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Weather as a Headache and Migraine Trigger

Since ancient times, headache has plagued people of all ranks all over the world. For instance, Napoleon's terrible tirades may have been driven by his unbearable headache pain. And still the pain goes on. Today, migraines and other types of headaches affect as many as four out of every five Americans.

Weather and Other Migraine Triggers

In a recent survey by the National Headache Foundation, headache sufferers were given a list of 16 possible triggers. They then were asked to rank them in terms of what commonly brought on their migraines and other headaches. Three out of every four respondents said that weather triggered their headache pain. Specific weather triggers include:

  • Changes in humidity
  • Changes in temperature
  • Storms
  • Extremely dry conditions
  • Dusty environments

Listed below are common environmental triggers for headaches included in the survey and the percentage of people who identified them as triggers. People often have more than one type of trigger for their headaches. How many, if any, of these factors trigger your headaches?

  • Weather or barometric pressure changes: 73%
  • Intense odors: 64%
  • Bright or flickering lights: 59%
  • Smoke: 53%
  • Extreme heat or cold: 38%
  • Altitude changes: 31%
  • High winds: 18%

Most of the participants reported that these environmental triggers have kept them from participating in their normal outdoor activities. They also said they'd stayed away from places likely to have smoke in the air, such as restaurants or bars.

Why Weather Triggers Headaches and Migraines

Headache specialists are still unraveling the mysteries of migraines and other headaches. Most believe a combination of factors is at play. Those factors range from genetics to neurovascular imbalances in the brain.

But what role could weather play? One leading evolutionary theory is that getting a headache is a protective mechanism against adverse environmental stressors. The theory goes that headache pain would cause someone to seek a safer, more hospitable environment. The fact that changes in weather and extremes in heat and cold cause headache, some experts believe, gives credence to this theory.

These experts also believe that people who get frequent headaches have a greater sensitivity to changes in the environment. They also have a lower threshold to the pain response. The reason for these things, the experts say, may be that people with migraines have likely inherited this sensitivity.

The survey cited earlier also found that two out of three headache sufferers had not discussed environmental triggers with their doctors. Nearly half of them, though, had been plagued by headaches for more than 20 years.

How to Cope With Headache and Migraine Triggers

Keeping a headache or migraine diary is the first step toward keeping pain from disrupting your life.

Some people have clear signs that a migraine headache is coming. And they may get these warnings as early as 48 hours before the headache strikes. These early warning signs are called "prodromal," meaning precursory. Possible signs include:

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Frequent yawning
  • Feeling especially excitable

WebMD Medical Reference

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