By David Watson, MD
Director, WVU Medicine Headache Center 

With the joy and excitement of the holiday season, getting sidelined by a migraine can be incredibly frustrating. Think of all the planning that you put into your gatherings with family and friends – decorations, food, presents – and then a migraine hits with all of its inglorious accompaniments: a pounding headache, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to lights and sounds, etc. Suddenly, your holiday party becomes a distant thought replaced by the pain and fog of yet another disabling attack.

Dr. David Watson

Unfortunately at this time of year, triggers can lurk around every corner for people who suffer from migraines. If you’ve never experienced a migraine, let me challenge you to take a look at the season from a different perspective. 

Late December is bustling with travel plans, food prep, putting up Christmas lights, shopping for gifts, multiple gatherings, football bowl games, and staying up late to ring in the New Year. While all of these activities bring us warm feelings, they are also fraught with hazards for those who have migraines. Travel is a cause of migraines for many, as it involves the stress of planning, traffic, sleeping in different beds, a loss of control over dietary restrictions, and sometimes, the adjustment to a different time zone. Food choices are a likely cause of migraines, and when someone offers you a dish they made, it can be difficult to determine the specific ingredient triggers. Gifts, like scented candles, can immediately bring on a migraine for some. The brightness of Christmas lights can be challenging for some migraine sufferers, too. Changes in your sleep routine on New Year’s Eve or the excitement of watching your favorite team (Go Mountaineers!) play in a bowl game can induce a migraine in others.

So what are migraine sufferers to do? Avoid the holidays altogether? Of course not. Taking care of yourself and limiting your exposure to triggers when possible can make the holiday season more bearable.

  • Drink plenty of water. Migraine sufferers should drink eight glasses of water daily, but it’s especially important to hydrate properly when facing an abundance of migraine-triggering situations around the holidays.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep is so often neglected throughout the year and especially during the busy month of December. Changes in sleep patterns, particularly reduced sleep, are an incredibly potent and aggressive migraine trigger. Vow to yourself this year that it’s okay to go to bed before everyone else does or at least when everyone else does. The dirty dishes will wait. The New Year will still be new in the morning. And the football game is just begging to be DVR'd.
  • If you're traveling, plan ahead. Make sure you aren't going to have to leave too early or arrive too late to get to bed at a decent hour. If your choice of bedding is a fold out cot or a lumpy couch, consider staying in a hotel instead.
  • Check the ingredients in food. When it comes to food, don't be ashamed to ask what’s in it. If Uncle Larry offers you his famous deer jerky, ask what he used in his marinade. And if it doesn't work for you, Uncle Larry should understand. 
  • Give the gift of compassion to a migraine sufferer this holiday season. Finally, if you are Uncle Larry, cousin Sara, or anyone else who doesn't get migraines, remember to be understanding of your friends and family who do. They don't want to miss a moment of the fun or a taste of the best venison this side of the river, but unfortunately, migraines happen.

Make an appointment: 855-WVU-CARE.