Do changes in weather affect your headaches?
Wallace is a 42 year old civil engineer from Boston who had headaches that were mild and infrequent. Usually they were brought on by not getting enough sleep or forgetting a meal. But by keeping an eye on his schedule, and making sure he ate on time, he was generally okay. However, when his job changed and he and his family moved to Miami, FL. Moving at the end of the fall, his family was thrilled to miss another New England winter. But in late spring, he began to change his mind about the move as his headaches increased dramatically. He and wife tried to figure out what was going on – they had their house checked for mold; they changed their diet; he took up Yoga. He could not find a reason and they continued unabated. Summer came, and he took his family back to Boston to visit his family for two weeks. An interesting thing happened, his headaches disappeared. Was it the relief of coming back to his family or seeing his old neighborhood. He wasn’t so sure. But when he came back to Florida, during a particularly severe summer storm and his headaches resurfaced shortly after getting his bags, his wife realized it was the change in weather.
When I first met Wallace and his wife about two weeks later, they had quite a bit to say about his headaches and weather change. If changes in weather were a big migraine trigger for him, what could he do? After all, one of the old jokes in Florida, is that if you don’t like the weather wait five minutes, is not that much of an exaggeration.
Was Wallace’s case, an isolated phenomenon? Unfortuantely, not.
Weather related migraines are a common enough phenomonen that the International Headache Society has written about them. They list seven main triggers for weather related migraines:
- Temperature changes
- High humidity
- High winds
- Stormy weather
- Extremely dry conditions
- Bright lights and sun glare
- Barometric pressure changes
In addition, Dr. Vincent Martin from the University of Cincinnati published a 2013 study that linked migraine headaches to lightning. Indeed, there was a 31% increased risk of headache, in migraineurs when lightning struck within 25 miles of their homes.
Japanese researchers found that 64% of the people whose headache frequency they followed for a year, experienced a headache when the barometric pressure dropped.
Why this happens is not entirely clear – different hypothesis speculate that changes in the pressure or light or other forms of electromagnetic interference change brain chemistry, including serotonin, in people who are otherwise predisposed and triggers a migraine headache.
Tips for Dealing with Migraine Related Headaches
#1 – Try to discover and eliminate other triggers of the headaches. Headache triggers may be additive. For example. a mild summer storm may not be enough to trigger a headache by itself, but if you know that a glass of red wine or not getting enough sleep may set off your headache, you need to be doubly sure to avoid it on rainy days.
#2 – Forewarned is forearmed. Keeping track of the weather, either through following the newspaper or television, or the internet or mobile phone app is key. For example, the Accuweather App for the phone actually has a migraine prediction setting which people have said is quite accurate.
#3 – Stay hydrated. Some of the effects of weather, including heat and humidity are easier to manage if you drink up and keep your electrolytes at a good level.
#4 – If the future is too bright, you’ve gotta wear shades. Reducing light exposure may not help in the setting of changes of barometric, but reducing UV light exposure may provide some relief. Consider wearing sunglasses when you go outside.
#5 – Move to a different climate. Obviously this is not a practical solution for most people, but if the weather changes cause significant discomfort, it is at least something to consider. People who live in more temperate or even climates, tend to have fewer headaches.
#6 – When all else fails, consider preventive therapies. If the weather changes affect your life, then preventive therapy may be the best option. While prescription medications may work well, as well discussed before, many people have excellent relief with over the counter therapies which are mild and do not require prescription.
Remember the old expression that forewarned is forearmed. Knowing your triggers and coming up with strategies with how to avoid or work with them can put you on the right course to getting your life back.