Alliaceous migraines

Headache. 2014 Feb;54(2):378-82. doi: 10.1111/head.12091. Epub 2013 Apr 1.


Objective: To report a migraineur with osmophobia and trigger to garlic and onion aroma.

Background: While odors serve as a trigger in 70% of migraineurs, alliaceous aromas have been described only rarely. Furthermore, nor has more than one type of alliaceous odor acted as a trigger in the same individual. Neither has migraine with aura been described as precipitated by such aromas. A patient experiencing migraines with aura, triggered almost exclusively by alliaceous aromas, is described.

Case study: 32-year-old woman; 5 years previously felt nasal pruritis upon eating a red onion dip. Shortly thereafter, the mere aroma of raw onions caused a sensation of her throat closing along with an associated panic attack. Over the intervening years, upon exposure to onions and garlic aroma she experienced a fortification spectra and visual entopia, followed by a bipareital, crushing level 10/10 headache, burning eyes and nose, lacrimation, perioral paresthesias, generalized pruritis, nausea, fatigue, sore throat, dysarthria, confusion, dyspnea, palpitations, presyncopal sensations, hand spasms, tongue soreness, neck pain, phonophobia, and photophobia. These would persist for 1 hour after leaving the aroma. She was unresponsive to medication and would wear a surgical mask when out. The patient also experienced chemosensory complaints: dysosmias every few months; phantosmias of food or cleaning products every month for a minute of level 5/10 intensity; pallinosmia of onion or garlic odor for 30 minutes after exposure; and metallic pallinugeusia after eating with metal utensils.

Results: Neurological exam normal except for bilateral positive Hoffman reflexes.

Chemosensory testing: Quick Smell Identification Test 3/3 and Brief Smell Identification Test 12/12 were normal. Magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography with and without contrast normal. Allergy skin test was positive for garlic and onion. Nose plug and counter stimulation with peppermint prevented the onset of headaches and associated symptoms.

Conclusion: This is the first report of migraines with aura triggered by more than one alliaceous compound in the same individual. Possible mechanisms include odor induced, emotional change, vasomotor instability, trigeminal-induced neurogenic inflammation, and allergic response. In alliaceous and odor-induced migraines, a trial of counter stimulation and nose plugs is warranted.

Keywords: alliaceous; aroma; garlic; headache; migraine; onion.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Allium*
  • Female
  • Garlic / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Mentha piperita
  • Migraine with Aura / diagnosis*
  • Migraine with Aura / etiology*
  • Migraine with Aura / physiopathology
  • Odorants*
  • Onions / adverse effects
  • Plant Oils / therapeutic use
  • Reflex, Abnormal / physiology
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Plant Oils
  • peppermint oil