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.
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.
In general, any sudden change can trigger a headache. If the temperature were to suddenly increase or decrease, that may put you at risk for a headache. If the humidity were to suddenly become very high or very low, a headache becomes more likely. A passing storm or wind system might also trigger a migraine. Going to Denver for a trip, and having a sudden change in altitude might also do it. You may also have headaches while flying, especially during the descent. This headache may also be related to a mismatch between the pressure around you and the pressure in your sinuses.
It is difficult to avoid weather as it is all around us every day. However, there are some things you can do to minimize your weather-related headaches. While one trigger alone may not do it, several triggers piling up on top of each other might cause a migraine. Avoid anything else that might make things worse—for example, stay well hydrated, manage stress well, avoid alcohol, and avoid artificial sweeteners. During the summer especially, sunlight in addition to changes in weather may be a trigger for a migraine. You cannot control the weather, but controlling your other triggers may keep the weather from giving you a migraine.
You would want to treat a headache caused by a pressure mismatch with the same medications you would typically treat a migraine. This includes 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.