Can the weather trigger migraine headaches?
The weather can trigger headaches or migraine for some people.
High or low pressure changes are thought to affect the brain, along with increased humidity, temperatures, and storms.
The Migraine Trust says it has been hard for researchers to pinpoint the relationship between weather and migraine, but the most common weather change triggering pain appears to be low pressure.
Studies in this area rely on people accurately reporting their symptoms and the weather at the time. There's always the risk they may have missed a different trigger, and blame the weather instead.
As with any migraine trigger, different things affect different people in different ways.
Unlike other triggers that can be avoided, the weather tends to be hard to avoid.
Weather triggers for migraine
In a survey by the National Headache Foundation in the US, 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
- 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
Bright or flickering lights
Extreme heat or cold
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.
Headache and migraine triggers: Why weather?
Headache experts are still unravelling the mysteries of migraines and other headaches. Most believe a combination of factors is involved. These factors range from genetics to neurovascular imbalance in the brain.
However what role could weather play? One compelling evolutionary theory is that getting a headache is a protective mechanism against adverse environmental stressors. The theory is 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 pain threshold. The reason for these things, the experts say, could be that people with migraines have probably inherited this sensitivity.
The same survey also found that two out of three headache sufferers had not discussed environmental triggers with their doctors. However, nearly half of them had been plagued by headaches for more than 20 years.