Can Certain Hairstyles and Smells Make a Headache Worse?

If you're migraine-prone, getting primped for a night out can be a real headache—literally. Certain hairstyles, perfume and even earrings can trigger or worsen a headache.

"During a migraine, the scalp is hypersensitive," says Dr. Seymour Diamond, founder of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago and executive chairman of The National Headache Foundation. "If you put your hair in a tight bun or [ponytail], you are creating pressure that pulls on the scalp, intensifying the pain."

The scalp area becomes more sensitive because of a nervous phenomenon called cutaneous allodynia, which occurs during a migraine, he says. But your choice of hairstyle isn't the only thing that can intensify the pain. Earrings, headbands and even certain smells like perfumes or hairsprays can do it, as well.

Migraines are sensitive to certain triggers, including smells, which originate as electrical impulses deep within the brain, Diamond says. The trigger created by the smell then spreads throughout the brain creating a change in nerve sensitivity and an inflammation around the fifth cranial nerve, the trigeminal. This causes the throbbing of a migraine.

If you're just suffering from a regular headache, your choice of hairstyle probably won't make the pain worse because the same scalp sensitivity does not typically occur. (Some less-acute migraines might seem to be regular headaches, though, in which case the hairstyle or headband might still increase the discomfort.)

If you're looking for pain relief, you can try over-the-counter medication or relaxation techniques like meditation, biofeedback, massage, hypnosis or acupuncture. If the headaches persist, or you suspect you may be suffering from migraines, talk to your doctor.