Are weather-induced migraines a real thing?

To answer the question, yes, is it very much plausible to have weather-induced migraines and this article will explain how and why. 

Have you ever woken up to the greatest migraine or headache without a reason? And then a few hours later, perhaps at night, it suddenly begins to pour with a heavy thunderstorm? 

Massive changes to the weather and atmospheric pressure can actually induce migraines and headaches in people. Scientific studies have shown that heavy weather changes induce approximately 20% of migraine episodes. 

There are many causes of weather-induced migraines, including:

  • High humidity
  • Barometric pressure changes
  • Intense sunlight
  • Strong winds
  • More than 1 of the above factors combined

These weather-induced migraines or barometric pressure headaches usually occur after a drop in barometric pressure.

Although weather-induced migraines or headaches usually feel normal, additional symptoms can accompany them, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Numbness in the neck or face 
  • Pain in one or both temples

Barometric Pressure 

Barometric pressure, simply put, is the weight of the air around us. When the air is moist or when there is an increase in altitude such as when you’re hiking up a mountain, the barometric pressure drops. But when the weather is dry and clear, this pressure rises again. 

Scientists have found that when the barometric pressure suddenly falls as the atmosphere becomes more humid, it causes an imbalance in the pressure between your sinuses, inducing a headache (similar to when you’re on a plane that is about to take off and your ears get blocked). Low atmospheric pressure is closely followed by warm weather, winds, dust and precipitation. 

This phenomenon is said to be a genetic trait passed on through families that can increase sensitivity to changes and stimuli in the environment such as weather. 

Science behind migraines

To understand how changes to barometric pressure can trigger migraines, we need to understand the basics of migraines. 

Migraine is a neurovascular disorder that results in a pulsating and recurring headache lasting from as short as 4 hours to as long as 3 days. Nausea, disturbed vision and emesis (vomiting) may accompany it. There are three theories that have been found to cause migraines. However, we will focus on and simplify one of them: the neuronal theory, also known as the Cortical Spreading Depression (CSD). Here, the activation of trigeminal nerve endings in the brain leads to vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) and changes in blood flow to the brain that result in migraines. 

We can observe the same pattern during reductions in barometric pressure. A study showed that drops in barometric pressure cause dilation of cerebral blood vessels in the brain, which leads to the release of the hormone serotonin (our happy hormone). The increase of serotonin levels in the blood circulation induces vasodilation and causes migraines, similar to CSD. 

How do I manage my migraines?

First things first, if you’re someone who has migraines regularly, avoid your triggers!

Keeping a migraine diary might help some people and it could help you identify your triggers. This is one of the easiest ways to prevent weather-induced headaches and migraines. The sooner you recognize the headache’s onset, the faster you can treat it before it becomes worse. Some things you can include in your migraine diary are, “When did your migraine begin and end,” “Where did you feel the pain,” and “What were the changes in the weather?”

It is true that we can’t control the weather, but by identifying factors triggering your migraines, you can learn, adapt, and work around changes in the weather. For example, if extreme heat is a trigger, avoid going outside during the hottest parts of the day, or if you’re already outside, avoid further triggers or find aids such as hats or sunglasses to avoid the light.  

Other methods to avoid migraines include the following:

  • Limiting alcohol is beneficial as alcohol such as red wine triggers migraines. Blood flow to the brain increases as you consume alcohol, so limiting alcohol intake reduces the chance of getting a migraine.
  • Be cautious of what you eat. Certain foods can trigger migraines including chocolate, peanuts, eggs and cheese.
  • Limit and control your stress. Take time to relax and try breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or simply take a walk – whatever works for you.
  • Medication, as recommended to you by a doctor, may be beneficial. 

I hope this article helps you understand weather-induced migraines and headaches a little better. Although this doesn’t affect everyone, if you are more susceptible to weather-related migraines and they hinder your daily life, it’s always recommended to see a doctor. Always better to be safe than sorry, right? 

Written by Nethmi Dimbulana