Can weather trigger migraine and headaches? Yes, and here’s what you need to know.

Storms, bright sunlight, temperature changes and more can trigger headaches and migraine.

Jokes and memes about Kentucky weather abound: You can have all four seasons in a day! One day it’s 70 degrees, the next it’s snowing. But for people who get migraine headaches, our weather fluctuations are no laughing matter.

“The change in barometric pressure may act as a triggering event for people who experience headaches and migraine,” said Brian M. Plato, D.O., neurologist and headache medicine specialist with Norton Neuroscience Institute. “In addition to barometric pressure changes, bright sunlight, extreme heat or cold, sun glare, high humidity, dry air, and windy or stormy weather also can have a significant impact.”

While studies have not found a direct link between weather changes and headache or migraine attacks, according to the American Migraine Foundation more than one-third of people who experience migraine claim weather changes have a noticeable impact on their symptoms. 

One of the biggest triggers for weather-related migraine and headaches is barometric (also called atmospheric) pressure. A 2017 study established an association between atmospheric pressure and the amount of migraine pain a person experiences. Another study from 2019 shows how weather, pollution and barometric pressure can trigger headaches.

Dramatic weather swings usually cause changes in barometric pressure. A pressure difference between a person’s environment and the sinus cavities can increase the chance of headache and migraine. This pressure difference can lead to swollen sinuses, especially if the person already has congestion or blockage.

You may have noticed this pressure effect while flying. As a plane changes altitude during takeoff and the approach for landing, the air pressure changes and your ears may pop — or you may experience head or ear pain.

Other aspects of weather that may trigger migraine:

  • Bright sunlight
  • Extreme heat or cold
  • Sun glare
  • High humidity
  • Dry air
  • Windy or stormy weather

Headache School on demand

Headache School, presented by the Norton Neuroscience Institute Headache Center, is a series of five on-demand video presentations by Headache Center specialists. The series is designed to inform new and existing patients about why they should see a specialist and what treatments are available.

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Dr. Plato recommends the following if you experience weather-related migraine:

  • Monitor other headache triggers: Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, get adequate rest, exercise and keep your stress under control.
  • Have your medication handy: With the changing weather, it’s best to keep your medications with you 24/7. Should a headache or migraine emerge, you are prepared. This can include preventive medications that help ward off headaches as well as rescue medications for when one starts.
  • Look at the forecast: You can predict when you’re likely to have a headache and take a preventive painkiller a day or two in advance.

“If a weather pattern is coming in that could trigger a migraine, take good care of yourself: Get extra sleep if you can, drink plenty of fluids and avoid any other migraine triggers,” Dr. Plato said. “You also can manage your schedule when the weather may be a problem for you; that way, you can be somewhere safe in case you become too fatigued or your migraine symptoms start.”

Highest level of headache expertise

Whatever the trigger for your headache or migraine pain, Norton Neuroscience Institute’s headache medicine team offers the highest level of care.

Two Norton Neuroscience Institute physicians are board certified by the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties. Headache patients from Louisville, Southern Indiana and beyond seek the expertise of Dr. Plato and Jeffrey H. Frank, M.D., as well as the staff of nurse practitioners who have received advanced recognition with the “Certificate of Added Qualification” from the National Headache Foundation.

Treatment is offered for those experiencing:

  • Migraine headache
  • Chronic daily headache
  • Cluster headache
  • Analgesic rebound headache
  • Cervicogenic headache
  • Menstrual-associated headache
  • Tension headache
  • Post-concussive/post-traumatic headache

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