Weather and migraine: is it really a trigger and why?
Weather is increasingly reported as a trigger for migraine. 50% of people with migraine mention weather as a trigger. But what is the weather about? Heat? Cold? Barometric pressure? Pollution surges? The world of migraine triggers is a jungle. The list is endless. Triggers vary from one person to the other, and they combine and add up, making them difficult to track with precision.
Why would the weather influence migraine?
- Pollution surges are associated with increased visits to the ED for migraine. Smoke and air pollutants are inflammatory and stimulate receptors that may trigger migraines. Stay inside. Consider air purifiers.
- Cold may trigger muscle tensions in the shoulders and neck. Do stretches, use a warming device.
- Bright summer days and light on the snow can trigger visual auras. Wear super-star glasses and a hat.
- Hot, humid air causes vasodilation and may be a trigger too. Stay cool.
- Dry heat can lead to dehydration. Hydrate more than usual.
- Regarding barometric pressure, there is no clear explanation yet on how it could influence migraine.
Yes, our bodies and brains are influenced by the weather in different ways.
What about chinooks?
During a chinook, a hot wind blows, the temperature rises, snow may melt. One study was done in Alberta, where chinooks occur frequently during the winter.
The study found that though 80% of participants believed that their migraines were associated with Chinooks, but only 20% were reliably sensitive based on analysis of their diaries and Meteo Canada data. An overestimation of a trigger (many believe they are triggered but the association is not proven by statistics) has been observed for others triggers such as menstrual cycles and chocolate.
If I am truly a living barometer, how can I manage my chinook migraines?
At present time, there is no specific action plan for weather-triggered migraines. Decreasing your trigger load, planning for some buffer time to rest, keeping acute medications ready are all typical tips for at risk periods.
Did you know that overestimating the weather as a trigger can be harmful?
If you suffer from frequent migraines, the trigger search is difficult as many factors can be observed every day. The weather does vary a lot… and you have no control over it.
Seeing weather changes as potential triggers that cannot be avoided can raise anxiety significantly and…trigger more migraines. Like any trigger, observe for a while, take action if feasible, but try not to engage in the vicious circle of anxiety (we know it’s not easy to do).
Cooke LJ, Rose MS, Becker WJ. Chinook winds and migraine headache. Neurology. 2000;54(2):302-7.
Kelman L. The triggers or precipitants of the acute migraine attack. Cephalalgia. 2007;27(5):394-402.