotine causes blood vessels in the brain to narrow, contributing to the development of migraines. Smoke can also stimulate nerves in the back of the throat, leading to headaches. Even secondhand smoke can trigger headaches, so encouraging friends and loved ones to avoid smoking around you may help avoid headaches as well.


Mukamal, Kenneth, M.D., et al. Weather and air pollution as triggers of severe headaches. Neurology. 2009;72:922-927.

Exertional Headaches.” National Headache Foundation. Accessed: May 30, 2009. http://www.headaches.org/education/Headache_Topic_Sheets/Exertional_Headaches

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