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Ask the Expert: How Are My Seasonal Allergies Triggering My Migraines?

April 5, 2021

We often have people say they feel their migraines getting worse with changes in weather, especially during the cold and flu season when we’re in the onslaught of winter chills, rain, and occasionally snow. Some people will even say they can predict the weather based on their migraines, and research has shown there is something to this. There is a link between atmospheric pressure and the amount of migraine pain some people experience. Atmospheric pressure, of course, is affected by weather. In fact, pressure headaches, sinus headaches, and barometric headaches may in some cases be examples of the weather affecting your migraines. During the Spring season we are currently in, with unpredictable cold mornings and hot afternoons, along with seasonal blooms and an increase in pollen, migraines can become more sudden and painful.

Does rain/spring weather impact seasonal allergies?

Yes, of course! Your typical barometric pressure trigger is still there for all the storm systems that come through “April showers,” and allergies from everything blooming can also trigger migraines. Barometric pressure is the force exerted on our bodies by the atmosphere and the air around us. Our body adjusts the pressure in our ear and sinus cavities to try to match the pressure inside our heads to the pressure outside our bodies. A sudden change in barometric pressure would cause a mismatch. While we wait for our body to adjust, the barometric pressure is different from the pressure in our sinuses and inner ears. This mismatch in pressure can trigger our pain pathways. Blood vessels in our head can widen and substances that trigger pain sensations can be released. In fact, in people who have migraines, sudden changes in barometric pressure can trigger the same mechanisms involved in having a migraine. Pair the mismatch in temperature along with the sudden bloom of pollen, and you have the recipe for a migraine.

Do the changes in weather and allergies impact migraines? 

People are sensitive to barometric pressure. When pressure outside (ie. storm system) does not match pressure in the body, the brain can throw a tantrum and have a migraine. This is a more common trigger during the winter season, but as migraine and allergy sufferers right now know, this could also occur during the spring. As for allergies, inflammation in the sinuses (runny nose, tearing eyes, etc.) can also trigger migraines.

What can migraine sufferers do to alleviate this? 

While it’s hard to avoid pressure systems, my advice when you’re feeling that mismatched pressure is to stay inside if possible and minimize other triggers (diet, sleep deprivation, stress, etc). For allergies, treat allergies as usual with antihistamines and decongestants to limit inflammation and accumulation of fluid in sinuses as much as possible. Also treat migraines with typical abortives like Tylenol, anti-inflammatory medications such as Motrin or Aleve, or any medications prescribed for headaches. Also, be sure to let your neurologist know about these headaches, because what may seem like an inevitable sinus headache may turn out to be a migraine that will improve with some very specific treatment.

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