16 January 2017

Can weather cause headaches?

Most of us know that some foods, lifestyle choices and even exercise can lead to migraines and headaches. But, few of us realise that the weather can also trigger headaches.

Two studies

According to two studies, published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine and in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health respectively, headaches increase with higher temperatures, lower humidity and higher levels of fine particulate air pollution.

In the first study, patients who were admitted to the ER due to a migraine were monitored in terms of the weather conditions at the time of their admission. In the 3 491 patients included in the study a statistically significant correlation was found between the number of  patients admitted and the daily maximum temperatures, mean temperatures, minimum temperatures and daily temperature changes. 

The study also found that more patients presented with headaches and migraines when the humidity was low.

The second study looked into whether there was a connection between fine particle matter in the air and outpatients being treated for headaches in Taipei, Taiwan. Data was collected for a five-year period and researchers discovered that the higher the presence of fine particulate air pollution, the greater the number of patients with headaches and migraines.

“The change of seasons, rain, lightning, thunder and even barometric pressure, can be triggers for headaches and migraines,” says Dr Elliot Shevel, South Africa’s pioneer in the field of migraine surgery and the Medical Director of The Headache Clinic. “Every person has different triggers, but the key is to identify your specific anatomic cause for headaches and migraines, not just the trigger.”

Read: The best medication for migraines 

Why do the seasons impact headaches?

Exposure to light is a well-known trigger of headaches – and a change of season works in a similar way. 

“Migraine sufferers worldwide have long reported that bright sunlight triggers their migraines,” says Shevel. “Some researchers believe that some of the body’s senses are super-sensitive in migraine sufferers, particularly with regards to vision. The brighter sunlight in summer or snow glare can thus result in migraines for some sufferers.”

Read: Interesting headache facts 

How can weather pattern changes and storms affect headaches?

In a 2007 study in Cephalalgia, more than 1 200 patients diagnosed with migraines were examined. Weather was identified as the fourth most frequent trigger of migraines, occurring in approximately 50% of patients, says Shevel. “Lightning strikes and strong winds can also be triggers of migraines.”

Read: Are your headaches linked to your thyroid? 

Get a proper diagnosis

It’s important to identify and avoid the relevant trigger(s) to reduce the occurrence of migraine. Shevel says a headache diary can be helpful when it comes to identifying the cycles and triggers for your migraines and headaches. A multidisciplinary team is involved in the diagnosis and treatment of the headaches and migraines at The Headache Clinic.  

Read more: 

Placebos may work as well as drugs for childhood migraines

All migraines may not have the same genetic cause

The best medication for migraines


Ask the Expert

Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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