The Impact of Allergies and Illness on Headaches and Migraines

Headaches and migraines are common afflictions, often exacerbated by allergies and illnesses. Understanding how these factors contribute to headaches and migraines involves examining the roles of inflammation, pain thresholds, and mechanical issues in the body.

The Role of Inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s defense mechanism activated by the immune system to combat infections and facilitate tissue repair. It involves the production of cytokines, which are proteins that signal cells to increase or decrease inflammation. While inflammation is a normal and necessary response to harmful agents, it can also contribute to the sensation of pain, especially when systemic inflammation occurs.

Systemic vs. Local Inflammation:

  • Systemic Inflammation: This occurs throughout the body and can be caused by illnesses such as viral, bacterial, or fungal infections. Common symptoms include fever, body aches, and an overall feeling of malaise.
  • Local Inflammation: This is typically localized to specific areas, such as the sinuses during an allergic reaction. However, allergens can also trigger a systemic response, leading to widespread inflammation.

Pain Thresholds and Sensitivity

When the body experiences systemic inflammation, pain thresholds often decrease, making individuals more sensitive to pain. This heightened sensitivity means that existing discomfort, such as neck or shoulder tension, becomes more pronounced.

Pain Sensitivity During Illness:

  • Studies have shown that during systemic inflammation, individuals experience increased sensitivity to pain. For example, during cold pressure tests, participants reported more pain when their bodies were artificially induced into a state of systemic inflammation.
  • In practical terms, this means that if someone has underlying musculoskeletal issues, like neck or shoulder tension, these issues can become more painful when they are also dealing with systemic inflammation from an illness or allergies.

Mechanical Elements and Pain

The neck, jaw, and shoulders play crucial roles in managing head pain. When these areas are not functioning properly, they can contribute to headaches and migraines. The upper part of the neck, from the base of the skull to the third cervical vertebra (C3), is particularly important due to its significant range of motion and its role in supporting the head. Dysfunction in these areas can lead to irritation and tension, which might be manageable under normal conditions. However, when systemic inflammation lowers pain thresholds, this underlying tension can become more noticeable and painful. For example, if someone with neck tension experiences systemic inflammation due to an illness, they may notice their headache more acutely, especially if the pain is exacerbated by certain positions or movements.

Practical Implications

Understanding the interaction between systemic inflammation and mechanical dysfunction helps in managing headaches and migraines more effectively. Here are some practical steps to consider:

  1. Address Underlying Mechanical Issues: Come visit us at Novera: Headache Center, where our knowledgeable physical therapists get to the root of the problem by manually treating musculoskeletal issues in the neck. Once these physical issues are addressed, you are less likely to experience such heightened pain, even during inflammation.
  2. Manage Inflammation: Consider adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, which can help control systemic inflammation.
  3. Monitor Pain Triggers: Keep a headache diary to track potential triggers, including allergies and illnesses, which can help identify patterns and inform better management strategies.


Allergies and illnesses can significantly impact headaches and migraines by increasing systemic inflammation and lowering pain thresholds, making underlying mechanical issues more painful. Understanding these connections can help in developing comprehensive treatment plans that address both the symptoms and their root causes, ultimately leading to better management and relief from headaches and migraines.

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