Hot Dog Headache – Symptoms, Causes, and Management

Eating hot dogs and other nitrate-containing foods can provoke a severe headache known as a hot dog headache or can also trigger an episode of already existing headache conditions such as migraine. This is not very common, yet is often seen in people who take other processed foods besides hot dogs such as salami and bacon. The location of the pain depends upon the type of headache triggered and usually lasts from 20 minutes to 2 hours.

Symptoms of hot dog headache

  • A severe throbbing headache
  • Nausea
  • Other associated food allergies in hypersensitive people
  • Facial flushing
  • Pressure and tightness
  • Palpitations
  • Excessive sweating

Causes of hot dog headache

  • Hot dog headache is caused by the presence of nitrates and nitrites in the meat. Nitrates are combined with a salt mixture to preserve the meat. The nitrate converts into nitric oxide which is a powerful vasodilator. Nitric oxide dilates the vessels of the scalp and brain, which results in sluggish blood flow and thus a severe headache.
  • The presence of monosodium glutamate is an important migraine trigger.

Other food triggers

Along with nitrates present in hot dogs, there are other chemicals as well that can trigger a headache. Some of these are as follows:

  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Tyramine
  • Capsaicin
  • Soy products
  • Autolysed yeast
  • Hydrolyzed protein
  • Aged meat
  • Sauerkraut, a common topping for the hot dog.

Management of hot dog headache


  • Proper history-taking is required for the establishment of an accurate diagnosis. Other than that some tests can be conducted to favor the possible diagnosis.
  • A “gut intelligence test” can be conducted that assesses your nitrate and nitrite consumption.
  • The ammonia pathway is a score that sheds light on all the microbial pathways which produce ammonia.
  • Liver function tests are also conducted.


  • Analgesic for pain relief
  • Probiotics for better immunity
  • Use anti-oxidant for detoxification of your body from the excess of nitrates
  • Vitamin E, vitamin C, and selenium have also shown some response in some studies.

Home remedies

  • Identify the exact trigger for the headache
  • Drink enough water
  • Avoid any sort of processed food
  • Avoid skipping meals
  • Take a balanced and healthy diet that contains fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Keep a headache diary and note down the onset, symptoms, aggravating, and relieving factors of your headache for better identification of the headache type.

When to consult a doctor?

If your headache persists for longer than 2 days and is not relieved by taking any sort of analgesic you should consult your doctor and get a proper nitrate free diet plan.


Does everyone suffer from a hot dog headache?

No, Some people have a higher sensitivity for nitrate-containing products and they get an episode of headache every time they consume any food that contains nitrates. However, a hot dog or two doesn’t harm others.

What sort of pain is felt in a hot dog headache?

The pain is usually pressing in character and ranges from moderate to severe in intensity.

What headache types are triggered by eating a hot dog?

Migraine is the most common type of headache triggered due to preservatives present in a hot dog. Other headache types are; cluster and tension headache.

Last medically reviewed on September 9, 2022.