How Smoking Triggers headache

Smoking tobacco can elevate carbon monoxide levels in your blood, triggering headache, most commonly a cluster headache. Smoking and headache are very commonly linked as smoke is a very important precipitating factor.

Location of pain

Pain in the Back of head most commonly.

Duration of pain

Headache usually lasts 30 mins to an hour and goes away as soon as the trigger (nicotine) is removed. They may experience headache in first 3 days after withdrawal of smoking.

Symptoms

Pain triggered due to smoke

Nausea and vomiting in case of odour sensitivity

Causes

Nicotine in cigarette smoke is a vasoactive substance which means it has an effect on blood vessels. Nicotine, once enters the blood causes the blood vessels to constrict resulting in reduction of blood flow towards the brain and its coverings known as meninges. Decreased blood flow causes depressed brain activity and severe pain.

Another cause is presence of increased carbon monoxide which is a tobacco product. Smokers have high levels of carbon monoxide in the blood and brain which triggers headache.

People who do not smoke can be allergic to to smoke produced by a person smoking a cigarette nearby. Sensitivity to certain smells can trigger headaches.

Smoking and migraine

Cigarette smoke is the most common triggering factor for a migraine attack. People who smoke, experience more frequent migraine attacks. According to a recent study smoking 5 cigarettes a day, triggers more migraine attacks.

Smoking and cluster headache

A large number of patients who experience cluster headache are active or passive smokers which may indicate an important role of smoking in development of cluster headache. Smokers have also shown a transition from episodic cluster headache to a chronic condition.

Quitting smoking and headache

Some people quit smoking but the headaches do not stop. In such cases, this can be related to the type of headache they are experiencing. For example, people who experience migraines would not get rid of the headache but the frequency does drop. On the other hand, people who cut back on smoking might experience withdrawal headaches. 

Prevention

Those who have a family history of migraines and cluster headaches should avoid smoking.

Other Nicotine containing products should also be abstained from.

Treatment

Over the counter analgesics can provide relief. 

In case of a withdrawal headache, small amount of nicotine can be taken to provide relief.

FAQ

If I quit smoking would my smoking headache will be relieved?

Some people quit smoking but the headache does not stop. In such cases, the frequency does drop. On the other hand, people who cut back on smoking might experience withdrawal headaches.

How long does headache due to smoking last?

Headache usually lasts 30 mins to an hour and goes away as soon as the trigger (nicotine) is removed.

How is smoking and headache related to each other?

Nicotine present in smoke produced by a cigarette is a vasoactive substance that has an effect on blood vessels and cause pain in head when the vessels constrict and decrease blood flow to brain and meninges.

Are cluster headaches in anyway related to smoking induced headache?

People who smoke are more likely to experience cluster headaches in their life some smokers with cluster headaches also develop a chronic condition if they do not quit smoking.