Coping with Noise Triggered Headaches

Noise as a Headache Trigger and Densitization as a Coping Strategy

Loud noises, like fireworks, may trigger headaches. Daniel Schild/EyeEm/Getty Images

You are not alone if you avoid fireworks on July 4th or find yourself frequently telling your children that their loud voices are giving you a headache. Yes, noises are commonly reported headache triggers.

Let's take a closer look at the science behind noise-triggered headaches and how you can cope with them.

Is Noise a a Scientifically Proven Potential Headache Trigger?

Yes. In one small study in Headache, 79 percent of people exposed to 50dB of white noise developed a headache, and 82 percent reported that the headache was the same or similar to their usual headaches, which were either migraines or tension-type headaches.

Noise can even be a headache trigger for people who do not generally suffer from headaches. Although people with a headache disorder usually have a lower tolerance for noise and report worse headaches than those who are not typical headache sufferers.

How Does Noise Trigger Headaches?

Like all triggers, this is a complex question. Since noise is a trigger for both migraines and tension-type headaches, there may be one or more mechanisms for how noise triggers head pain. One study in Headache, found that those who developed a headache from noise had a increase in their temporal pulse amplitude -- this refers to distention or widening of a superficial blood vessel in the face.

According to more recent migraine theories, the distension of blood vessels surrounding the skull may activate trigeminal sensory nerve fibers. This then evokes the release of proteins -- like CGRP -- which further worsens brain inflammation and thus pain.

Overall, the precise way loud noises cause headaches is likely complicated, but very well could be linked to blood vessel dilation.

So How Do I Stop Loud Noises from Triggering Headaches?

This is a tricky question. On one hand, much of headache prevention research focuses on avoiding triggers. But recently, headache studies are focusing on coping with headache triggers.

One way to do this is through a process called desensitization.

Desensitizing oneself to headache triggers, like loud noises, means gradually exposing yourself to the headache trigger to decrease your head pain or number of headaches in the future when exposed to that same trigger. This therapy is commonly used for people with anxiety disorders, especially people with phobias.

For headache-triggering noise, the duration of exposure may affect whether a person is desensitized. For instance, in one study in Headache, a shorter exposure to a loud white noise actually led to more headaches whereas prolonged exposure led to less headaches. This was true only in people who did not have an underlying headache disorder. Unfortunately, in this study, the relationship of exposure duration for those with headache disorders was unclear.

Regardless, the idea of learning to cope with triggers through gradual exposure  is becoming a more popular treatment in headache health. More studies need to be done, but this is an exciting, non-invasive intervention -- and something headache sufferers get to take an active role in.

Bottom Line

Everyone is different when it comes to headache triggers. If you find that noise is triggering headaches, you may consider avoiding the trigger if it's easy, like avoiding the fireworks that occur once a year or avoiding indoor music concerts. But, if you are sensitive to everyday noises, than a coping strategy like desensitization may be more useful. Talk with your doctor if you are unsure. Don't let noise-triggering headaches affect your happiness. Take charge of your health.


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DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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