According to the American Migraine Foundation, over a third of people with migraine report that certain weather patterns trigger their headaches, at least some of the time.
Several studies have suggested that changes in weather, and especially changes in pressure, increase the likelihood of having a headache.
Some people experience high-altitude headaches due to changes in barometric pressure, such as during plane travel. Others, who experience migraine headaches or tension-type headaches, find that weather-related changes in pressure trigger the pain and other symptoms.
Meanwhile, a 2017 study found there may be a link between atmospheric pressure and the severity of migraine pain.
The same year, a review pointed out that investigations into the link between weather and the occurrence of migraine headaches have arrived at mixed results.
However, one study in the analysis indicated that changes in weather may only trigger headaches associated with certain subtypes of migraine, which could explain the conflicting evidence.
Below, learn more about the association between changes in weather, and particularly in pressure, and the occurrence and severity of headaches.
What are the symptoms?
For some people, a headache, and sometimes other migraine symptoms, arise or worsen as soon as the weather changes. For others, it can take time for the issues to develop.
Still others might find that the pain and any other symptoms develop before the weather changes become noticeable.
People who have migraine commonly experience:
- headaches that can last between 4 hours and 3 days
- sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells
- nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting
- distorted vision
- mood or emotional changes, which often involve depression or anxiety
- more frequent yawning
- speech changes
- memory difficulties
- difficulty concentrating and sleeping
- cravings for specific foods
Headaches can occur when pressure changes affect the small, confined, air-filled systems in the body, such as those in the ears or the sinuses.
Changes in atmospheric pressure can create an imbalance in the pressure within the sinus cavities and the structures and chambers of the inner ear, resulting in pain.
The effects on the body may depend on how quickly these changes occur and how dramatic they are.
Regarding changes in barometric pressure, theories about the link with headaches involve the constriction of blood vessels, insufficient oxygen, or the overexcitement of areas of the brain that produce pain.
Weather and altitude changes
A person may experience a headache, or a worsened headache, due to:
- sudden changes in temperature or humidity
- high or low levels of temperature or humidity
- a storm, which changes the barometric pressure
- changes in altitude, such as during plane travel
Depending on the type and exact cause of a headache, a person may benefit from taking:
- over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- antinausea medications
- medications called triptans, which treat migraine and cluster headaches
A doctor may prescribe other or additional treatments, depending on a person’s specific symptoms.
A person can take some steps at home to reduce headaches and other migraine symptoms.
Common care strategies include:
- applying an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to the affected areas of the head and neck
- practicing relaxation techniques
- learning to breathe through the pain, keeping in mind that it will pass
- avoiding triggers, such as caffeine and alcohol
- limiting physical activity and exertion
- taking a warm, relaxing bath or shower
- getting plenty of rest
- avoiding noisy or brightly lit areas
The following can help prevent headaches related to weather or pressure changes:
- when triggering weather patterns are forecasted, planning downtime to reduce stress and fatigue, which can worsen pain
- taking NSAIDs
- staying hydrated
- avoiding stimulants
- avoiding alcohol
- having a healthful diet without added fats and sugar
- having a regular sleep schedule
- exercising regularly
- practicing stress-reduction techniques, such as yoga or meditation
- not skipping meals
When to see a doctor
People should see a doctor if headaches, or any other migraine symptoms, are severe or otherwise affect daily life.
Seek medical attention for any head pain that does not go away after:
- using over-the-counter medication
- trying home care techniques
- using prescription medication
A person should receive medical care if they experience:
- severe symptoms that do not respond to medication
- a fever
- bloody stool, including diarrhea
- muscle weakness or numbness
- changes in speech or vision that persist after the headache has gone
- memory loss or confusion
Who is at risk?
Headaches and migraine can affect anyone at any age. Still, migraine is more likely to occur:
- in females
- between the ages of 18 and 44 years
- in people with a family history of the condition
According to one study, 13% of people with migraine said that the weather influenced episodes, but the researchers noted that this figure may actually be much higher.
Many people report that they are more likely to have a headache or migraine episode during certain weather changes and conditions, as well as during changes in altitude.
While little research supports these associations, some experts believe that changes in pressure lead to the pain and other symptoms by affecting the sinuses and other cavities in the head,
Recognizing the triggers of a headache can help a person prevent or treat it. If symptoms are severe or accompanied by weakness or any other concerning changes, seek medical attention.