Can Smoking Cause Headaches?

There is no question that smoking is an unhealthy habit. It is devastating for one’s oral health, but it is also detrimental to one’s physical health. Smoking is linked to all types of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.

Woman in a hoodie smoking a cigarette
Smoking and nicotine can impact your headaches.

You may be wondering, can smoking cause headaches? The answer is yes, and a headache from smoking can be caused by cigarettes as well as cigars and pipes. Non-smokers are also at risk of getting headaches when exposed to second-hand smoke. The headaches caused by nicotine may be cluster ones or even migraines. Although the nicotine in tobacco products is the main cause of headaches, allergies and odor sensitivity are other causes.

When it comes to smoking and headaches, there is a lot to understand. Taking certain steps can reduce the frequency of headaches or alleviate them altogether.

 

Can Nicotine Cause Headaches?

Nicotine is one of the chemicals in tobacco products, and it is the main cause of headaches. One of the things this chemical does is cause the body’s blood vessels to constrict, or narrow. This results in less blood getting to the brain, which is one of the causes of migraine headaches. Less blood flow can also cause pain, which can be felt in the face or back of the head, which is known as cluster headaches.

Nicotine also stimulates the nerves that sense pain, which increases the chances of headaches. Another tricky thing about nicotine is that it interferes with any headache medication one might take to relieve the pain. Nicotine makes it difficult for the body to break down the medication, reducing its effect.

For some people, the lack of nicotine can also lead to headaches. This is more common in people who smoke less frequently. For example, if someone has a cigarette in the morning and then does not have another one until the afternoon, a headache may come on during the later morning due to some nicotine withdrawal.

Do Other Chemicals in Tobacco Products Cause Headaches? 

A cigarette headache can be caused by other chemicals in tobacco products. One of these is carbon monoxide. Smokers have higher levels of this that linger in the body, and it has been shown to cause headaches.

 

Does Quitting Smoking Cause Headaches?

Although smoking can cause headaches, quitting smoking can also lead to headaches. This is because of nicotine withdrawal. Headaches and other symptoms are more common in people who have used tobacco products regularly and for a long time. This is because, over time, nicotine causes changes to the brain’s chemical messengers. Stopping nicotine disrupts their balance, which leads to numerous physical and psychological side effects.

These side effects, including headaches, usually begin within the first 24 hours of quitting smoking. Headaches may get worse and peak around the 3rd day after quitting, and they should begin to subside gradually for up to four weeks. The good news is pain medication should be more effective because the nicotine levels drop quickly and steadily after the last puff of a cigarette, e-cigarette, cigar or pipe.

Post-quitting headaches may be reduced in a couple of ways. One is by using nicotine replacement therapy. This is a gradual way of stopping smoking, and it reduces the symptoms of withdrawal. The methods of NRT, which contain lower amounts of nicotine, may include skin patches, chewing gum, tablets, inhalators, or mouth sprays.

For people who try to quit smoking cold turkey, the withdrawal symptoms tend to be more severe. In these cases, there are some medications that help a person deal with the symptoms. One of the medications is Bupropion, which has been shown to reduce nicotine cravings. Another medication, Varenicline, also reduces cravings and blocks the satisfying effects that people experience when they smoke.

For those who do not want to take medication, there are some natural things people can do to help alleviate withdrawal headaches. These actions also combine well with those who are quitting gradually. Staying hydrated is important, and water is the best way to do so. Natural fruit and vegetable juices are also good. For some, caffeine from coffee or tea also helps reduce headaches.

Exercise also helps. Activity causes the brain to produce serotonin, which is the hormone that causes a feeling of pleasure and happiness. Not only does physical exercise help relieve headaches, but it is also good for the lungs, which need to heal after years of smoking.

Practicing breathing exercises can be helpful to alleviate withdrawal headaches. Taking deep breaths a few times when you feel a headache coming on can be effective. It helps stimulate blood flow to the brain and releases tension, both of which are factors in headaches.

 

Are There Risk Factors That Increase the Chances of Smoking Headaches?

There is a possibility that some groups of people are at higher risk of developing headaches from smoking. A study showed that those who were exposed to tobacco, either first hand or second hand, at an earlier age may be more susceptible to getting cluster headaches. The trend is that the headaches typically have a later age of onset, but the symptoms are more severe because the body has built up toxins from nicotine exposure.

Interestingly, those who were exposed to tobacco at an earlier age were also more likely to have alcohol-triggered headaches. Other commonalities the group shared is that many are heavy coffee drinkers and they had more missed days of work due to disabilities.

People who are susceptible to headaches when smoking tend to have worsening headaches over time. Instead of being episodic, headaches eventually become frequent, chronic, and even more challenging to get rid of.

 

How to Get Rid of a Nicotine Headache 

If someone is wondering how to get rid of a nicotine headache, the quickest answer is to stop smoking. However, as previously discussed, quitting often results in withdrawal headaches, so it does not always have an immediate effect.

Even cutting back and reducing the number of cigarettes smoked in a day can be helpful, especially with people who get cluster headaches. Studies show that smoking less than one-half of a pack per day can decrease the frequency of headaches by 50%.

 

Can Secondhand Smoke Cause Headaches?

For those who say “second-hand smoke gives me a headache,” there may be a couple of reasons for this. Just as studies show that being around others who smoke can be harmful to one’s health, second-hand smoke can also cause headaches. Some people are extremely sensitive to smells, and the odor of cigarette, cigar or pipe smoke can lead to a headache. Some people are also allergic to the smoke, and being around it can trigger a cluster or even migraine headache.

Another reason second-hand smoke causes headaches is that the smoke contains toxic chemicals. These include ammonia, benzene, cyanide, formaldehyde, and cadmium. Breathing these can cause numerous physiologic responses, including headaches. People who are sensitive to smoke should avoid it in public as much as possible and not allow others to smoke in their vehicle or home.

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