You’re sitting at home minding your own business when it happens — a migraine attack strikes. Now you’re not only suffering through debilitating migraine symptoms, but also racking your brain to figure out what might’ve caused the attack. Did you accidentally eat one of your trigger foods? Get too much sleep? Is it just stress? Then you look out the window and it finally hits you: It’s the weather.
If you’re one of the many migraine sufferers who live in fear of thunderstorms, it’s understandable for you to feel a little helpless. After all, you can’t control the weather.
Luckily, there are things you can do to lower your chances of getting a weather-related migraine. But before we get to that, let’s break down the science between weather and migraine.
Anywhere from 30% to 60% of migraine sufferers say weather conditions are a trigger for them. So you might be surprised to hear that scientists aren’t sure there really is a link between weather and migraine.
In a 2010 study of 238 migraineurs in Austria, researchers compared the participants’ perception of the weather and their attack frequency to meteorological data. They concluded that the participants were overestimating the impact of the elements, notably calling the weather’s role “small and questionable.”
Plus, it’s important to take into account that for some sufferers, a single trigger isn’t enough to provoke an attack. That means that even if you’re sensitive to changes in the weather, you might also have to, say, skip a meal or get stressed out to actually get hit with a migraine. That makes it difficult for researchers to see a clear relationship between the two when they’re just looking at data.
For us, the bottom line is that migraine sufferers understand their condition better than anyone else can. At the end of the day, you’re the expert on your own experience. So until the science can definitely disprove the relationship between migraine and weather, we’re just going to assume that up to 60% of migraine sufferers aren’t completely wrong about what’s causing their pain.
Of course, it’s not just any weather that sufferers say make an attack more likely. These conditions are what people mean when they talk about weather-related triggers:
It’s fairly easy to guess why bright sunlight and sun glare are on this list—light sensitivity is a common migraine symptom. But why do the other triggers cause attacks?
Unsurprisingly, scientists don’t have a clear-cut answer for this question yet. One theory is that shifts in the weather can cause imbalances in brain chemicals like serotonin, which in turn causes an attack. Migraine sufferers may be especially sensitive to environmental changes, although experts aren’t sure why. Some evolutionary theorists think the relationship between weather and head pain might’ve developed as a kind of warning signal to find shelter before it starts pouring.
Not every sufferer is sensitive to every trigger, so the first step is to start keeping a headache diary to figure out which weather conditions are affecting you. In addition to all the usual info you need to jot down when you’re tracking migraines—like when the attack happened, your symptoms, and any treatments you used—you should also include some data about the weather, like the temperature and the barometric pressure. Your observations can also be useful — if today felt a lot hotter than yesterday, for example, that would be worth writing down.
Once you’ve been keeping track of your attacks for a while, you’ll be able to look back and see if there are any patterns.
Once you’ve figured out which types of weather are triggers for you, you’ll be able to arrange your schedule to make attacks less likely, or at least be prepared if you get one. For example, if you know you tend to get a migraine the day after a thunderstorm, start canceling your plans as soon as you see lightning. For obligations that can’t be rescheduled, make sure you have acute medication on hand and a plan to get home fast if needed.
Don’t love the idea of having to google the barometric pressure level every day? Try the WeatherX Forecast app, which alerts you to upcoming weather changes in your area. (The app maker also sells earplugs that help insulate you from environmental pressure, but you can use the app without the earplugs.) If the app lets you know a weather trigger is headed your way, migraine expert and Cove Medical Director Dr. Sara Crystal recommends taking an NSAID, such as naproxen, without waiting for the inevitable attack to start.
If your tracking tells you that the weather frequently causes your attacks, it might be time to consider moving away. But this is obviously a very big step, so be sure to do your research first. You wouldn’t want to relocate to avoid one weather trigger just to encounter a different one. And keep your expectations realistic. People with migraine report weather-related triggers all over the world, so there’s no attack-free paradise you can escape to (as much as we wish there was).
Even meteorologists can’t predict the weather perfectly, so there’s a limit to how much you can plan around weather-related triggers. But you can make attacks less likely by making some changes to your lifestyle, like getting the same amount of sleep every night, maintaining a healthy migraine diet, and exercising regularly.
If that’s not enough, consider trying a preventative medication like anticonvulsants, beta blockers, or antidepressants. You can also reduce your migraine frequency naturally by taking certain dietary supplements.
A licensed Cove doctor can help determine the right lifestyle strategies and treatments for your specific needs. Get started with an online consultation.
Some migraine triggers just can’t be avoided, and the weather is certainly one of them. But careful tracking and planning, combined with an effective migraine treatment plan, can help keep attacks from raining on your parade.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Naproxen is an oral medication used to ease pain, swelling, and fever. This drug may raise the chance of heart and blood vessel side effects like heart attack and stroke. If these happen, they can be deadly. The risk of these side effects may be greater if you have heart disease or risks for heart disease. However, the risk may also be raised in people who do not have heart disease or risks for heart disease. The risk of these health problems can happen as soon as the first weeks of using this drug and may be greater with higher doses or with long-term use. This drug may raise the chance of very bad and sometimes deadly stomach or bowel side effects like ulcers or bleeding. The risk is greater in older people. The risk is also greater in people who have had stomach or bowel ulcers or bleeding before. These problems may occur without warning signs. If you are pregnant or you get pregnant while taking this drug, call your doctor right away. Tell your doctor if you are breast-feeding. You will need to talk about any risks to your baby. You can read more about naproxen’s side effects, warnings, and precautions here. Full prescribing information for naproxen is available here. You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit MedWatch: https://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/default.htm or call 1-800-FDA-1088.
Photo by Jon Ly on Unsplash