Do intermittent sounds cause headaches, and if so what are the remedies?
February 6, 2018 9:03 PM   Subscribe

A 15-year-old of my acquaintance told me something interesting and disturbing: he told me that intermittent noise (from, for example, kids talking in class, or "echoey rooms") in his high school regularly gives him severe headaches. This raises several questions.

* Is this A Thing? Does this really happen?
* Would a neurological checkup be a good idea?
* Is there some sort of "noise exposure training" that might help?
* Could this sensitivity be related to anxiety/nervousness/being on "the autism spectrum" -- all of which are present in the kid?
* More generally -- what's your theory about what might be going on here, and what kind of medical professional is the right one to see?

(All of these, as you may have noticed, are more or less the same question.)
posted by Mr. Justice to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
Sounds can absolutely trigger migraines (Anecdata of two) This, however, on the limited data provided does not sound like my aural triggers... which of course doesn't mean anything.

A quick google on the subject mentions sound potentially triggering both migraines and tension headaches.
posted by Jacen at 9:33 PM on February 6, 2018

1) Yep. It's a thing.
2) Get a referral, it's always best to check these things to make sure nothing is wrong like a tumour causing an increase in headaches but I would not say this is a rush to doctor thing. Call for GP app. Ear infections, sinuses infections and meningitis are also possible causes. Also common is bad eyesight or hearing = stress = more headaches so maybe see about glasses checkup.

Ask them if they are drinking enough water, and how much caffeine in coffee, energy drinks or pop. Any of these can make headaches more common.

As for help, flesh-colored earplugs or headphones might work for study hall, but otherwise I would see if the kid can request to sit away from giant noisey things and people and preferably near one of those fabric pin up boards or the blinds / windows as those will muffle the noises.

Low level noise can also cause headaches too, say the hum of a very annoying AC system and the flickering florescent lights and their annoying hum making it harder to focus, but I am unsure if this was because of my poor heading but its a strong memory. In that case, I found it much less stressful to sit in an area where I had to strain less to hear clearly. If the kid tends to squint while listening, tense up, and try to lean in any time the teacher speaks, announcements are on, or theres a video then its likely this is coming from stress of trying to pick out the right things to listen to.
posted by Liger at 9:33 PM on February 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Checking in with the neurologist who is involved with the teen being on the spectrum would be ideal, especially if the teen has academic accommodations. It may Beth at something low-key like the previously mentioned ear plugs/personal sound mitigation strategy gets them through specific locations/situations.
posted by childofTethys at 1:54 AM on February 7, 2018

I definitely think it’s likely to be a sensory processing thing related to being on the spectrum. Has he ever worked with an occupational therapist? If it turns out to be a sensory processing issue, an OT may be able to help him come up with strategies to deal with it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:33 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here’s a thing from the American Occupational Therapy Association on OT approaches to dealing with sensory processing issues in adults. (Lots of stuff about this deals with little kids, which may be less relevant.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:39 AM on February 7, 2018

I have chronic migraines and, while sounds are not a trigger for me, visual triggers can be a big problem for me. Flashing lights, super-flickery old-style movies, and certain types of flickering fluorescent lighting can trigger my migraines. Note that these are all intrusive, intermittent and unpredictable sensory stimuli, not unlike the sorts of sounds your young friend describes as triggers. There is definitely a link between migraines and sensory sensitivity in general. Even though his symptoms fit with classic migraine, though, anyone experiencing intense headaches should get checked out by a doctor to be on the safe side.
posted by BlueJae at 7:42 AM on February 7, 2018

I get tension headaches that trigger migraines--do the sounds cause him to tense up?
posted by telophase at 11:20 AM on February 7, 2018

Could this sensitivity be related to anxiety/nervousness/being on "the autism spectrum" -- all of which are present in the kid?

I have sensory issues that are in fact markedly impacted by my anxiety--when my nerves are in low gear in general I'm good, when they gear up everything screams, and this was much worse as a teenager than it is now for me in my 30s. I don't have better recommendations for dealing with it than are laid out above plus general anxiety management, but I can say that my experience is that these are totally related. Also that the actual headaches did, for me, ease off substantially after adolescence; I still get them sometimes but not as often.
posted by Sequence at 11:33 AM on February 7, 2018

Auditory processing issues here and yeah, noise can absolutely trigger migraines and it is much worse when I am otherwise overstimulated (bright environments, lots of environmental noise, emotional stress, the usual sleep/eating/hydration issues). I take a medication that helps with the overall anxiety disorder, but it is mostly a case of managing various aspects. I am fairly vigilant about sleep/food/hydration levels, wear sunglasses if I am outside during the day, and a hat most of the time, I have headphones with me at all times to either 'drown out' noise with a predictable aural landscape or to dull it (I wear them at the cinema for example).

Mostly I try and be kind to myself about the physiological aspects of the problem, because the more anxious I get - and it is very much generalised in loud environments, or inappropriately targeted - the worse the headache gets basically. I can cut off my migraine if I immediately remove myself from the environment, and sit in a dark room in mostly silence with an icepack on my head. That's not always possible though, so being able to keep the stress minimised until I can bleed off the worst of the physiological responses helps - breathing exercises, the headphones/sunglasses, things like that.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:09 PM on February 7, 2018

« Older I need to remove a stain from a wall... but how?   |   Hepatitis B Surface Antibody (HBsAb) Test? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.