How to Clean Without Triggering Migraines

How to Clean Without Triggering Migraines

How to make cleaning with a migraine bearable

Migraine attacks are not only unpredictable but often disabling1 especially when you have to work with items that trigger your headaches. Cleaning with a migraine, for example, is a daunting task for every migraineur since you have to work around a myriad of triggers in the house. MaryAnn Mays, MD, a neurologist who specializes in headaches at the Cleveland Clinic says that most common headache triggers occur in homes.

Unfortunately, when attacks hit, the world around you does not stop, and though you crave a break from all the lights, sounds, and smells, you have to get your work done, including housework.  You may opt to turn off the lights and sounds or even avoid any odors during your attack but finding a long-term solution to your migraine will be more effective in the long run.

What makes cleaning unbearable?

While you may be affected by light when cleaning, some migrainers are affected by other factors. Here are the most common symptoms that make cleaning a challenge for different migraineurs:

Osmophobia and odor triggers

According to studies, migrainers show lots of olfactory-related symptoms (smells) such as olfactory hallucination and phantosmia but osmophobia (intolerance to odors that leads to avoiding them) and odor related triggers are the most common olfactory symptoms2.

In one study that sought to find out the olfactory symptoms that migrainers have, one hundred and thirteen migrainers were studied. It was found that 95.5% had osmophobia while 90.2% had their migraines commonly triggered by odors2. This study found the most common odor triggers to be:

  • Perfume (95.1%)
  • Cleaning products (81.3%)
  • Cigarettes smoke (71.5%)
  • Motor vehicle exhaust (70.5%)

Another separate study sought to find out odor substances that trigger migraines in patients. The findings stipulate that odors, especially perfumes, may trigger migraines in people after a few minutes of exposure3,4. 70% of the migrainers who participated in the study had odor triggered headaches after 25 minutes 3,4exposure to odors. Perfume was the most common trigger followed by paint, gasoline, and bleaches. Generally, the prevalence of osmophobia ranges between 25% and 86% in adult migrainers and 25% and 35% in children5.

Light and sound sensitivity

Migraineurs with light and sound sensitivity also face challenges when cleaning the house. A Study by Drummond 6 shows that photosensitivity is present in migrainers during and in between attacks. Hence, light is a constant limiting factor for photosensitive migraineurs.

Eliminating noise, smell, and sound entirely when cleaning is detrimental in the long run. Can you work around these triggers and making cleaning bearable?

How to make cleaning with a migraine bearable

Despite facing several attacks in a month, migrainers a have to find ways to take care of themselves and their families. One such way is keeping the house clean. We have put together several steps you can take to ensure that you do not end up having an attack every time you try to clean your house:

Lower your expectations

As a migraineur, you do not have to clean to perfection. There are times that you will not have the energy to clean the whole house and scrub the window panes. If you feel that there is a lot to be done and the cleaning is weighing you down, respect your body and stop cleaning when you feel tired.

It is essential to always keep in mind that your health is more important than a house cleaned to perfection. That does not mean that you should avoid cleaning altogether. Always begin with the problem areas when cleaning to ensure that you rid your house or clothes of stubborn dirt before getting tired.

Install dim lights in your house

Photosensitivity is a symptom that most migrainers show and because it is so prevalent, it is used in migraine diagnosis. If you find that you are sensitive to the lighting scheme in your house, consider eliminating all the bulbs that produce blue light such as LEDs. Instead, put in place, incandescent, overhead lights or floor lamps that produce warm white light. Also, you can dim bright outside light by putting drapes over your windows.

Changing lighting schemes is a short-term solution to eliminating disturbances from light when cleaning. What can you do to make cleaning more manageable in the long term? Because photosensitivity is an indicator of magnesium deficiency7,8, you can increase your magnesium intake to the recommended 400mg a day for adults9, by taking magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seed. Alternatively, you can use natural magnesium supplements as it is easy to measure your daily intake with them.

Use natural cleaning products

Many manufactured cleaning products have a strong perfume and chemical smells which can aggravate migraine attacks. In addition to this, manufactured cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds which, according to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, are some of the Indoor Environmental Parameters (IEPs) that cause headaches10. You can swap these manufactured products with green products that pose little or no threat to your health such as:

  • Vinegar: combined with water, it makes an excellent cleaning product for tile floors and countertops. Vinegar contains acetic acid, a potent antimicrobial which can kill E.coli and Salmonella. Avoid using it on wooden floors, granite, marble or stone countertops as it can damage them.
  • Tea tree oil: mix it with water and spray it around your house to get rid of mold. Tea tree oil has a strong but friendly scent. Avoid using it if you are unsure whether this scent will aggravate your migraine.
  • Baking soda: you can use baking soda instead of bleach – bleach is proven to aggravate migraines – to whiten surfaces.


Ensure that rooms are well ventilated when cleaning

Poor ventilation contributes to an uncomfortable indoor environment which increases the frequency of headaches. According to EPA, poor ventilation is an indoor environmental parameter that results in headaches10. In a study conducted by Ball State University and Virginia Tech, it was found that issues with air quality increase the monthly frequency of headaches in males and females. Proper ventilation improves the air quality in your home so that the temperature is neither too high to too low. It also maintains the right humidity in the air which reduces headaches 11. Ensure that you have high-quality filters in your heating and air conditioning systems to improve air quality. Also, make sure that your heating and air conditioning systems are reviewed and maintained often to retain an excellent indoor environment for you as you clean.

Avoid noisy vacuums

If noise is a headache trigger for you, invest in a full-size vacuum cleaner that is designed to make less noise. You can use a smaller vacuum for your carpeted areas or buy the handheld one as it is much quieter. Alternatively, you can do away with carpets and invest in hard surface floors that can be cleaned with a broom instead of a vacuum. If you cannot avoid the noisy vacuum altogether, purchase ear plugs, or noise canceling headphones, to cancel out most of the noise as you vacuum your house.

Use products according to manufacturer’s specifications

Green cleaning products might require several DIY steps to make the perfect cleaning products for your floors, surfaces, and clothes. You might need many products for different surfaces that can’t be cleaned with a single manufactured product.

If you do not want to spend lots of time mastering different green products, you can use the manufactured ones. Just make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s quantity and usage specifications. For instance, if the product has its usage procedure written on it, follow it to the letter. Also, avoid mixing cleaning products as they can be hazardous. Finally, look for unscented variations of your regular cleaning products if odor is a trigger for you.

Purchase products that you will use soon

Avoid purchasing cleaning products in bulk. Only buy that which you are sure that you will use soon. When cleaning products overstay, they expire and release gases and chemicals that could aggravate your migraine. Once the containers are empty, do not keep them in your house. Instead, dispose them off carefully.

Keep a migraine diary

Migraine diaries are useful tools that can help you or your migraine doctor to identify patterns, and migraine triggers 12. Before you begin cleaning, make sure that you write down how you feel in your migraine diary. Also, note down how you feel after completing every cleaning exercise and include the cleaning products that you used. In doing so, you make it easy to identify and do away with the products that might be aggravating your migraines.

Final thoughts

This article is an excellent guide on ways you can make cleaning much enjoyable with migraines. The ideas presented help you understand your triggers better and find a way to work around each trigger to make cleaning easier for each migraineur.

It is important not to put pressure on yourself when cleaning. Remember that you do not have to clean the whole house in a single day. If you have a headache on the day you are supposed to clean the house, wait until the headache passes, then clean. Swap out smelly products with natural or unscented ones and keep the house well ventilated. Finally, invest in an excellent magnesium-rich diet or use natural supplements that will reduce the frequency of your attacks in the long run.




2 Responses

Maddie from Migraine Stop
Maddie from Migraine Stop

September 21, 2018

Juanita, thank you for your comment!

I’m glad you were able to get a solid answer about your magnesium levels. There may be multiple reasons for light sensitivity. It is interesting though that it could be a sign. Thank you again for your comment!

Juanita Riechers
Juanita Riechers

August 25, 2018

I have high levels of magnesium according to my tests and still light sensitive. Dr.. ordered me not to take it.

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