Many people are convinced; especially those who have direct personal experience, that smoking and even second-hand smoke can trigger headaches. It sounds like a perfectly reasonable assumption. Understanding the human physiology and how a smoky environment, and smoking itself, contributes to migraines and headaches can tell researchers a great deal about the mechanics behind headache triggers.
The NHF’s 2005 Smoking and Headache Survey
According to a 2005 survey conducted by the National Headache Foundation (NHF), 34 percent of respondents reported that smoke triggered their headaches, and 38 percent of respondents said that they avoid smoky environments for that very reason. Further answers to survey questions revealed that 54 percent of the respondents smoked 11 or more cigarettes per day, and that overall 98 percent of the respondents smoked cigarettes rather than cigars or pipes. The good news is that 82 percent of the survey respondents, who were former smokers, reported that their headaches did not increase in severity when quitting.
Cluster Headache and Smoking
A cluster headache is defined by the Mayo Clinic as severe headaches that occur in cyclical patterns or clusters, and is one of the most painful headaches to have. It’s characterized by intense pain to one side of the head or one eye, and can awaken sufferers in the middle of the night. These recurring, unbearable headache attacks can last weeks to months. Just as quickly as they occur, these headaches can retreat into remission periods where sufferers won’t experience an attack for months and even years.
An article published in Head Wise magazine, discusses valid research that has shown a link exists, although not directly, between cluster headaches and smoking. In the article, Avery Hart mentions a recent 2012 study published in the journal Headache. In this study, 73 percent of the subjects with cluster headaches revealed that they had a smoking history.
At this time, it is still unclear whether there is a direct link between cluster headache and smoking, because people with cluster headaches also tend to drink leading them to believe that alcohol was the trigger and not the smoking. When these actions are combined together, it’s difficult to see a clear distinction, especially when headaches can be seen as a symptom or as a result of drinking or smoking or both.
In a 2006 published study in the European Journal of Neurology (EJN), it was the goal of researchers to find an association between smoking, alcohol and headaches. In this large, cross-sectional study of 51,383 subjects, who were asked to complete a headache questionnaire, researchers revealed that subjects who smoked were more prone to headaches than the subjects who never smoked.
Avoid Second-Hand Smoke and Smoking to Reduce Headache Frequency
As research continues into smoking and headaches, we know that for some sufferers finding their headache triggers can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. No one can debate the fact that recurring headaches can be extremely debilitating. But to quit smoking may be easier said than done. All specialists agree; its one habit that’s a problem for so many reasons, and now there is another reason to quit if you haven’t already. If you’re thinking of quitting, here’s some advice that may help you kick that habit for good:
- When choosing a smoking cessation aid, be sure to pick one that doesn’t list headaches as a side effect. If you’re unsure, ask your physician for help.
- If you find cessation medication is a trigger for you, consider alternative methods like biofeedback, hypnosis and acupuncture.
- Do it on your own. As hard as it is to believe, a majority of people use no pharmaceutical assistance at all.
- If you do go it alone, do it slowly. Some people advocate going cold turkey. But that method is not without some repercussions. Quitting cold turkey can create nicotine-withdrawal symptoms similar to those people experience when they try to quit coffee or colas because of caffeine. Of course, the side effects do diminish over time.
- Consider the task of quitting cigarettes a journey. A journey or effort you ultimately commit to, but like all journeys may take some time to see the end of the road.
- Consider help from an outside organization. Quitting on your own can be a difficult experience. Organizations like the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association sponsor hotlines that can give you information about local meetings being held in your community.
Here at the Headache Solution Center, we know that if our patients make every effort to maintain their health, the outcomes for success with our headache and jaw pain treatments are within their reach. If you have questions about your treatments and your current health, we can help. Our excellent staff, at both our New Jersey and New York locations, have years of experience in headache and jaw pain. Their commitment and dedication is seen every day by patients who now lead a different life; a life free of pain. Call us today, at either location, and find out what we can do to relieve your pain symptoms today.