Nicotine Headaches: The Hidden Cost of Smoking in 2022

Aleksandra Osadcha April 19, 2022
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You’ve probably never heard of a nicotine headache before. But if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve experienced one.

You come home after a hard day’s work, slump on the couch, and pull out a cigarette.

“Last one for the day, just to get rid of the stress”, you convince yourself. Now most people smoke to relieve stress, and it does help..for a few seconds.

After a couple of minutes, it actually increases anxiety and tension, and even causes nicotine headaches. That’s right. Although commonly thought to relieve headaches and stress, it can actually do the exact opposite!

What is a Nicotine Headache?

You already know the negative medical effects of smoking. Lung issues, dental complications, and cancer, among others. But there’s something else that’s affecting you on a daily basis that you probably don’t even realize: nicotine headaches.

Despite being one of the main symptoms of smoking, it’s often overlooked when discussing smoking-related health issues. Of course, it makes sense to focus on life-threatening issues like cancer and heart disease. But nicotine headaches affect quality of life, and should be in the conversation when discussing health and medical issues linked to smoking.

Nicotine headaches are head pains that are directly linked to the consumption of nicotine, the main psychoactive ingredient in tobacco. It’s found in cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products. Because nicotine is an addictive substance, you may get excruciating migraines and headaches when your body no longer has the chemical in its system.

Smokers often wake up with bad headaches and migraines because it’s their body’s way of telling them it needs nicotine. It may sound like a catch-22; consume nicotine, you get a headache. Don’t consume nicotine..you also get a headache! 

While it’s true that nicotine headaches may come as a part of the withdrawal process, it’s not that cut and dry. And since research has shown that smokers are more likely to get frequent headaches, let’s explore this further.

How does Nicotine Cause Headaches?

Studies show that there is a link between nicotine consumption and headaches. It could be because:

  • Nicotine causes blood vessels in your body to narrow, which reduces blood flow to the brain. In some people, the lack of blood flow may trigger headaches or migraines.
  • As it passes through the throat, nicotine may also increase the sensitivity of pain receptors in the brain, which could lead to headaches or migraines.

Not only does nicotine cause headaches, it can also make it harder to get rid of existing headaches. Let’s say you have a migraine caused by stress or another medical issue, so you take medication.

Nicotine affects your liver’s ability to break down that medication, making it harder to relieve your headache, even though it wasn’t originally caused by nicotine.

While there is a link between nicotine and headaches, it’s important to note that tobacco contains many other chemicals as well, any of which could contribute to head pains or migraines.

What Types of Headaches are Associated with Nicotine?

Some types of headaches are more commonly associated with nicotine than others. These are:

Cluster Headaches – A severe pain around one eye or one side of the head. They are a series of short and painful headaches that can come everyday for weeks or months at a time.

Trigeminal Neuralgia – This pain occurs when a blood vessel presses on the trigeminal nerve. It’s a sudden, severe pain that’s described as an electric shock to the gums, cheeks, or jaw, lasting from a few seconds all the way up to two minutes.

Migraines – Migraines are a severe headache that causes throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head. The connection between migraines and nicotine is not established, and studies have found conflicting results. The research is still on-going, and migraines that smokers face may be unrelated or due to other chemicals in tobacco.

Can E-Cigarettes cause Nicotine Headaches too?

E-cigarettes allow you to consume nicotine as a vapor instead of smoke. You’ve probably heard that they’re safer than cigarettes. This is because they don’t burn tobacco, and don’t produce carbon monoxide and tar, which are considered the most damaging elements of tobacco smoke.

However, they still contain nicotine – thus making you susceptible to nicotine headaches and migraines. Like other tobacco products, e-cigarettes also contain known carcinogens, or cancer-causing substances. 

Using cigarettes and e-cigarettes share some common symptoms, such as cough, dry mouth, headaches, and shortness of breath. Since e–cigarettes are relatively new, there’s no conclusive evidence on whether these symptoms are caused purely by nicotine or other e-cigarette aerosols. 

Can people around me get a Nicotine Headache when I Smoke?

Although there are no studies that show an explicit connection between head pains and second-hand smoke, people exposed to second-hand smoke face similar dangers to smokers themselves. They inhale the same gasses and chemicals found in tobacco smoke.

Being exposed to second-hand smoke can cause irritation in the eyes, nose, and throat. It can also cause coughing, nausea and headaches. Prolonged exposure may also cause more serious health issues, such as heart disease and cancer. 

The effects of second-hand smoking are more severe for children, as they have an increased risk of asthma, lung illnesses, ear infections, and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

It’s still unclear as to whether the headaches, migraines and other symptoms caused by second-hand smoking are specifically because of nicotine or other chemicals found in tobacco.

What are the Symptoms of a Nicotine Headache?

Although nicotine headaches aren’t fatal, they affect your quality of life. The main symptom is pain on the side, front, or back of the head. In some extreme cases, it may even cause migraines. Additionally, prolonged use of nicotine may also lead you to experience:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Dizziness
  • High blood pressure
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea

Can you get Headaches from Nicotine Withdrawal?

When trying to quit smoking, you may experience headaches and migraines as part of the withdrawal process. That’s normal. 

Due to its addictive nature, those who use nicotine frequently become dependent on it. Nicotine withdrawals therefore come with not only emotional stress, but physical and mental symptoms as well. 

One common symptom in the withdrawal process is headaches. Although there’s no hard evidence, it’s assumed to be caused by the increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain. The headaches are usually accompanied by insomnia, tobacco cravings, and nausea.

But don’t you worry, the headaches and migraines caused by nicotine withdrawal tend to disappear after a few days, and don’t have any long-lasting effects. However, you might still be dealing with emotional and mental challenges associated with withdrawals such as anxiety and irritability for a few weeks.

Can Nicotine Patches Cause Headaches?

If you’ve tried to quit smoking, you’ve probably come across nicotine patches. They release small amounts of nicotine through the skin, and unlike cigarettes, they don’t contain all the other harmful chemicals found in tobacco. They help reduce cravings and physical symptoms, and have medically proven to be an effective method to help people quit smoking. 

Although these patches are effective, there may be some side effects. These include skin irritation, nausea, and headaches. That being said, the symptoms shouldn’t be too severe, and are usually caused by the patches releasing either too much or too little nicotine.

If you experience severe headaches or migraines from using the patches, we advise you to speak with a healthcare provider.

How is a Nicotine Headache Diagnosed?

It’s difficult for a healthcare provider to directly attribute headaches to nicotine usage, as headaches may be caused by other harmful chemicals in tobacco as well.

In order to be accurately diagnosed, it’s important that you’re transparent with your healthcare provider about your smoking habits and nicotine use. 

How is a Nicotine Headache Treated?

Although difficult to treat, here are some things you can do to reduce its effects:

Stay hydrated – Water dissolves nicotine, so drinking water will help flush it out through urine, thus helping to alleviate your head pains

Eating healthy – Eating fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can help boost your immune system and reduce the frequency of headaches

Cold therapy – Placing a cold compress on your forehead may help to relieve some of the pain

Meditation – Relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation have proven to be helpful in managing headaches

If these natural home remedies aren’t effective in helping alleviate your nicotine headache, it may be helpful to visit a healthcare provider. Depending on the severity and type of headache, they may provide over-the-counter pain medications, or prescription medicaitons. 

That being said, the only way to permanently get rid of it is to quit smoking. Quittercheck can help with that by keeping you 100% accountable on your journey. It’s the first cessation program that PAYS you to quit smoking, more details here.

Conclusion

Nicotine headaches are a common symptom of regular nicotine use. This can be through cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or chewing tobacco. 

In addition to headaches, smoking has much more serious impacts on your body. In many cases, it can even lead to cancer, heart disease, and strokes. 

Although there are several home remedies and over-the-counter medications to treat these headaches, the only way to permanently get rid of them is to quit smoking. After quitting, the headaches may still last for a few days, but will likely disappear after that.

That being said, quitting can be a very challenging process, especially for regular smokers.

If you’re on the fence about quitting, or you’ve tried and failed, Quittercheck can help. We’ve helped countless people quit smoking for good. With our program, you can say goodbye to nicotine headaches, and hello to improved breathing, better quality of life, and financial rewards.

Quittercheck is designed to help even the heaviest smokers stop chronic headaches and migraines permanently. Here’s how:

You pledge a certain amount of money as a deterrent to prevent yourself from using nicotine, then participate in weekly tests. If you fail a test, i.e consume nicotine in any form, you lose your pledge amount. If you pass, you’re rewarded. 

We offer 12-week, 20-week, and 28-week plans to hold you accountable towards your goal of quitting. Shorter plans are geared towards casual users, and longer plans are suited for heavy smokers. We also have a 1-week trial plan so you get a feel for how the program works and get used to the testing process.

For many smokers, it’s not just the nicotine addiction that deters them from quitting. It’s also the familiar hand-to-mouth drill that they engage in with either cigarettes or e-cigarettes. That’s where the Venquil Pendant comes in. It keeps your hands busy while you’re getting rid of the habitual motion of putting something in your mouth.

Quittercheck is fully dedicated to shortening your quitting journey, and helping you get rid of nicotine headaches and other harmful smoking-related side effects. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • How do you get rid of a nicotine headache?

Eating healthy, staying hydrated, and relaxation techniques can help. They can also be treated with medication. However, the only permanent way to get rid of it is to quit smoking.

  • What does a nicotine headache feel like?

It ranges from a quick 2-second headache on your forehead to a long-lasting throbbing pain in the back of the skull. In some cases, it may also lead to migraines.

  • Why did nicotine give me a headache?

Nicotine causes blood vessels to narrow, thus causing less blood flow to the brain. It also increases the sensitivity of pain receptors.