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Behind the Forecast: Can the weather trigger migraines?

Listen to Science Behind the Forecast with Meteorologist Tawana Andrew every Friday on 89.3 WFPL at 7:45 a.m.
Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 11:49 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 24, 2021 at 11:54 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Weather can affect your health in many ways, including triggering a migraine.

A migraine is a type of headache that causes “severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on one side of the head,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Along with the head pain, someone may suffer from nausea, vomiting, and extreme light and sound sensitivity when dealing with a migraine.

A migraine trigger is a “factor that temporarily increases the chances that a person with migraine will experience a migraine attack,” according to the American Migraine Foundation. An individual can have a wide range of triggers. The weather may not trigger a migraine on its own, but coupled with other issues, it can help kick-start the pain, experts say.

Experts in neurology estimate that changes in the weather are a trigger for more than a third of people who deal with migraines.

Potential migraine triggers include the following:

  • Barometric pressure changes/windy or stormy weather
  • Extreme heat or cold
  • High humidity
  • Dry air
  • Sunlight

A Japanese study found that 75% of people with migraines had theirs triggered by drops in barometric pressure caused by typhoons; only 20% of people with tension-like headaches had an attack in that scenario.

Researchers say atmospheric pressure changes can cause a pressure difference between the outside of your body and your sinus cavities, as well as the chambers within your inner ear. This difference can cause persistent pain that comes with migraines.

An increase in atmospheric pressure may cause blood vessels to dilate and lead to abnormal blood flow to the brain, according to Medical News Today. These work to increase migraine chances. Atmospheric pressure changes could also change the pressure within the inner ear and sinuses, causing pain.

High humidity can increase the amount of mucus created by our sinuses, experts say. The congestion created could to sinus pressure and migraine.

Serotonin, a chemical in your brain, helps to regulate pain. Experts have found that some weather changes may cause imbalances in chemicals like serotonin and trigger migraines. Some of the most likely suspects, in this case, are high humidity, atmospheric pressure fluctuations, and extreme heat.

Common symptoms of barometric pressure headaches and migraines are:

  • continual head pain that lasts between 4 hours and 3 days
  • sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells
  • nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting
  • distorted vision
  • numbness in the face and neck
  • pressure or tightness anywhere in the face and neck region
  • mood or emotional changes, often depressive or anxious
  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • increased need to urinate
  • more frequent yawning
  • slurred speech or thick tongue
  • memory difficulties
  • aura or the appearance of a ring of light or energy around objects
  • difficulty concentrating and sleeping
  • craving for specific foods

Experts say that while changes in the weather may be triggers, they are more likely to provoke a migraine when they are dramatic.

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