Strong Scents That Spell Trouble for Migraineurs

scents, upper cervical

Have you ever noticed that some scents seem to trigger your migraine? Strong or pungent odors can set off a headache. The scent of certain foods like cheese and chocolate can also trigger migraine. But why do some smells cause migraines while others don't? And what can you do about it? Let's trace the connection and learn how upper cervical care can help.


Possible Explanations for Scent-related Migraines

Several people with migraine report that strong or pungent odors can trigger a migraine attack. While the exact reasons are unclear, some studies explain that there may be changes in the brain during an episode. Below are a few possible explanations why strong scents can cause migraine.

#1. The trigeminal nerve is involved in migraine pain 

When triggered by the presence of an odor, the trigeminal nerve sets off an inflammatory response that can contribute to the worsening of your headaches and nausea.

#2. “Odor intolerance” may be a factor in your migraines 

This condition occurs when you're unable to tolerate certain smells without experiencing an immediate headache. It's common for people with this condition to experience relief from their symptoms by taking medicine for their migraine attacks before entering environments that contain strong scents (for example, perfumes).


Common Scents that Trigger Migraine

Strong scents are a funny thing. They have the power to transport you back in time and make you feel nostalgic for an event or experience you've never even had. They can also bring on a migraine headache. That's right. Some people are allergic or sensitive to certain scents. And prolonged exposure to these can trigger their migraines! Here, we'll look at what strong scents do to your body and how they can lead to headaches like migraines.


Perfumes are one of the most frequent triggers for migraine sufferers. The main reason for this is that some perfumes contain a lot of chemicals that can irritate the nasal passages, causing headaches. Thankfully, if you can’t keep yourself from using perfumes, you can try skipping brands that contain synthetic vanillin - a fragrance used to mimic the natural scent of vanilla. Interestingly, while vanilla is proven effective in curbing headaches, its synthetic variant, vanillin can worsen symptoms and lead to increased pain. 

Scented Candles

In the case of scented candles, the migraine-inducing chemicals can come from a variety of sources. But, studies note that the discomfort mainly results from the fumes released into the air after lighting a scented candle. These fumes can sometimes irritate the nose and throat and increase inflammation in the sinuses. Additionally, heated sage or jasmine oils can release irritants into the air that react with your skin and may cause an allergic reaction, which leads to headaches. If you're sensitive to scents or have had migraines in the past, it's essential not to burn these kinds of candles in areas where you spend a lot of time. And while you may enjoy the idea of enjoying the smell of these candles, if you start experiencing a lot of headaches after using them, it might be time to switch to unscented candles or incense instead!

Paints and Thinners

Paint thinners and paint fumes can also cause migraines because they release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that irritate your nasal passages and sinuses. VOCs can trigger migraines, so it's best to distance and avoid them if you have a history of headaches. So, if you work with paint or have children who like to play with paint sets, make sure you don't spend too much time around these fumes or use a covering to avoid an attack after exposure.

Air Fresheners

Air fresheners are one of the most common triggers for migraine. If you are sensitive to air fresheners, you may notice that your migraines get worse when you're exposed to them. This reaction is often due to the chemicals used in these products. These chemicals can cause an allergic reaction or irritate sensitive skin, leading to a headache or other symptoms associated with a migraine.


Gasoline is a volatile organic compound made from crude oil. It’s the most common source of fuel for internal combustion engines. However, it's toxic and flammable, and an irritant to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system.scents, upper cervical

Upper Cervical Chiropractic for Odor-induced Migraines

If you have been suffering from more and more headaches and migraine attacks due to strong scents and odors around you, try upper cervical chiropractic for effective and lasting relief!Upper cervical chiropractic care is a safe way to manage migraines. It works by focusing on the topmost bones of the spine. Notably, these bones can be affected by misalignments or subluxations that cause pressure on nerves, leading to pain and dysfunction in other areas throughout the body. When these problems are corrected with gentle adjustments, you feel better faster! Upper cervical chiropractors provide precisely and carefully planned adjustments to dislodge fused bones and realign your cervical spine. More importantly, chiropractic doctors who use this technique use the least amount of force on the neck due to the delicate structures attached to the C1 and C2 bones.  Several case studies have illustrated the efficacy of chiropractic care in improving overall health and well-being. An upper cervical adjustment may be the best route for you if you suffer from frequent and recurring headaches or migraines!If you don’t know where to begin on this journey to health and more pain-free days, you can go to our Find-a-Doctor tool to find a credible NUCCA, Blair, Atlas Orthogonal, or other types of a cervical chiropractor in your area!


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The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.