Many people often wonder if weather can cause migraines and headaches.
Not many realize that weather can have a huge impact on your headache and migraine pain.
Most experts believe that headaches and migraines are the result of a combination of multiple factors, including neurovascular imbalances and genetics. Dr. Orrin Devinsky is a neurologist at New York University, and he stated that “Migraine is a prime example of a neurologic condition with environmental triggers. Foods are often considered the main trigger, but weather may be an underappreciated factor.”
Weather Migraine Triggers
The National Headache Foundation did a survey that reported three out of four headache sufferers said that weather triggered their pain. They gave a list of 16 triggers to the respondents, who were asked to rank the most common cause of their migraine. Specifically, they named the following weather triggers as the worst:
- Changes in temperature
- Rain and thunderstorms
- Changes in humidity
- Dry conditions
Most people have more than one type of trigger. Below are the most common environmental triggers that were included in the National Headache Foundation survey, along with the percentage of those who listed them as triggers.
- Windy weather: 18%
- High altitude or sudden altitude changes: 31%
- Extreme temperatures: 38%
- Any form of smoke: 53%
- Flickering or bright lights: 59%
- Strong odors: 64%
- Pressure changes: 73%
People reported that these triggers interfered with their usual outdoor activities. Respondents also said that they would intentionally stay away from places that were smoky. Other objective studies showed that changes in barometric pressures, of which the people were not aware, did not show any correlation to headaches or migraines.
Why Does Weather Trigger a Migraine?
One leading theory is that headaches are defense mechanisms against environmental stressors that could be harmful. The working evolutionary theory is that the body instinctively seeks out a safer and more hospitable environment when the pain starts. Giving credence to this is the fact that many people get headaches with weather extremes.Some experts think that those who get frequent headaches are more sensitive to environmental changes and have a lower pain threshold, with a common belief that the intensified sensitivity is inherited.
Managing Weather Related Migraines
There are some factors that cannot be controlled, but there are still ways to protect yourself against weather triggers, to a certain degree.
Look for the patterns in weather that trigger your migraines or make them worse. Once you see the correlation, take proper precautions to avoid an exacerbation, such as avoiding other triggers, getting enough quality sleep, eating a healthy diet, and reducing your stress.
As an example, if extreme temperatures trigger your migraines, limit your time outside during those days. If cold weather is your trigger, wear extra layers to stay warm. If the heat causes the pain, consider wearing a sun hat and sitting in the shade for a few minutes at a time while outside.
Most importantly, stay hydrated. No matter what your triggers are, dehydration can exacerbate pain and make things worse. Be cautious about the beverages you choose to drink. Caffeine and alcohol will dehydrate you even more, and are often triggers themselves.
Steps to Manage your Migraines
For all triggers, there are steps you can follow to manage your headaches.
- Drink a lot of water. Keeping a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water will go a long way to preventing migraine exacerbations. The most common recommendation for the amount of water to take in every day is six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water. However, it is important to note that some people may need more. For example, if you exercise regularly, you will need to drink more than the recommended amount.
- Keep caffeine at a minimum. Although caffeine will often provide relief from a migraine, it can also be a trigger. Caffeine is not just in coffee, either. It is foundin sodas, chocolate, tea, and some types of medications.
- Get good quality sleep. Sleep hygiene is incredibly important for good health. It is important to have a consistent routine and sleep-wake time in order to attain the highest quality sleep. Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep is a common trigger to headaches.
- Watch your food intake. Certain foods can trigger migraines, so be aware of what you eat and how the foods make you feel. The most common foods that trigger migraines are chocolate, seeds and nuts, peanut butter, peanuts, and anything containing tyramine like cured meats and aged cheese.
- Exercise regularly. Regular moderate exercise reduces stress, a common migraine trigger. Research has shown that exercise reduces the duration, severity, and the frequency of migraines.
- Limit alcohol intake. Blood flow to the brain increases with any kind of alcohol. Red wine is a major trigger for many people with migraines.
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