Skip to content

Migraines & Headaches Health Center

Font Size

Weather as a Headache and Migraine Trigger

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

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.

Recommended Related to Migraines/Headaches

Understanding Migraines -- Diagnosis and Treatment

There is no specific test to diagnose a migraine headache. If you seek help from your health care provider for recurring headaches, you may be asked to keep a headache diary in which you record information about symptoms leading up to a headache, symptoms of the actual headache, and possible triggers that may have provoked the episode. Your health care provider will want to take a careful history to determine any patterns to your headaches and to learn whether such headaches run in your family....

Read the Understanding Migraines -- Diagnosis and Treatment article > >

Weather and Other Migraine Triggers

In a 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

As noted earlier, there is a theory that headaches triggered by extreme weather are a protective, or defensive, response because they lead the person to seek a more hospitable environment.

Experts 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, they suspect, is that people who get 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.

Today on WebMD

Business woman with hand on face and eyes closed
What aura looks like, triggers, and more.
woman with migraine
Get the truth about migraines.
headache in the bedroom
Keep headaches from ruining your sex life.
woman with hands on head
Test your knowledge of triggers, types, and more.
woman with migraine
drinking coffee
Migraines Headaches Basics
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Tired young man
spraying perfume
man with a headache
headache in the bedroom