When Weather Triggers Head Pain
The weather report can tell you how cold it will be and whether to expect rain. But if you're prone to severe headaches, the forecast could also signal the start of debilitating head pain. Shifts in the weather—especially in the colder months—can sometimes trigger vascular headaches such as migraines and cluster headaches.
You can't control the conditions outdoors. But just like you can wear extra layers and pack an umbrella, you can take steps to ease headache pain, whatever the weather.
Is Your Head in the Clouds?
Many people with migraines report climate-related triggers, including drops in barometric pressure, lower temperatures, bright sunlight, and higher humidity. In a recent survey, more than one-third of people with cluster headaches—episodes of pain that repeatedly strike one side of the head—said these types of weather changes bring on symptoms.
In addition, susceptible children are nearly three times as likely to get a headache if it's humid or precipitating.
Scientists aren't sure why weather brings on headaches or makes them worse. Drops in atmospheric pressure could cause your brain to release substances that lead to inflammation, swelling of blood vessels in your brain, and more sensitivity in your nerves. Genetic differences may explain why some people feel weather shifts in their heads and others don't.
Spot Trends that Spark Symptoms
Keeping a headache journal can help you determine if weather triggers your pain. After each headache, note factors such as:
When it occurred
How intense it was, and how long it lasted
What the weather was like before and during
What you ate and drank in the previous 24 hours
How much you slept the night before
Your days of your menstrual cycle, if you're a woman
Share the notes with your doctor. This will help him or her diagnose your headache, pinpoint your triggers, and develop the best prevention and treatment plan.
Stay Ahead of the Pain
If you and your doctor note certain weather patterns that cause you pain, try to avoid them when you can. For instance, stay inside on rainy days, or shield your eyes from bright sunlight.
In addition, do your best to avoid any other factors that seem to aggravate your symptoms. These may include smoke, perfume and other scents, loud music, red wine, or foods such as chocolate or nuts. In fact, you may even find that these triggers are more to blame for your headaches than is the climate.
Checking the weather forecast can help you plan ahead and prevent pain. If you note dropping temperatures or other changes ahead, consider getting a massage, exercising, or trying biofeedback—any method that's helped you prevent or relieve pain in the past.
Shifts in the weather can sometimes trigger migraines and cluster headaches.
Drops in atmospheric pressure can lead to swelling of blood vessels in your brain and more sensitivity in your nerves.
- Keeping a headache journal can help you determine if weather triggers your pain.
© 2018 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced
or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use
of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.
- Rozen TD and Fishman RS. Cluster Headache in the United States of America: Demographics, Clinical Characteristics, Triggers, Suicidality, and Personal Burden. Headache. 2012;52(1):99-113.
- Connelly M, et al. Electronic Momentary Assessment of Weather Changes as a Trigger of Headaches in Children. Headache. 2010;50(5):779-89.
- Kimoto K, et al. Influence of Barometric Pressure in Patients with Migraine Headache. Internal Medicine. 2011;50(18):1923-8.
- Zebenholzer K, et al. Migraine and weather: A prospective diary-based analysis. Cephalalgia. 2011;31(4):391-400.
- Bekkelund SI, et al. Sun-induced migraine attacks in an Arctic population. Cephalalgia. 2011;31(9):992-8.
- Yang AC, et al. Temporal Associations between Weather and Headache: Analysis by Empirical Mode Decomposition. PLoS One. 2011;6(1):e14612.
- Hoffmann J, et al. Weather sensitivity in migraineurs. Journal of Neurology. 2011 Apr;258(4):596-602.
- Environmental & Physical Factors. National Headache Foundation. http://www.headaches.org/2007/10/25/environmental-physical-factors/
- The Role of Adherence and Triggers in Headache Management. American Headache Society Committee on Headache Education, American Headache Society. http://www.achenet.org/resources/the_role_of_adherence_and_triggers_in_headache_management
- Headache: Hope Through Research. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/headache/detail_headache.htm
- NINDS Headache Information Page. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/headache/headache.htm
- Cluster headache. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000786.htm