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The Weather: Wreaking Havoc on Health

The weather forecast may be a strong predictor of how you're going to feel.
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Cold Weather, Thunderstorms Can Trigger Asthma Attacks

For people with asthma, a variety of triggers can result in inflamed airways, provoking an asthma attack. It turns out weather is one of them.

With exercise-induced asthma, cold weather can signal trouble. "When breathing in fast, the air they exchange doesn't have a chance to warm up," says David Hagaman, MD, medical director at the Vanderbilt Asthma, Sinus and Allergy Program. As a result, the increased cooling of the airway triggers the airway to react by swelling.

For the many asthma patients who list pollen as a primary trigger, thunderstorms can be a real problem. A recent study in the journal Allergy described how wind in thunderstorms carries pollen grains at ground level that get into the lower part of the airway, sending high numbers of asthma patients to hospitals for the treatment of asthma attacks.

Migraine Headaches and Weather Changes

Falling barometric pressure, a sharp increase in humidity, a sudden drop in temperature -- these weather changes may trigger migraines in people already susceptible to them.

And it appears that stable weather may help reduce the incidence of migraines. "I had a patient here in New York who moved to Arizona and experienced an astounding improvement in her migraines," says Richard Lipton, MD, director of the Montefiore Headache Center. While New Yorkers endure sudden and frequent changes in humidity levels and temperature, Arizona residents enjoy fairly uniform conditions marked by dry, warm air.

Research supports the theory that changing weather triggers migraines. In one survey that asked migraine sufferers to list triggers, 53% responded "weather."

Not everyone can move to a different climate so they can feel better. But migraine sufferers can take some action against weather-induced headaches. First, Lipton urges his patients to keep a diary of their migraines to make cause-and-effect connections. Then, if weather changes seem to play a role in migraines, the next step may be to discuss pretreatment with a doctor to avoid the onset of pain.

Chilly, Damp Weather Stiffens Joints

While it's unusual for migraine sufferers to move for improved health, it's not uncommon for people with joint pain to do so -- particularly the elderly. "A lot of our patients migrate to warmer weather because they cannot tolerate the pain," says Javad Parvizi, MD, PhD, a joint specialist at the Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. In studying the relationship of weather to arthritic pain in weight-bearing joints, Parvizi says that his preliminary data show a significant correlation between joint pain and changes in weather.

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