Can Aromatherapy Help with Migraine?

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Q. Does Aromatherapy help with migraines? If so, what kind?

A. The idea that aromatherapy can help with migraines should not be that surprising since migraine sufferers are very sensitive to smells, particularly during an attack. I’ve had patients tell me that even a brief exposure to a strong odor can trigger a migraine – they can get on an elevator with someone wearing a strong perfume and get off the elevator with a migraine.

Fortunately, a group of German researchers, led by Dr. Hartmut Göbel, performed a very rigorous scientific study of pain-relieving properties of various odors. They established that peppermint (unlike eucalyptus) does reduce pain perception in healthy volunteers. Obviously, smelling peppermint will not stop a severe migraine attack, but it can certainly provide partial relief.

I find that the most practical use of aromatherapy involves blocking noxious odors. If you find yourself seated in a theater or on a bus next to someone wearing perfume or when you are exposed to smoke, fumes and other irritants, put a vial of essential oil of peppermint under your nose to block those smells. I recommend to my patients a very inexpensive product called Migrastick. Migrastick is a glass vial of peppermint and lavender essential oils with a rolling ball tip, that you can use to apply the oils to your temples or the inside of your wrists. While peppermint has been shown to relieve pain, we have some evidence that lavender can reduce anxiety, so it is a nice combination.

Alexander Mauskop, MD
Director, New York Headache Center
New York, NY