Does the Smell of an Onion Trigger Migraine?

Could the smell of an onion – or garlic – actually trigger a migraine attack?  If so, what can we do to keep it from happening?

There’s no doubt that certain smells bother people who are having a migraine attack, even in the early stages before there’s a headache.  And many people have reported that smells actually trigger attacks – perfumes and household cleaners are common culprits.  It has been estimated that odours can trigger attacks in 70% of migraineurs.

Does smelling onions trigger a migraine attack?

We also know that eating onion can trigger migraine attacks in some people.

In the spring, in the journal Headache, a report was published on a woman who experienced some pretty significant symptoms after just smelling raw onion.

She first had some allergy-type symptoms in her late 20s after eating an onion dip.  Over the next few years she started experiencing a variety of symptoms after just smelling an onion – severe headache, visual symptoms, sore throat, feeling faint, and so on.

The woman was testing for allergies, and in this case the test was positive for garlic and onion.  It’s nice to get a positive result in an allergy test – many migraineurs will test normal for their triggers.

Obviously this was a bit of a severe case, more of an allergic response than just a trigger.  However, to varying degrees many migraineurs do experience symptoms after exposure to odours including cigarette smoke, car air fresheners, aerosols, and even the smell of foods cooking (particularly fatty foods).

The treatment that this woman was given actually worked.  In her case, medication was tried first without success.

The treatment was two-fold.  First, a nose plug (she had been covering her nose and mouth when going out previously).  Next, “counter-stimulation” using peppermint.  These two simple solutions kept the headaches from coming.

Are there certain smells that trigger migraine attacks for you?  Have you ever tried a nose plug, or a counter-smell such as peppermint oil?

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3 comments… add one
  • Unionsoldier Dec 24, 2014

    I get headaches and irritated eyes from strong wafts of perfume and Raw unions.

  • Liz Jan 21, 2015

    Once I found out, I have never had a migraine since, unless I accidentally eat an onion(s), chives, or scallions in a restaurant.

    I sat next to someone at a restaurant who had a plate full of scallions. I asked her how she kept from having migraines, she reached in her purse and pulled out a box of migraine pills!!!

    By keeping a food chart, I noticed migraines had nothing to do with “nerves” because I could have a PERFECT day, everything fine, then have a MIGRAINE. Now, I have NEVER had migraines for many, many years!

  • terri Aug 13, 2017

    I have acute migraine now. I smell onions. There are none in my home. I’ve not eaten any. This is unusuial

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