How the Weather Affects Migraines

By

Susan Fishman

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Blue sky with clouds

If a brewing storm sets off a storm inside your head, you’re not alone. People who experience migraines and tension-type headaches often point to weather as a trigger. Some can even predict rainstorms, snowstorms or other weather changes before they occur, based on the onset of their symptoms.

And though research to support their claims has been mixed, a recent study has found that patients who believe they are sensitive to weather experienced an increase in their headaches during the winter.

Climate Triggers

Specific weather triggers for migraines may include:

  • Temperature changes

  • Extreme heat or cold

  • High humidity

  • High winds

  • Stormy weather

  • Extremely dry conditions

  • Bright sunlight and sun glare

  • Barometric pressure changes

Why the Weather?

The connection between weather and migraine headaches isn’t completely understood. For certain people, weather changes may cause imbalances in brain chemicals, including serotonin, which can trigger a migraine. The weather may also worsen a headache caused by other triggers.

Researchers suspect that barometric pressure changes might affect the pressure in the brain or the way the brain blocks pain. And when it comes to lightning, it may be the electromagnetic waves emitted from lightning or the related release of fungal spores that lead to migraine. But more study is needed to understand these relationships.

How to Deal With the Pain

Although you can’t change the weather, you can determine which weather changes trigger a migraine for you, and take some steps to silence the roar of thunder in your head:

  • Keep a migraine diary. Be vigilant about recording the circumstances surrounding a migraine. Write down the date and time, length of the migraine, where you feel the pain, what it feels like, changes in the weather, physical activity you were doing at the time, any unusual symptoms and any treatments that did or didn’t help. Share this information with your neurologist.

  • Avoid or minimize triggers. For example, stay indoors during extreme temperatures or high humidity if these pose a problem for you. And if you know a storm is on its way or underway, avoid the other things that trigger a migraine for you, as well, such as certain foods, activities or bright lights.

  • Carry your medication with you at all times. Take it at the first sign of a migraine.

  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration is one of the most commonand preventable—migraine triggers, so be sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

  • Get some new specs. Bright light and sun glare can cause photophobia (painful sensitivity to light) for many migraine sufferers. If you can’t stay indoors in a dark room, you can invest in a pair of glasses (from TheraSpecs or Axon Optics) that have a special tint for migraine sufferers.

  • Use a barometer. Keep it in your kitchen or on your desk so you can readily check for barometric changes. Or try using a Barometer app on your phone, such as “A Barometer for iPhone,” that will read the pressure for your exact location.

  • Consider moving as a last resort. If all else fails, you may want to consider relocating to a more temperate climate. Research the best and worst places to live in the U.S. for people with migraines (eight of the 20 best cities for migraine sufferers are in sunny California).

Don’t let the weather get you down for the count. Talk to your doctor about other ways to relieve your migraine symptoms, and get help right away if you notice any confusion, dizziness, fever, numbness, persistent vomiting, slurred speech or shortness of breath.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Mar 30, 2016

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