Coping With Noise Triggered Headaches

Using 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 these types of headaches, and how you can cope with them.

The Science Behind Noise as a Headache Trigger

You may be surprised to learn that noise is a scientifically proven potential headache trigger.

In one small study in Headache, 79 percent of people exposed to 50dB of white noise developed a headache, and 82 percent reported that a 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. In other words, people with underlying headache disorders appear more vulnerable to loud noise as a potential trigger.

The Mechanism Behind Noise Triggering Headaches

Like all triggers, the precise mechanism behind how exactly noise triggers a headache is unclear. In fact, since noise is a trigger for both migraines and tension-type headaches, there is likely more than one mechanism involved.

One study found that those who developed a headache from noise had an 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.

Nervous system hyperarousal likely plays a role too, as evidenced by the other symptoms besides headaches that occur with persistent and loud noise exposure including:

  • Sleep disturbances (for example, having trouble falling asleep and waking up too early)
  • Fatigue
  • Eyestrain
  • Hypersensitive to odors

How to 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.

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 people with headaches get to take an active role in.

A Word From Verywell

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.

If you find that loud noises at work are triggering headaches, talk with your boss about how this can be minimized. Maybe you can wear earplugs or headphones during certain parts of the day.

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.

Sources:

Bigal ME, Walter S, Rapoport AM. Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and migraine current understanding and state of development. Headache. 2013 Sep;53(8):1230-44.

Lee S, Lee W, Roh J, Won JU, Yoon JH. Symptoms of nervous system related disorders among workers exposed to occupational noise and vibration in Korea. J Occup Enviro Med. 2017 Feb;59(2):191-97.

Martin, P.R. (2010) Behavioral management of migraine headache triggers: learning to cope with triggers.
Current Pain and Headache Reports, Jun;14(3):221-7.

Martin, P.R. et al. (2014). Behavioral management of the triggers of a recurrent headache: a randomized controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, Oct;61:1-11.

Wöber, C. & Wöber-Bingö,l C.(2010)Triggers of migraine and tension-type headache. Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 97:161-72.

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