Could the Weather be Causing My Headaches?

For headache sufferers, the unpredictability of summertime weather can do more than ruin outdoor plans - it can trigger a migraine. Migraine-prone individuals are known to be more sensitive to external factors like diet, light and stress, but research suggests that heat also has an impact.

"Migraines are severe throbbing headaches that affect over 36 million Americans,” says Dr. Fawad A. Khan, a neurologist at Ochsner Medical Center. “They are typically triggered by certain external stimuli – foods, aromas/smells, bright lights or a change in the environment. As such, a spike in temperature is a common culprit for bringing on migraine headaches."

Studies have generally found higher rates of migraine in warmer seasons, and in one study with over 7,000 patients, researchers found that higher temperature and, to a lesser degree, lower barometric pressure led to an increase in risk of a headache requiring frequent emergency department evaluations.

Summertime can lead to migraines for a variety of reasons, the primary being that migraine sufferers are simply more sensitive than other individuals, so hot weather poses a high risk of triggering headaches. For example, the extended, bright sunlight that comes with a hot day can be a trigger, as can a change in the atmospheric pressure.

"Atmospheric pressure can influence the onset of a migraine because of its impact on blood vessels in and around the brain, causing them to dilate or swell," says Dr. Khan. "When a brewing storm causes the barometric pressure to change, migraine patients often report experiencing a typical aura or warning sign. The onset of a migraine is usually quick to follow that symptom. Some migraine sufferers are so sensitive that they can perceive aura-like symptoms even before the storm is visible in the sky. Surely, a migraine then accompanies the storm."

Since afternoon storms are an almost daily occurrence during Louisiana summers, this can be a particularly significant problem.

Medical research does offer hope that migraine sufferers can prevent headaches by being proactive.

To enjoy summer activities while avoiding migraine headaches, Dr. Khan offers these tips to patients:

  • Run errands and exercise in the cooler morning or evening hours
  • Apply cold packs to the head and/or neck
  • Stay hydrated with cool beverages
  • Wear sunglasses and avoid glare
  • Keep a "headache diary" for several days to determine what usually causes your headaches

To see Dr. Khan discuss the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of migraine headaches, along with tips on living healthy with migraines, click here.

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