Weather Triggers Migraine Headaches

Temperature Changes Spark Mild Headaches in Study Participants

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 21, 2012
From the WebMD Archives

June 21, 2012 -- Weather triggers migraine headaches, especially mild ones, a new study shows.

Sixty-six people with a history of migraine headaches kept a diary of their triggers for one year. Of these, slightly more than half reported that they had a sensitivity to temperature change.

Researchers found that temperature change was actually the culprit about a fifth of the time, and this association was more obvious on cold days than warm days.

"Our study provides evidence of a link between the perception of temperature sensitivity and headache incidence in migraine patients," study author Shuu-Jiun Wang, MD, of Taipei Veterans Hospital in Taiwan, says in a news release.

Weather more commonly triggered mild headaches than moderate to severe migraines, the study shows.

The findings are to be presented at the 54th Annual Scientific Sessions of the American Headache Society in Los Angeles.

What Is a Migraine Headache?

About 36 million Americans have migraine headaches, and 6 million of them experience these debilitating headaches at least 15 days per month. Migraine headaches are often accompanied by nausea and increased sensitivity to light and sounds.

Other migraine triggers can include:

  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Foods
  • Stress
  • Bright lights, sun glare, and loud sounds
  • Unusual smells
  • Changes in wake-sleep pattern
  • Physical exertion
  • Medications

Reduce Your Migraine 'Trigger Burden'

Weather is one of the top five migraine triggers, says Shannon Babineau, MD, a headache specialist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

"It can be a change in weather, the rise and fall of barometric pressure, rain, or sun," she says. "You can't change if it's going to rain today or tomorrow, but you can control sun exposure if heat is a trigger for you. Make sure you are hydrated and avoid the sun in the middle of the day when it is the strongest."

If you are travelling to a new climate, make sure to pack your migraine rescue medication, Babineau says.

Brian Grosberg, MD, points out that triggers can bring on a migraine attack, but they are not the cause. He is the co-director of the Montefiore Headache Center in New York.

"Not all people with migraine have triggers and some may have multiple triggers," he tells WebMD. "Someone may not have gotten a good night's sleep and it is hot or raining out so they got a headache."

Control the controllable, Grosberg says. "You can make sure you get a good night's sleep, eat three meals a day, drink enough water to minimize the 'trigger burden,'" he says.

These findings will be presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

Show Sources


Brian Grosberg, MD, co-director, Montefiore Headache Center, New York.

Shannon Babineau, MD, headache specialist, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City.

American Headache Society, 54th Annual Scientific Meeting, June 17-22, 2012, Los Angeles.

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