Headache from cigarette smoke

11 Biggest Headache Triggers

According to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) survey, when it comes to the most common types of pain people experience, migraine and headache are second only to back pain. But while you might think an occasional headache is an unavoidable part of life, the truth is that you can sidestep many of your headache triggers.

Here are 11 common headache and migraine causes that you can control, avoid, or anticipate.


Stress causes the release of brain chemicals that can affect blood vessels inside your head and bring on a tension headache — also known as a muscle contraction headache, because many people tend to tense up their neck muscles when under stress. Research shows that up to 80 percent of people get tension headaches and that about 3 percent of people have them almost every day. Avoid these headaches by identifying your common sources of stress and doing your best to avoid them. You can also learn stress reduction techniques such as deep-breathing exercises or meditation.


Chocolate contains a substance known as phenylethylamine, which affects blood vessels in the brain and may trigger a migraine. Chocolate also contains caffeine, which can cause headache pain in some people. If you typically get a headache within 24 hours of eating chocolate, try eliminating it from your diet for a while to see whether the frequency of your headaches decreases.


Caffeine in small amounts can actually be good for headache pain, and it is included in some headache medications. But if you get used to taking in lots of caffeine through coffee, tea, or soft drinks, you can get a rebound headache if you don’t get your daily dose. According to research done at Johns Hopkins University, headache is a common caffeine withdrawal symptom, occurring in 50 percent of regular coffee drinkers. Avoid this headache trigger by gradually reducing your caffeine intake.

Chinese Food

If you get a headache after eating Chinese food, the cause is most likely the food additive called MSG, or monosodium glutamate, which is used as a flavor enhancer and as a meat tenderizer. If you are sensitive to MSG, a headache can come on in about 30 minutes. Your best bets are to ask that restaurant food be prepared without MSG and to carefully read labels on foods you buy.

Cold and Flu

Headache is a common symptom of both colds and the flu, the result of your body’s inflammatory response to the virus causing the cold or flu infection. You have a good chance of avoiding the flu by getting a flu shot, but studies show that there are more than 200 cold viruses, so you may not be able to avoid them all. What you can do is wash your hands frequently and avoid people who have colds.

Period Pain

The cause of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) headache pain may be changes in the levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. About two-thirds of women report that headaches decrease after menopause. Ask your doctor about strategies to prevent PMS headaches — headache pain may be reduced in some women when birth control pills are taken.

Cigarette Smoke

Both smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke can trigger a headache. Nicotine is a vasoactive substance. That means it changes the size of blood vessels in your brain, and that can cause headache. Cigarette smoke can also trigger headache pain by irritating your nose and throat or by causing an allergic reaction. This one is an easy fix: Don’t smoke and stay away from smokers.

Sleep Disruptions

Not getting enough sleep and sleeping too much can both be headache triggers. Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that causes difficulty breathing during sleep and decreased flow of oxygen to the brain. Studies show that about 20 percent of people with sleep apnea and 25 percent of those with other sleep disorders have headaches. To minimize your headache risk, try to stick to the same sleep routine every night. If you have trouble sleeping and/or snore heavily, talk with your doctor about getting tested for sleep apnea.

Weather Changes

Barometric pressure headaches can be triggered by changes in the weather. Studies show that sudden pressure changes can affect blood flow in the brain. You can’t avoid the weather, but if you know that a change is coming, you may be able to take your headache medication before your headache actually starts.


Many common medications, including hormone replacement pills and certain blood pressure drugs, can be headache triggers. However, the most common cause of frequent headaches may be the medications you take to avoid or treat your headache in the first place. Overuse of over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can lead to a cycle of rebound headaches that go away only if you wean yourself off the medicine. Talk with your doctor about your medications, especially if you are taking OTC pain relievers more than a few days a week.


Any type of alcohol can cause the blood vessels in your brain to swell, which can cause headache pain. But red wine may be the worst headache trigger because it contains tyramine, histamine, and sulfites — all substances that have been linked to headache. To avoid this type of pain, you can switch to white wine, eat while you drink, limit alcohol to one or two drinks, or avoid alcohol completely.

Smoking and Headache

Smoking and second-hand smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes can contribute to headaches for both the smoker and the non-smoker. Nicotine, one of the components of tobacco, triggers blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow to the brain and the covering of the brain (the meninges). Decreased blood flow leads to depressed brain activity, which is a major component of migraines. In addition, reducing the blood flow to the meninges can induce severe pain, which may be felt in the back of the head or in the face. Nicotine also may stimulate the pain-sensitive nerves as they pass through the back of the throat, further increasing the tendency toward head pain In some people, this stimulation can contribute to headaches. Usually, by removing the stimulus (nicotine), headaches will be relieved. Quitting smoking or reducing exposure to secondhand smoke is especially helpful for those with cluster headaches. In one study of patients with cluster headaches, those who reduced their tobacco use by less than one-half pack of cigarettes per day found their headaches were decreased by 50 percent.

Allergy to smoke, as well as odor sensitivity, can also cause migraine headaches in some people. By avoiding situations or places where smoking is permitted, or by quitting smoking, most people can reduce the onset of migraine headache.

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A New Look at Tobacco Use and Headaches

People with cluster headache who have never been exposed to tobacco may have a different type of headache syndrome than those with cluster headache who have been exposed to tobacco, either through a personal history of smoking or through secondhand smoke.1A recent study found that those exposed to tobacco smoke may have a worse headache syndrome, and more headache-related disability than those who were never exposed to tobacco.

“The nonexposed subtype appears to have an earlier age of onset, higher rate of familial migraine, and less circadian periodicity and daytime entrainment, suggesting a possible different underlying pathology than in the tobacco-exposed subform,” wrote Todd Rozen, MD, FAAN, of Mayo Clinic Florida, Jacksonville, Florida.

The study is first to systematically evaluate cluster headache in individuals never exposed to tobacco smoke. Past studies have focused on individuals exposed to tobacco and found a very strong link between smoking and increased risk for cluster headache. However, the cause has yet to be established. Some nonsmokers also develop cluster headache, further complicating the issue.

To provide more evidence, researchers used data from the US Cluster Headache Survey, the largest survey completed to date about cluster headache in the US.2 The study took place from October through December 2008 and consisted of a web-based questionnaire with 187 multiple choice questions. Only patients with neurologist-diagnosed cluster headache were eligible to complete the survey.

The analysis included responses from 1134 individuals. Twelve percent of respondents had no personal history of smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke in their childhood home (never-exposed group). Eighty-eight percent had either a personal history of smoking or had been exposed to smoke in their childhood home (exposed group).

Results suggested that a significantly higher percentage of the never exposed group was diagnosed at a younger age, had a stronger family history of migraine, and had more variable headache cycles than the exposed group.

Why Do Vape Headaches Occur?

While there are certainly many benefits to vaping including the most obvious and significant one of being a better alternative to smoking harmful cigarettes, there are some people who have reported headaches as a side effect. Not everyone will get headaches from vaping, but it’s an issue you may want to know a little about if you’re new to it or if you experience headaches from it and want to know how to treat them.

Causes of Vape Headaches
There are a few factors which may cause vape headaches:

The first one is the level of nicotine. Nicotine constricts your blood vessels and affects your autonomic nervous system which in turn can cause headaches. Nicotine is also a mild stimulant which may cause dizziness and full body rushes if you are not used to it. If you have smoked cigarettes, the e-liquid will probably not be that noticeable to you unless you are using a particularly high level of nicotine when vaping.

For cigarette smokers, each cigarette contains about 1mg of nicotine, so if you smoke a pack a day then you would be taking in approximately 20mg of nicotine. E-liquids can vary in the amount of nicotine they contain. Additionally, choosing a juice that has a lower level of nicotine than that of cigarettes is ideal for previous smokers.

Another possible cause of headaches for some people is propylene glycol (PG). This is an organic compound and is one of the four ingredients used in e-liquid. It has the unique property of turning into vapor when heated which allows it to be inhaled. PG draws water from its environment and so it can have a drying effect which can cause headaches. The headaches due to PG are caused by dehydration but there have been some cases of sensitivity to propylene glycol which can cause not only headaches but also skin irritation, like rashes, as well as dry mouth.

Lastly, your vaping choices may also cause headaches. That is, the way you vape and the device you use could be the problem. Drawing, or pulling on your unit may cause an inhalation strain that can give you a headache and sometimes cause throat irritation. The devices out there for the most part have differing levels of draw. For instance, if you use an e-cigarette, you may have to draw harder to get a hit versus using a MOD or APV which provide clouds with relative ease.

How to Prevent Vape Headaches
Preventing or treating headaches that could be caused by vaping may simply require a minor adjustment to your vaping style, device or juice. If the headaches might be caused by nicotine, the easiest solution is to cut back on the nicotine level. All e-liquid bottles and of course on the site, show the levels of nicotine. Just select one that’s appropriate for you. As mentioned, a former smoker should ideally choose a nicotine level that’s equal to, or lower than, their previous nicotine consumption with cigarettes while someone who is brand new to vaping should opt for a very low nicotine level since the body will have to get adjusted to the nicotine.
If a reaction to propylene glycol is the suspected cause of headaches, there are a few possible solutions.

  • Stop using the PG juice entirely. If your headaches disappear then you will know this is the cause.
  • Choose an e-juice or pod cartridge that contains a mixture of both PG and VG (vegetable glycerine) at a 50/50 ratio or choose the e-liquid which is 60% or higher in VG. VG, like PG, also turns into vapor when heated up and both are odorless and almost tasteless. PG and VG are FDA approved as safe and in fact have been used for decades in food, pet foods, toiletries, and makeup. They do have distinct differences when used in tanks and how they saturate in the coils, especially when the vapor hits the throat. This is known as a “throat hit” and happens with liquids that have a higher PG ratio. On that flip side, VG tends to produce clouds that are thicker and larger than those produced by PG juices. You can experiment a little with either to determine the right balance for you.
  • Finally, making some simple changes to your method of draw can reduce inhalation strain and experimenting with various types of devices can also reduce the chance of getting headaches.

This industry is becoming more diverse with its options for vaping and there are so many choices out there for people who have chosen to vape instead of smoke cigarettes. It’s important to do your research and ask questions. With the increasing popularity of vaping and the emergence of new device designs, you should be able to find one that works for you!

Vaping’s the act of inhaling and exhaling vapor which produced by a vaping device. Vapers are now numbered at nearly 4 million. PHE is now recommending that smokers try vaping. It has become a popular alternative to smoking of tobacco. Though the side effects of vaping are rare, they do exist and can be managed, and in many cases only require a few adjustments in what or how you are using it.

Just as any other device, vaping has its side effects however, none are nearly as dangerous as smoking a cigarette. Headaches have been the most common side effect reported as being associated with vaping. The most obvious association is too much nicotine. Beginner vapers should start out with the lowest nicotine percentage possible and work their way up. In most cases, vaporers that are experiencing this side effect notice a difference after adjusting the nicotine level.
Another cause for headaches could be propylene glycol, a synthetic organic compound found in most e-liquids. Propylene Glycol (PG) has a dehydrating effect that can also lead to headaches. Increasing water intake should resolve this issue. There is also a possibility of sensitivity to propylene glycol, which could also be the root cause of headaches while vaping. In this case, choosing an e-juice with a 50% Vegetable Glycerin (VG) or higher content may be the answer.
Nicotine poisoning could be another cause of vaping headaches. Though very rare for a vaporer to reach the level of nicotine poisoning, it is always good to be aware of the possibility. To narrow the chances of a headache while vaping or possibly diminish them all together, opt for VG instead of PG. Some vaporers may have an allergic reaction to the VG but it is a better alternative.
After all the chemical adjustments, there is one other factor that may contribute to vaping headaches, amount of pulls or the length of the vaping session. Sometimes too much nicotine can cause it. Usually, stopping the vaping session will resolve this issue.
Being aware of all the possible side effects of vaping is ideal. Vaping has become a life changing experience for former smokers across the globe. It is always best to do your own research but do not be deceived by false info and myths created by anti-vaping interests. When purchasing a vapor be sure to choose one high in quality and follow the direction given to avoid all unnecessary incidents or side effects. If you continue to have headaches or other side effects after making the above adjustments, see your physician as soon as possible, there may be a bigger underlying issue.

Can Vaping Cause Headaches?

This year, Public Health England reaffirmed their 2015 claim that e-cigarettes were at least 95% safer than combustible cigarettes.

The 2018 review came a few weeks after the US National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine concluded that, on the available evidence, “e-cigarettes are likely to be far less harmful than combustible tobacco cigarettes.”

They both agree that, as an alternative to smoking, vaping has the power to significantly improve health outcomes.

But this doesn’t mean that vaping is perfect. More than half (55%) of e-cigarette users have experienced at least one side effect while vaping.

While they are generally not as serious as the side effects of using tobacco, they can be uncomfortable.

One reported side effect is getting a headache. Not every vaper complains about headaches, but some do, and it can be quite concerning.

Generally, a vaping headache is nothing to worry about. And there are some easy steps that you can take to avoid and cure vaping headaches.

What is a vaping headache?

An international survey of 19,000 e-cigarette users found that headaches was one of the most common side effects of vaping.

Along with a sore or dry throat, which was the top side effect, 11% of the survey respondents experienced headaches during or after vaping.

Descriptions of the headaches vary, but looking at descriptions on forums it looks like many vapers experience a ‘low grade,’ but consistent headache that can last a long time.

Some vapers claim that they used to get headaches when they first started vaping, but over time the headaches got less frequent and eventually stopped.

Vaping headache causes

There are a number of reasons why you can get a vaping headache. The most common are because of dehydration, nicotine and e-liquid ingredients.


Every noticed how hitting your vape can leave your mouth feeling a dry?

This is because propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG), the two key base ingredients in almost every vape juice, have dehydrating properties that ‘suck up’ moisture.

As well as contributing to a dry or sore throat, this kind of dehydration can make you feel dizzy or lightheaded and give mild or severe headaches.

You should drink plenty of fluids when you feel dehydrated. Keep taking small sips and gradually drink more if you can.

Make sure you take on more fluids if you are vaping more. You should drink enough throughout the day so that your pee is pale clear in color.

E-liquid ingredients

The ingredients in your favorite e-juice could be causing your headaches.

Unfortunately, it is not always clear which component of the ingredient list is causing your headache because different people have sensitivities to different ingredients.

You may be sensitive to too much VG or PG. If high VG e-liquids frequently give you a headache then you could try higher PG e-liquids and vice versa.

Remember that you can buy max VG e-liquids, but these juices are a thicker than high PG e-liquids. You should only use high VG e-liquids with a powerful box mod to prevent your atomizer clogging up.

It’s not just PG or VG that can cause headaches. You may have a sensitivity to one or more flavorings in an e-liquid.

Some vapers complain that particular flavors and brands give them a headache. If you are experiencing headaches from vaping, make sure you try lots of different brands and see if your experience differs.

It’s unclear which flavorings or ingredients cause headaches.

Some vapers advocate unflavored e-liquids over e-liquids with more complicated flavors, but you can never really know for sure.

Just make sure you experiment and remember which e-liquids disagree with you so you can avoid them in future.


Nicotine can cause headaches whether its delivered through combustible cigarettes or e-cigarettes.

The chemical causes blood vessels in your body to narrow slightly, which reduces the blood flow to your brain and can trigger a headache.

Most vapers are former smokers, so there is a high likelihood that you are used to nicotine. But there are some slight difference between how nicotine is delivered into your body with e-cigarettes and regular tobacco cigarettes.

If you have just switched from a combustible tobacco product to e-cigarettes, it may be that you are using too much nicotine.

There are two key causes of this kind of nicotine overload. The nicotine strength of your e-liquid may be too high or, with your new found vaping freedom, you may be hitting your vape too frequently.

Make sure you’re nicotine strength is at the level that’s best for you and prevent yourself from hitting your vape too often by keeping it out of reach or only using it in certain places, like in the kitchen or outside.

After-Dinner Headache? MSG Is Probably Not To Blame.

A few decades later in 1968, Dr. Ho Man Kwok wrote into the New England Journal of Medicine complaining about a feeling of numbness, weakness, and heart palpitations that he experienced whenever he ate at Chinese restaurants—a cluster of symptoms that came to be known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” He suggested that MSG was to blame. His claim spread quickly, triggering scientific studies, anti-MSG books, and plenty of “no MSG” signs in the windows of Chinese restaurants. So what of the scientific studies? In 1993, a study of 71 subjects found that so-called MSG symptoms happened at the same rate regardless of whether a person was actually consuming MSG or only thought they were. A more complex study in 2000 of 130 subjects found that people given large doses of MSG without food experienced some symptoms, but they didn’t happen every time and tended to disappear when the MSG was in food. All in all, there’s little evidence to suggest that MSG is harmful, and not much reason to avoid it the next time you order Chinese. Learn more about MSG in the videos below.

Glutamate Sodium

Restaurant Syndromes and Scombroidosis

A group of postprandial syndromes (restaurant syndromes) resembling anaphylaxis have been attributed to the ingestion of monosodium glutamate (MSG), sulfites, or histamine. Ingestion of MSG can produce chest pain, facial burning, flushing, paresthesias, sweating, dizziness, headaches, palpitations, nausea, and vomiting. Children can experience shivering and chills, irritability, screaming, and delirium. The occurrence of these symptoms has been termed the Chinese restaurant syndrome. The mechanism is unknown, but MSG is thought to cause a transient acetylcholinosis. About 15% to 20% of the general population appears to be sensitive to small doses of MSG, but reactions can occur in any individual if the dose is large enough. Symptoms usually begin no later than 1 hour after ingestion, but can be delayed in onset up to 14 hours. There may be a familial tendency to develop these reactions.2

Scombroidosis, histamine poisoning caused by the ingestion of histamine in spoiled fish, appears to be increasing in frequency. Histamine is the major chemical involved in symptoms, but symptoms are not caused by the uncomplicated ingestion of histamine alone. For unclear reasons, the ingestion of histamine-contaminated spoiled fish is more toxic than the ingestion of equal amounts of pure histamine administered by mouth. However, cis-urocanic acid, an imidazole compound similar to histamine derived from histidine in spoiled fish, could account for this phenomenon. urocanic acid can degranulate mast cells, thus perhaps augmenting the response to endogenous histamine.2 Histamine itself is produced by histidine decarboxylase from bacteria that cleave histamine from histidine in the spoiled fish. When caught, fish are not contaminated. The increase in histamine content occurs after death on board the fishing vessel, at the processing plant, in the distribution system, or in the restaurant or home. Fish with elevated histamine levels can look and smell normal. Cooking neither destroys the histamine nor alters the activity of urocanic acid.

The production of histamine and urocanic acid is increased when fish are stored at elevated temperatures. These agents are formed by bacteria such as Morganella morganii, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Hafniae alvei. The optimal temperature for amine production is about 30° C (86° F). However, once the bacterial population is enlarged, ongoing histamine production can occur even during refrigeration at temperatures ranging from 0° to 5° C (32° to 41° F). Scombroidosis is the most prevalent form of seafood-borne disease in the United States.2 It is probably underreported, because most episodes are mild. In addition, many episodes are reported as allergic reactions. It is most often produced by scombroid fish belonging to the family Scombroidae (e.g., tuna, mackerel) or Scomberesocidae (e.g., saury), but nonscombroid species (e.g., mahi-mahi, anchovies, herring), can also cause the problem.

As expected, the features of scombroidosis are very similar to those of anaphylaxis and can include cardiovascular, GI, cutaneous, and neurologic manifestations. Episodes can occur in outbreaks, with morbidity as high as 100%. However, individual susceptibility appears to vary greatly; episodes can occur from a few minutes to several hours after fish ingestion. The symptoms usually last for a few hours but occasionally persist for several days. The typical signs and symptoms, similar to histamine toxicity, include urticaria, flush, angioedema, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and hypotension. Neurologic findings are also common, with occasional wheezing. The most common symptom is flushing of the face and neck, accompanied by a sensation of heat and discomfort. The rash most frequently takes the appearance of a sunburn rather than urticaria. These cutaneous manifestations are the most common symptoms, with GI symptoms being second in frequency. Serious complications can occur in patients with preexisting cardiovascular or respiratory tract disease.

Although similar, several features distinguish histamine fish poisoning from food-induced anaphylaxis. First, many people dining at the same table can be affected—everyone who ingests significant quantities of the fish. Second, the cutaneous symptoms, as noted, are usually somewhat different, consisting of a prolonged flush without urticaria. This is also true of ana­phylaxis triggered by foods, including fish. Patients taking isoniazid appear to have enhanced susceptibility to episodes of scombroidosis.2

Syndromes characterized by excessive endogenous production of histamine include systemic mastocytosis and leukemias with overproduction of histamine-containing cells (acute promyelocytic, basophilic). Anaphylaxis can occur in such patients after relevant stimuli. For example, episodes can be precipitated in patients with systemic mastocytosis on the ingestion of opiates and in patients with promyelocytic leukemia on treatment with tretinoin.2

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