People often experience headaches from time to time, but migraines are a radically different experience. Even though migraines are a very common neurological condition—around 39 million Americans grapple with them—they can be downright debilitating. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says they’re one of the main causes of disability worldwide, and in a study among patients with migraines in the United States, more than half reported severe impairment in activity, the need for bed rest, and reduced work or school productivity due to migraines.
In general, migraines are more than just “splitting” headaches. The term headache refers to any type of pain in the head or face, explains Thomas Berk, MD, clinical assistant professor at New York University Langone Health Division of Headache Medicine. Approximately 150 types of headache can be classified medically based on certain characteristics, such as the quality of pain (stabbing vs. throbbing, etc. ), the location, and the duration.
The migraine headache is one in which one side of the head is worse than the other. It is mild to moderate in severity and can last up to three days, Dr. Berk says. The symptoms of migraines can also include vision changes, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, and neck pain, according to Anna Pace, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Mount Sinai Health.
Dr. Berk says that some migraines are caused primarily by genetic predisposition, but certain triggers can exacerbate these attacks. Valentina Popova, MD, clinical assistant professor of neurology at NYU Langone Health, explains that some neurological disorders are caused by changes in neurochemistry in the brain. Furthermore, movement and exercise can exacerbate the condition. However, what about the weather?
Why does the weather trigger migraines
Dr. Berk says that different factors can cause headaches, and that weather can also have an impact. “Most often, headaches are caused by changes in weather patterns, opposed than just heat or cold,” he explains. Changing conditions of humidity and barometric pressure (the pressure in the atmosphere) can make migraine headaches worse. There is a sensitive part of the migraine brain that responds to changes in various ways and is often the cause of an exacerbation of the migraine.”
More than a third of people with migraines are affected by changes in weather conditions. It is believed that pressure changes, such as rainstorms and high humidity, as well as temperature changes, can trigger headaches. Though it is not realized why some weather conditions cause headaches, she suggests that barometric pressure changes trigger overexcited pain-controlling pathways. According to the American Pain Society, atmospheric pressure changes can change the pressure within the sinuses and the inner ear, which can also cause a sense of pain.
Those who suffer from migraines may be more sensitive to bright light, including sunlight, says Sara Crystal, MD, who is medical director for Cove, an online program that allows migraine sufferers to access expert medical care. The author also says changes in the weather may affect serotonin levels in the brain, which can trigger attacks.
In addition, weather changes do not happen alone, so they can create pain when they combine with other factors, says Dr. Pace. “The brain may be made more susceptible to a migraine attack if there are other triggers, such as stress, hormonal fluctuations, or inadequate sleep, and this might explain why some people get headaches with weather changes and others do not.
Meteorological factors that cause migraines
The weather cannot be controlled, but there are other factors that can trigger an attack, says Dr. Crystal. According to her, if you know what triggers your migraines, maximize other conditions according to your particular weather conditions. In the case of an upcoming storm, you should avoid your trigger foods, get plenty of rest, and reduce your stress levels. You should also keep your medications in your possession.
It is also helpful to track the weather. As a recommendation, Dr. Crystal suggests WeatherX. You can potentially prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication before you establish a relationship between the weather and your migraines, she says.
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