“For some people, weather changes may cause imbalances in brain chemicals, including serotonin, which can prompt a migraine. Weather-related triggers also may worsen a headache caused by other triggers," writes Jerry Swanson, M.D.
For some people, the beginning of another migraine attack is the unavoidable signals of an approaching storm
For many of us, weather changes may cause imbalances in brain chemicals, including serotonin, which can provoke a migraine. Weather-related triggers also may worsen a headache caused by other triggers.
Some people who have migraines appear to be more sensitive to changes in the weather.
The International Headache Society identifies seven triggers for weather-related migraine
- Dry air
- Barometric pressure changes
- Sun glare and bright lights
- High humidity
- Extreme heat or cold
- Bright sunlight
- Windy or stormy weather
- Temperature changes
- Extremely dry conditions
How many people with migraines are weather sensitive?
Among all those with migraine, just over one-third feel that certain weather patterns trigger at least some of their attacks. In those with a more severe migraine, a study found that just over half felt that weather triggered some of their migraine attacks. The specific weather pattern which people feel they are sensitive to varies from person to person.
Why weather triggers migraines?
High humidity and extremely dry conditions can intensify dehydration, one of the most common and preventable migraine triggers. Bright lights and sun glare activate a condition called photophobia (a painful sensitivity to light) among many people with Migraine. (Click here to learn how to counter light sensitivity when you have a migraine)
Why lightning and barometric pressure so dramatically affect headache isn´t completely understood. Dr. Steven Graff-Radford, DDS, the director of the program for headache and orofacial pain at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, explains: “Barometric pressure changes might affect the pressure in the brain or the way the brain blocks pain, but it’s not quite known. What´s quite clear is that overcast, cloudy, and rainy days produce more Migraine headaches.”
As for lightning, researchers suggest it could be related to electromagnetic waves emitted from lightning or the related release of fungal spores that might lead to Migraine.
Do weather changes trigger migraine headaches?
Many people with migraine think they do. Some scientific studies have been unable to show a clear link between weather patterns and migraine.
Studies have shown, however, that weather changes can be an attack trigger for some people with migraine.
It can be difficult to prove scientifically that a particular weather pattern tends to trigger migraine attacks. Any single person may have a number of migraine triggers, so even if weather changes are one of them, many of that person´s migraine attacks may be caused by other triggers.
Often a single trigger, like a specific weather change, may not be able to start a migraine attack by itself unless the weather change is very dramatic. The weather change may only “cause” a migraine attack if it is able to add together with another trigger, like a meal containing monosodium glutamate or a glass of red wine. Also, the weather change may only be able to trigger an attack if the person is already migraine-prone because of fatigue, stress, or lack of sleep. Therefore, it may be hard to clearly see a relationship between a certain weather pattern and the onset of migraine attacks.
Finally, not all people with migraine are weather sensitive. Among those that are, some may be sensitive to one weather pattern and others may be sensitive to another one. Additionally, there may be a time delay of a number of hours before the migraine attack follows the trigger.
Which weather changes trigger migraine headaches?
The specific weather patterns or changes in weather that might trigger your migraine attacks depends on you. Every person with migraine likely has a unique set of triggers which may include stress, certain foods, alcohol, and other factors. In the same way, some people with migraine are likely sensitive to one weather factor, and others are sensitive to other factors.
It does seem clear that different people with migraine may have different weather-related triggers. In a study that involved the Chinook winds, a powerful weather system in western Canada, it was found that some with migraine were sensitive to the day before the Chinook wind started at a time when barometric pressure was falling. Others tended to have more migraines the next day when the wind was blowing, although this increased risk was only present if the wind was quite strong. So, even though both groups were Chinook sensitive, there seemed to be two different ways in which this weather system could trigger migraines.
A study found that some people with migraine appear to be sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. Another study found that higher temperatures increased the number of patients with migraine who went to the emergency department with a headache.
Barometric pressure may be another factor. One study looked at whether falling barometric pressure seemed to trigger headaches during a time when a typhoon hit Japan. It found that 75% of people with migraine had migraine attacks associated with the drop in barometric pressure, while only 20% of people with tension-type headache experienced an attack.
The amount of sunshine may also be a factor. In a study, sunshine on more than three hours a day increased the possibility of a migraine.
What can you do to prevent and treat weather-related migraines?
Although some migraine attack triggers, like red wine, can be avoided, there is no avoiding the weather! Although moving to another area with perhaps more stable weather can be considered, there are no guarantees that this will work. But what you can do is try to avoid triggers and follow these tips.
11 tips to avoid your next weather-related migraine attack
- Dehydration– If you needed another reason to drink more water, high humidity and extremely dry weather can be managed with better hydration.
- Stay Indoors – While it won´t avoid electromagnetic waves or barometric pressure, it will help you manage exposure to bright light, extreme temperatures, and high humidity.
- Invest in glasses– Even when you´re indoors, fluorescent lights and other bright lights can aggravate some Migraine sufferers. Block indoor lights and outdoor glare with migraine glasses using a tint called FL-41.
- Invest in a Barometer– If you don´t travel much, you can get a barometer for your home or workplace. The advantage of having it on your desk or in your kitchen is the visual heads-up it will give you of barometric changes.
- Limit Your Other Triggers– Once you know that a storm is on its way or underway, the key to avoiding a weather-related migraine attack is to limit your exposure to other triggers. Avoid positive or negative stress, guard your sleep, avoid any potential food and drink triggers, ensure you exercise and practice the best prevention protocol possible.
- Keeping a headache diary, listing each migraine, when it happened, how long it lasted and what could have caused it. This can help you determine if you have specific weather triggers.
- Taking your migraine medication at the first sign of a migraine.
- Making healthy lifestyle choices eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, drink enough water, get enough sleep and keep your stress under control. These factors can help reduce the number and severity of your migraines.
- Keep a regular sleep pattern
- Don´t skip meals
- Avoid any food triggers
What people with migraine and weather sensitivity can do is avoid or manage other triggers within their control when a weather system that they are sensitive to comes along.
Importantly, manage your schedule during times when the weather may be a problem for you so that you don´t get too fatigued or too stressed.
The medications used to treat weather-related migraines are the same as those used to treat other migraine headaches. If frequent migraine attacks, weather-related or otherwise, are a problem for you, then see your doctor and ask if one of the daily preventive medications might be helpful for you.
Before you get too bummed out about the weather you can’t control, consider this. It might just be a hidden superpower. Dr. Graff-Radford suggests in an interview: “The migraine-weather connection might also be evolutionary, as it keeps humans in tune with their environment. A person who is more sensitive to oncoming storms could be able to warn others of a potential threat.”
Migraine sufferers can also monitor weather changes and avoid known triggers. If those weather factors have caused migraines in the past, it is best to try to avoid them altogether.
Track your migraines as you track the weather and see if it’s a trigger for you. If it is, start forecasting so you can adjust your exposure to triggers you can control.
Compiled using information from the following sources: