Do Weather Changes Cause Migraines?

Around 38 million¹ Americans suffer from migraines, with about 5 million¹ experiencing them at least once a month. Weather variations may be to blame for some people's migraines. It is thus advisable to understand the relationship between migraines and the weather to help monitor your condition should a headache ensue.

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What are migraines?

Migraine is usually characterized by severe pulsating or throbbing head pain, hypersensitivity to lights or sounds, nausea, and vomiting. The most commonly stated migraine causes include certain foods, hormone levels, and stress. Weather changes might also play a role.

The link between weather and migraines

Studies² suggest a link between weather change and migraine attacks. For instance, a study conducted in Taiwan showed that half of the individuals who suffer from migraines blame the temperature changes as the primary cause. Extreme heat, barometric pressure variations, and storms could all affect these attacks by affecting brain chemical and serotonin levels.

Studies on the link between weather and migraines have been inconsistent because weather variations can produce a variety of reactions, making it difficult for researchers to pinpoint a single cause.

It is also challenging to gather clear evidence of weather contributing to migraines since not everyone reacts similarly to each change in weather. For instance, some people experience migraine symptoms when the temperature rises, whereas others experience headaches when it gets cold. Certain persons are more sensitive to changes in humidity and temperature than others.

A combination of circumstances might trigger a migraine attack. For instance, you might have an episode on humid days, but only if you're also worried or hungry.

Barometric pressure

Barometric pressure refers to a measurement of air pressure. As a result, an increasing barometric pressure indicates increased air pressure, whereas a dropping barometric pressure indicates decreasing air pressure.

The study of how the barometer affects headaches focuses on how blood vessels respond to changes in barometric pressure. Blood vessels shrink as pressure rises and widen as pressure falls.

A 2015 study³ supported the assertion that a slight drop in barometric pressure can increase migraine attacks in patients with migraines. The explanation is that a reduction in barometric pressure leads to enlargement of the blood vessels in the brain, causing serotonin to be released. And when serotonin levels increase, the visual phenomena are triggered.

Blood arteries swell when serotonin levels fall, triggering a migraine headache.

Changes in humidity

While humidity and migraines may have a link, the data is inconsistent. Higher humidity, in general, seems to trigger migraine attacks. A sudden rise or fall in humidity could also play a role.

Research⁴ supports these observations by indicating that migraine patients increase their visits to the emergency room during hot and humid weather. In contrast, the frequency of such visits drops during cold, dry weather.

Dehydration, a known migraine trigger, could be one cause for the rise in migraine symptoms during hot or dry weather.

Storms

There are fewer studies in this area because the connection between a storm and migraine has received little attention. However, a study found a link between lightning and migraine headaches among migraine patients. 

While this association is unclear, some researchers believe that storms lead to the production of charged ions, and positive air ions are associated with migraines. There is also the theory that irritable aerosols such as nitrogen oxides produced during lightning storms are responsible for the increased frequency of migraine attacks among migraine patients during storms.

Change in temperature

Your reaction to temperature may influence your capacity to produce migraines. A study² on the perception of temperature as a trigger for migraines established that individuals sensitive to changes in temperature had more significant migraine attacks in the winter.

Based on the study, although to a lower extent, individuals who were not temperature sensitive had more attacks in the summer. As a result, the link between temperature and migraine may be due to temperature-sensitive individuals being more sensitive to cold temperature swings.

Wind

Even though the wind is regularly identified as a migraine trigger, recent studies have received less attention. However, one study looked into the connection between migraines and Chinook winds, which are warm, westerly winds that blow in areas of Canada. The findings revealed that migraine headaches were more frequent in certain study subjects on days before Chinook winds and days of high-speed Chinook winds.

Dry conditions

There is conflicting evidence about the impact of dry weather on migraine, just as there are with other weather conditions. It could be because people are affected by the weather differently, but it also shows that additional research is required.

Dusty conditions

Dusty conditions trigger allergies, which can lead to migraines. Allergy-sensitive individuals, such as those with dust allergies, tend to experience more regular migraine attacks due to dust exposure.

Migraine can also be linked to allergic rhinitis, a disorder in which your body responds to particular allergens. One cause of migraine attacks could be inflammation in reaction to allergens.

Treatment options for migraines

Although there is no cure for migraines, there are steps you may take to inhibit the attacks and alleviate symptoms. Generally, regular exercise and stress management may decrease the frequency of migraine attacks you have. Avoiding foods that trigger migraines can also help with your condition.

Medications may be helpful if you are experiencing migraine symptoms. Discuss your symptoms and possible medications with your doctor. You can also consider some of the most commonly used pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or sumatriptan, to help you ease migraine symptoms.

Seven tips to dodge migraine weather

The following tips can help you dodge migraine weather:

  • Maintain a steady sleep schedule during the variations. Make a daily schedule for waking up and going to bed — even on Saturdays and Sundays.

  • Do exercise regularly. More movement, rather than specialized movement, is recommended. If you have restricted movement, chair yoga is a fantastic option.

  • Other triggers should be avoided. If the weather changes, avoid doing something that has previously triggered a migraine.

  • Strive not to skip meals. Always keep in mind that migraines are believed to be triggered by blood sugar changes. So, ensure that you eat regularly

  • Use pressure-filtering earplugs to help manage pressure variations. 

  • Glasses for migraine light sensitivity can also help reduce light exposure that might trigger a migraine by providing you with sun and glare protection.

When to see the doctor

If you have experienced severe headaches or migraines, you should seek medical advice so that your doctor can design a treatment strategy and assist you in finding relief.

The lowdown

Migraine has no cure, so the only way to avoid it is to practice preventative measures. Some studies have linked migraine to weather changes, including exercise and avoidance of foods that trigger migraines. Wearing pressure-filtering earplugs to manage variations in pressure can reduce migraines.

If you are suffering from severe headaches or migraines, seek medical aid from a nearby healthcare facility to help you relieve pain.

Have you considered clinical trials for Migraine?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Migraine, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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Last updated: Sep 2022

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