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Can Changes in Weather Trigger Migraine and Other Headaches?

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on September 30, 2021

 

Headache specialists are still unraveling the mysteries of migraine and other headaches. Most of them think that many things, from genetics to certain imbalances in the brain, play roles in causing headaches.

But could weather play a role in your headache? One idea suggests that getting a headache is a kind of early warning about hazards in the environment. The theory goes that headache pain would cause someone to search for a safer environment.

The fact that changes in weather and extremes in heat and cold trigger headaches, some experts say, makes this theory more credible. 

Weather-related headache triggers for some people include:

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

Weather and Other Migraine Triggers

In a survey by the National Headache Foundation, 3 out of every 4 people said weather triggered their headache pain.

The people who took the survey ranked 16 possible headache triggers and described which ones seemed to bring on their migraines and other headaches. Here are some environment-related triggers that the survey included, along with the percentage of people who said they felt affected by them:

  • 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 said these triggers kept them from doing their normal outdoor activities. They also said they'd stayed away from places that could have smoke in the air, like restaurants or bars.

The survey found that 2 out of 3 people hadn't discussed environmental triggers with their doctors. Still, some experts think people link their headaches to weather more than they should. That opinion is based on a 2004 study that analyzed patients' perceived headache patterns with actual National Weather Service data.

Why Weather Triggers Headaches and Migraine Symptoms

Experts believe that people who get frequent headaches are more sensitive to changes in the environment.  They suspect that people who get migraine headaches have probably inherited this sensitivity.

How to Figure Out Your Migraine Triggers

One way to help your doctor find out if you have weather-related triggers is to keep a headache or migraine diary. Each day, jot down any changes in the weather, such as storms, high winds, or high humidity.

This way, you can look back a day or two before a headache starts and check for signs of what might've triggered it. Then you could share your notes with your doctor.

You can also use the diary to keep tabs on other things that might be setting off your headaches, like foods and drinks. Common triggers include chocolatecaffeine, and foods with the preservatives MSG and nitrates.

When you get a headache, write down:

  • Your symptoms: where you feel the pain, how it feels, and any other problems, like vomiting or sensitivity to noise, smells, or bright light.
  • The time your headache started and ended.
  • Any treatment you tried, and whether it helped or made the headache worse.

If you notice any early warning signs of a headache, jot those down in your diary, too. Some people have clear signs that a migraine is coming, even as early as 48 hours before the headache strikes. These are called "prodromal" symptoms, and they can include yawning a lot and feeling irritable, depressed, or very excitable.

Keep a detailed diary for 3 months to let any possible patterns show up.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Headache Foundation: "Environmental and Physical Factors."

American Headache Society: "Tools: Headache Diaries."

National Headache Foundation: "January 2008 Survey: Environmental Triggers and Headache."

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