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Is It Seasonal Allergies or Migraine? Here’s Why You Need to Know the Difference

Woman with stuffed nose laying on sofa
Getty Images / ljubaphoto

Allergy-induced headaches can seem a lot like migraine. Here's how Sarah Rathsack worked with her doctor to figure out the difference.

Is it a sinus headache or a migraine headache? I’m constantly trying to figure out whether my headaches are caused by allergies or migraine.

There are, of course, important differences between migraine and allergies. Being able to tell the difference between the two helped me to get the right treatments that I hope will minimize my headaches.

An allergy-induced headache can look a lot like a migraine

In some cases, doctors and patients aren’t sure if headaches are caused by migraine or sinusitis. Some research has found that more than 80 percent of people with migraine are misdiagnosed with sinusitis.

There’s definitely an overlap between symptoms. Sinusitis and migraine can cause similar symptoms, including headaches, runny nose, and nasal congestion.

So how should you treat your headaches if you’re not sure whether you’re experiencing allergies or a migraine? To figure out the answer to this question, I talked to my doctor.

Allergy vs. migraine triggers

My doctor and I first compared my migraine and allergy triggers.

My migraine attacks can be triggered by:

  • certain foods
  • caffeine and alcohol
  • the weather
  • stress
  • lack of sleep
  • dehydration
  • sound
  • light
  • exercise

My allergies are mostly triggered by:

  • certain foods
  • certain drinks
  • environmental changes
  • animal dander

There is some crossover on these lists, so I was tested for allergies and food intolerances. Now I have a better sense of exactly what can cause an allergic reaction so I can avoid those triggers.

I also keep a daily journal detailing how I’m feeling. It helps both me and my doctor to understand my symptoms and health.

Comparing sinusitis, allergy, and migraine symptoms

My doctor and I then looked at my symptoms beyond nasal congestion and headaches. There are some important differences that can help you to pinpoint whether you’re experiencing allergies or a migraine.

Sinusitis symptoms can include fever, cough, toothache, postnasal drip, and thick yellow-green nasal discharge. These symptoms can appear alongside allergy symptoms like itching in the eyes, nose, and mouth; sneezing; and tearing eyes.

Migraine attacks cause different symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Nasal discharge is also clear, not yellow-green as it is with sinusitis.

Treating allergies and migraine

My doctor was knowledgeable about how medications can interact. We looked at what I’m taking for migraine and my potential options for allergies.

She recommended a scentless nasal spray that I could use regularly to treat my allergies along with other medications to address my symptoms as needed. You should always get your doctor’s opinion before taking any medication, including those that you can get over the counter.

I worked with my doctor to treat both allergies and migraine at the same time. I’m hopeful that managing my allergies may help prevent at least some of my headaches from happening.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 


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