Weird Possible Headache and Migraine Triggers (Including Chewing Gum!)

A look at some of the more bizarre triggers and manifestations out there.

Lee Ann Swenson, American Medical Writers Association member

Chewing gum — can it really cause a headache? New research says it’s a possibility. So that got us thinking: What are some other bizarre triggers?

Headache and migraine triggers vary widely between individuals, 1 and while certain triggers are more common among migraine sufferers, some of the more unusual ones — like gum-chewing — have been researched. Let’s take a look.

Gum Chewing and Chronic Headaches

Popular reports and articles associate gum chewing with headaches and other negative health issues. However, aside from a few case studies, very little direct research has been done on how gum chewing impacts headache sufferers.

That’s why a recent study on adolescents in Pediatric Neurology created some interest.  In it, researchers recruited 30 participants with recurring headaches who chewed gum daily, and after discontinuing gum chewing, 87 percent (26 of 30) of the sufferers had improvement in their headaches — and 19 experienced no headaches at all when they didn’t chew gum. Twenty of those who reported headache relief began chewing gum again and were re-evaluated. Within days, headaches returned in all 20 of these individuals. 2

This supports what previous research has found: that there’s a link between temporomandibular disorders (known as TMD, closely related to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)) and headaches. Gum-chewing can place a heavy burden on the TMJ, thus possibly causing headaches.


Other Weird Possible Triggers and Migraine Manifestations

Beyond gum chewing, other unexpected things may trigger migraines in some. For instance, sleeping in may cause what’s known as a “weekend headache.”

And any kind of intense physical exercise may be a potential migraine trigger, and unfortunately, sex is no exception. In fact, it’s common enough that the phenomenon has even been given a catchy nickname: Sex headaches.

And who knew that perfume could be a migraine trigger? Some people have adverse reactions to certain sounds, sights and smells. There’s even a condition called photophobia, or light sensitivity, that’s got a deep relationship with migraines.

Even how you wear your hair can contribute to a migraine or headache! For example, a tight ponytail may strain the connective tissue in the scalp, leading to a headache3

One of the most unusual manifestations related to migraine may be Alice in Wonderland syndrome. Although poorly understood, the syndrome creates the perception that one’s limbs are smaller than usual, among other possible visual disturbances. This syndrome is linked with migraines; the visual disruptions may appear as an aura or may entirely replace a migraine, meaning the sufferer is in no pain during an episode.

Check out these other surprising migraine triggers.

What’s Triggering Your Headaches?

Keeping a diary can help you and your doctor determine if your headaches or migraines are related to something that you may never have considered. This diary should track when your pain occurs, how severe it is, and what you have had to eat or drink, as well as any stressful events or other possible triggers — even if it seems unusual. You may need to record this information for several months, as triggers may not always lead to a headache or the headache may follow the trigger after a period of time.

Finding out your triggers can help you take control. Even if your headaches or migraines follow something that seems odd (like snapping that bubblegum), avoiding your triggers or changing a habit may possibly help you prevent a headache.

Show References

Hide References

1. Martin VT, Behbehani MM. Toward a rational understanding of migraine trigger factors. Med Clin North Am. 2001;85(4):911-941.

2. Watemberg N, Matar M, Har-Gil M, Mahajnah M. The influence of excessive chewing gum use on headache grequency and severity among adolescents. Pediatric Neurology. 2014;50:69-72.

3. Sjaastad O. Tension-type headache: one or more headaches? Functional Neurology. 2011;26(3):165-170.



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