Coping, Society, Symptoms, Triggers

Migraine Awareness Month #1: Your First for the First

National Migraine Awareness Month Blog Challenge, Day 1: Share the story of your first Migraine, what it was like, if you knew what it was, what you did, how you felt.

Though I’ve had headaches all my life, they weren’t diagnosed as migraine until 2002 and it took me a few years to believe that headaches that weren’t one-sided, didn’t have a visual aura, and didn’t make me throw up were actually migraine. I don’t remember my first migraine — either it happened before I’m able to remember or it blends in with all the rest of the headaches — but I do remember the first migraine that was obviously triggered by an odor.

My fifth grade teacher left the door to the workroom open one afternoon and the smell or rose-scented potpourri wafted into the classroom. That smell is so vivid that even now, as I remember how much my head hurt and how nauseated I was, I’m convinced artificial rose scent is wafting in the air around me. I can clearly picture the classroom and where I was sitting. I went to the nurse, who let me lie down for a bit, then sent me back to class. To her it was, after all, “just a headache.”

I wish I could tell her it was one of many debilitating migraine attacks that I’ve had in my lifetime with this chronic neurological disorder. I sometimes wonder if I would be so disabled today if anyone had a clue about my “headaches” when I was young. While I don’t dwell on this — its not like migraine treatment 25 years ago was particularly effective — I beg parents, teachers, school nurses and doctors to take a child’s complaint of headache seriously. Anyone who spends time with children should know that “migraine” is not synonymous with “bad headache,” that headaches aren’t just an excuse not to go to class, and that painkillers don’t always do the trick.

National Migraine Awareness Month is initiated by the National Headache Foundation. The Blogger’s Challenge is initiated by Fighting Headache Disorders.


Do My Smells Make Me a Headache Trigger?

A man recently told me that I smelled good and asked me what scent I was wearing. I hadn’t showered, so I was stymied. Until he said I smelled like sage. He was talking about my deodorant.

I hadn’t before thought of myself as having a scent. Even though smells are big migraine triggers for me, the scents that I wear aren’t a problem for me — but they could be for other people.

I’m astonished by how many scented products I use: shampoo, soap (body and face), lotion (body and face), hair products, deodorant, laundry detergent, fabric softener. Now that I’m trying to buy products that have as few additives as possible, this is even more difficult.

  • For shampoo and hair products, I use what makes my hair look good and doesn’t make me sick. I’ve searched to no avail for unscented products that work well. I settled on one with a light peppermint smell. It’s tempting to shave my head again.
  • My lotion has to be rich and I’ve never found a thick, highly moisturizing lotion without a scent. According to my mom, my favorite lotion smells like powdered doughnuts. Probably too overpowering. Oils are too greasy, so they’re not a good solution. Even grapeseed oil, which is one of the lighter oils is greasy enough to leave spots on my clothes.
  • Body soap isn’t a problem, I use unscented Dr. Bronner’s. Although its many uses are touted right on the bottle, using it as shampoo makes my hair greasy and my face breaks out when I use it as a face soap.
  • Deodorant is non-negotiable. I found one that works and I’m not switching. At least the smell could be mistaken for food.
  • I use lightly scented laundry detergent and lavender fabric softener. Sometimes I add some lavender extra lavender essential oil to the mix. None of the unscented stuff I’ve tried does the trick.
  • And I can’t forget the cellphone, which will be perfumed and thus perfuming me for the rest of its life.

Now you know exactly how I smell, which I doubt you truly care about. It was a good exercise for me. Maybe the scents I use are headache triggers for me and I just don’t realize it.

Writing this, I began to smell a flowery cinnamon odor — not something I expect to encounter in my house. I’ve changed my clothes and the scent remains. I think I’m paranoid.

Society, Triggers

Rantings on Perfume, Scented Hair Products and Paris

REI employees shouldn’t be allowed to wear perfume. I’d prefer if no one in retail wore perfume, but I’ll complain about REI because I was there this morning. Doesn’t perfume contradict the values of the nature-oriented store?

I was at REI in the first place for quick-dry travel pants. The perfect pants that I scored at Goodwill last week must have been soaked in perfume, which I didn’t smell at the store. Washing and hanging them outside to dry once didn’t do the trick. Washing them after they’d been tightly sealed in a plastic bag with baking soda for five days didn’t work either. How can someone wear so much perfume that two washings can’t make a dent in the scent?

I had to give up on the thrift store pants. My new pants don’t smell. They are much more attractive and handier for travel. They also cost 10 times as much. Like with the cellphone, I’ve been thwarted at my attempt to save money.

My next complaint: Deodorants are scented for good reason (although they’re one of the few products that are available unscented). Even lotion I can understand. Hair products have no excuse. Not only are they perfumed, the scents are STRONG. Why are they scented to begin with? To cover up how the ingredients smell? Yes, I got my hair cut today. Yes, I washed the product out immediately after getting home. Yes, I got a migraine.

I can’t believe how sensitive to smells I’ve become. Cinnamon and rose have triggered my headaches forever, but they are only a small part of my odor triggers now. It has gotten so bad that I might have to strike Paris off my list of places to travel.

Symptoms, Triggers

The Curse of a Nose Made Sensitive By Migraine

A sensitive sniffer comes in handy to search the basement for presents left behind by the neighborhood cat, who must have slipped in while Hart was taking out the trash. Since one of my migraine symptoms is sensitivity to smell, I’m a natural for the task. Ew.

The cat had to leave more than one gift in the 18 hours he spent there. Right? I’m trolling around our disaster of a basement, trying to find where it might be. The nooks and crannies and junk piled high make the space a cat’s dream. They also prevent me from getting close enough to sniff out the remaining presents.

Some believe that migraineurs always have a keen sense of smell, whether they have a migraine or not. It seems that this belief is held more by patients than researchers. More common is that right before or during a migraine, people have a heightened sense of smell. This could be related to smells being a migraine trigger for many of us. Olfactory hallucinations right before or during a migraine is the idea best supported by research. These tend to be bad smells, like garbage or dog messes.

(An interesting aside: Migraineurs and other people with headache, particularly those who have odor triggers may develop a fear of or aversion to certain smells, called osmophobia.)

Unfortunately, my migraine has worsened. It will be difficult to tell if I smell real odors better or am hallucinating them. In any case, my scent-sleuthing skills will ensure that I experience all the smells a basement has to offer.

I can’t find good online resources about migraine and smell. If you have any information or want to share your experience with smell, please leave a comment.


My Cellphone, a Portable Headache Trigger

I manage my environmental triggers as well as I can. At restaurants, I double check to see if there are nuts in a dish. I stay clear of toiletries and cleaning products at the grocery store. I switch seats at movies to get away from smelly neighbors.

Then I spill tea on my cellphone. After many attempts at resuscitation, I replaced it with a pretty pink Razr from eBay. The new phone just arrived and seems to work fine. I don’t know for sure because I can’t hold it up to my face to talk on it. It reeks of perfume.

The crazy thing is that I wanted a red phone until I found out that they aren’t manufactured in red, but painted by a third party company. Wanting to avoid the potential for paint fumes, I chose a different color.

Should I have foreseen this danger? Would I have a stink-free phone if I’d gotten it in silver? Like I have enough control over the world to keep from getting a perfumed phone.

The moral of the story: It’s impossible to avoid all potential migraine or headache triggers. No matter how hard you try. Don’t beat yourself up! (Kerrie, that means you.)

Any suggestions for removing odors from plastic? I’ve already wiped it down with hydrogen peroxide. We don’t have rubbing alcohol; maybe vodka?