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Can the weather cause headaches?

I remember being a young girl and my mother rubbing each side of her temples saying, “It’s going to rain soon, my headache is starting”. Of course, as a young child, this blows your mind. Can my mom see the future by just rubbing her temples?

As I grew older, I inherited the same ‘ability’. Sadly, this does not mean reading minds, but feeling the change in weather.

If you’re prone to getting headaches like me, you could find that grey skies, high humidity, rising temperatures and storms can all bring on head pain. Pressure changes that cause weather changes are thought to trigger chemical and electrical changes in the brain. This irritates nerves, leading to a headache.

A survey conducted by the National Headache Foundation,  found that 3 out of every 4 people said weather triggered their headache pain

Those who participated in the survey ranked possible headache triggers and described which ones seemed to bring on their migraines and other headaches.

The survey included some of the following  environment-related triggers — 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%
The highest percentage being weather changes and barometric pressure changes. Barometric pressure, or the weight of the air, drops when the weather is humid and rises when it’s dry. Barometric pressure is also known as the atmospheric pressure being applied against a given area — and in this case, that “area” is you.

When the barometric pressure changes, it can create pressure between the sinuses resulting in a chemical imbalance and thus, a headache. A shift in weather can also worsen an existing headache or migraine.

In addition to typical migraine symptoms like nausea, vomiting and light and sound sensitivity, those who have a migraine triggered by barometric pressure may experience the following:

  • Facial discomfort or pain around their sinuses.
  • Post-nasal drip.
  • Teary eyes.

Ways to help manage barometric pressure headaches:

  • Avoid other triggers when the weather is bad. Stay away from foods that cause migraines, like those that contain caffeine, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or any other trigger you are known to have (scents etc)
  • Keep your lights dim to avoid light sensitivity, and if outside — be sure to wear sunglasses.
  • Keep rescue medications handy. Some find OTC medication to suffice, while others take prescription medication.
  • Manage your stress. As the barometric pressure falls, people who suffer from migraine headaches will often sense it and become stressed. Stress hormones also can provoke a headache. Managing stress through exercise, lifestyle changes, deep breathing or relaxation techniques will help ward it off.
  • Drink more water. Fluid shifts in blood vessels surrounding your brain can cause a headache, so it’s important to stay hydrated.

So while the weather itself may not be the cause of your headaches, pressure changes and other environmental factors can trigger or worsen a headache.

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