W.While most people know what it’s like to deal with the occasional headache, migraines are an entirely different experience. Although migraines are a very common neurological disorder – some 39 million Americans struggle with it – they can be downright debilitating. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say it is a leading cause of disability worldwide, and in a study of migraineurs in the United States, more than half reported severe activity disorders due to bed rest and reduced work or school productivity of migraines.
To be clear, a migraine is more than just a “divisive” headache. “Headache refers to any type of pain in the head or face,” says Thomas Berk, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor in NYU’s Langone Health Division of Headache Medicine. According to him, there are over 150 different types of headache that are medically categorized according to certain characteristics, including pain quality (stabbing vs. throbbing, etc.), location, and duration.
A migraine is a special type of headache in which one side of the head is usually worse than the other, which is of moderate to severe intensity, and symptoms often include sensitivity to light or sound and nausea, says Dr. Berk, adding that it can last anywhere from a few hours to three days. Anna Pace, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Mount Sinai Health, adds that migraines can also be linked to visual disturbances, difficulty concentrating, dizziness and neck pain, among other things.
While research suggests that some people are genetically predisposed to migraines, there are triggers that make seizures worse, says Dr. Berk. For example, “neurochemical changes in the brain that lead to certain symptoms,” says Valentina Popova, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurology at NYU Langone Health. And exercise and exercise can make them worse, she adds. But what about the weather?
Why is weather a migraine trigger?
“Different factors cause different headaches,” says Dr. Berk, adding that the weather has an impact. “Mostly it has to do with changes in the weather pattern and not just with heat or cold,” he says. For example, humidity and changes in air pressure (air pressure in the atmosphere) can be common migraine triggers. “The migraine brain is sensitive to all kinds of change – and the response to change is often a migraine exacerbation.”
Dr. Pace estimates that changes in weather patterns are a trigger in over a third of people with migraines. “Research shows that changing the pressure systems – that is, when there are rainstorms or high humidity and temperature changes – can increase the likelihood of headaches.” Although it is not fully understood why certain weather conditions can lead to headaches, she says changes in air pressure overexcitation of areas of the brain that control pain. “Changes in air pressure can also change the pressure in the sinuses and inner ears, which can also lead to pain.”
People with migraines tend to be more sensitive to bright lights, including sunlight, says Sara Crystal, MD. She also mentions that changes in weather can affect levels of serotonin in the brain, which in turn triggers attacks.
And unfortunately, weather changes don’t happen in isolation, so they can, along with other factors, cause pain, says Dr. Pace. “The brain can be more prone to a migraine attack when another trigger occurs. Such as stress, hormone fluctuations, or inadequate sleep, and this can explain why some people have headaches and others don’t when the weather changes, ”says Dr. Pace.
How to prevent weather-related migraines
“While you can’t control the weather, you can control other potential triggers,” says Dr. Crystal. “For some people with migraines, it takes a perfect storm – pun intended – to trigger an attack.” So once you know your particular weather trigger, you should tweak other conditions. For example, if you are worried about a brewing storm, avoid your familiar food triggers, rest, and practice stress relief. “And of course you should have your medication on hand.”
In addition, tracking the weather can be helpful. “I recommend using the WeatherX app,” says Dr. Crystal. Once you’ve made a link between the weather and your migraines, you may be able to pre-treat with an anti-inflammatory drug.
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