Smoking can trigger headaches in several ways.
- Nicotine in tobacco can cause blood vessels in the brain to enlarge and press on nerves, causing a headache.
- Smoking can also stimulate the nerves at the back of the throat, which can make a headache worse.
- Some people are highly sensitive to smoke and the irritation to their nose and throat can also enlarge blood vessels – giving rise to headaches.
Second hand smoke
Cigarette, tobacco, cigar and pipe smoke is often worse than other forms of fumes because the smoke takes a long time to dissipate. This gives it longer to cling to clothes, hair, drapes and furniture. This leads to prolonged contact with the smoke and means a longer time for irritation to occur. This in turn increases the likelihood of a headache being triggered.
What can be done about it?
If smoking triggers migraines or headaches for you, ask friends and loved ones not to smoke near you. If possible, encourage them to give up smoking altogether – it will improve their health as well as yours.
Smoking and cluster headaches
Smoking appears to be a particularly strong trigger for cluster headaches. Yet many cluster headache sufferers are also smokers.
Improvement can be gained without even giving up cigarettes. In a study of sufferers, those who cut down their smoking by less than a half a pack a day decreased their incidence of headaches by 50%. That’s some improvement!
Smoking and stress
Many people don’t want to stop smoking as they believe that it helps them to deal with stress. As stress can also be a migraine or headache trigger, this is a great argument for them not to stop. Why swap one trigger for another?
However, Allen Carr, who runs the EasyWay to give up smoking, says that it is the cigarettes that are causing the stress. Every time you stub one out, you are creating a need for the next one, to alleviate the stress of waiting. Many people who have used his method to stop smoking say that they are much less stressed since they stopped smoking.
What is the treatment for headaches caused by smoking?
The painkillers and medications are the same as for any other headache or migraine. The best treatment of all is to stop smoking. Or for your family and friends to stop smoking.
With smoking now being banned in many areas of the world, it will encourage a lot of people to kick the habit. Restaurants and bars, which were traditionally ‘good’ place to smoke, are increasingly smoke-free.
This will make a lot of difference to those who suffer headaches as a result of smoke. A study done in New Jersey (which had not yet started to ban smoking) showed that the levels of air pollution indoors were more than nine times that of New York, which had started its ban.
Ok – you’ve convinced me. But I can’t just go cold turkey… There’s lots of help available to help with nicotine cravings and to make giving up smoking easier to achieve. Try any of the following:
- Nicotine patches
- Nicotine chewing gum
- Nicotine inhalers
- Nicotine microtabs
- Allen Carr’s EasyWay
Not only will you be removing a prime cause of headaches, you will improve your overall health. Now that you have two reasons, use one or both, as the incentive to quit.