Why People Who Experience Migraines Should Check the Weather

How lightning and other changes in weather may trigger migraines.

Why People Who Experience Migraines Should Check the Weather

Lightning could trigger migraine headaches in some sufferers, according to a small study published in the journal Cephalalgia.

After comparing headache journals with weather records, researchers found that chronic migraine sufferers had a 31 percent greater risk of headache and 28 percent increased risk of migraine on days that lightning struck within 25 miles of where they lived. The study also concluded that migraines were 23 percent more likely to begin when there was lightning. The researchers say migraines could be triggered by the electromagnetic waves emitted when lighting strikes or the increase in air pollutants caused by lightning.

Of course, this type of study wasn’t able to prove definitively that lightning causes migraines, but the research could help chronic migraine sufferers better predict when a migraine is likely to start. And the better sufferers are able to anticipate a migraine, the more effective treatment is likely to be.

A change in the weather could be a precursor to pain
Lightning isn’t the only meteorological factor charged with causing painful migraine headaches. Several other weather events can trigger that pain, too.

  • Hot, humid days. Studies have found that one of the biggest weather factors responsible for migraine pain was humidity—but not humidity alone. Instead, humidity coupled with high temperatures seemed to be the culprit.
  • Dry, cold air. Cold winter temperatures have also been identified as a potential migraine trigger. Migraine symptoms have been found to worsen when the sufferer was exposed to colder, drier air.
  • Heat waves. Some research has shown that a spike in temperature could mean an increase in tension and migraine headaches. This doesn’t mean that summer months are completely debilitating for migraine suffers. It’s when the temperature increases comparatively to similar days during the month. So if a heat wave is headed your way after comfortable 60-degree temps, make sure to take your meds.
  • Air pressure. A change in barometric pressure—such as when a weather system is blowing in—is another common migraine trigger, according to the National Headache Foundation.

We all know that you can’t change the weather. But these findings can help us better control our migraine pain when it does change. And no matter what the forecast, it’s important to speak to your doctor about the best course of action for you when migraine pain strikes.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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