For a lot of people, an approaching storm can be an annoyance. It might mean commutes grow longer, windows need to be closed and parties or sports games get canceled.
But you might face bigger problems when the weather changes. You might suffer from weather-related headaches. You may feel dull pain, throbbing, pounding or migraine pain when the barometric pressure falls.
We talked with Tina Chavez, a family nurse practitioner with Banner Brain & Spine who specializes in neurology, to learn more about the link between the weather and headaches.
How changes in the weather can trigger headaches
To understand how the weather is linked to headaches, you need to know a little bit about barometric pressure.
Barometric pressure refers to the weight of the air pressing down on the Earth's surface. It’s not always the same — it can go up and down when the weather changes.
With nice weather, the barometric pressure is usually high. Before or during rainy or stormy weather, the barometric pressure is usually low. When the pressure drops, it can affect the pressure inside your sinuses and in other parts of your body.
“Because our sinuses are filled with air, any change in that pressure can affect headaches,” Chavez said.
As your body tries to adjust to the pressure changes, you can get a headache. Different people can react differently to these changes. For example, some people might only get headaches when the barometric pressure drops quickly.
Signs of weather-related headaches
If you have weather-related headaches or migraines, you might have:
- Dull, throbbing or pulsating pain that often gets worse as the weather changes.
- A feeling of pressure or tightness around the head or behind the eyes.
- Sensitivity to light or sound.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Numbness in the face and neck.
- Pain in one or both temples.
If you think you might have weather-related headaches, keeping a headache diary may help. You can:
- Record your symptoms and note the date, time, intensity and symptoms.
- Write down the weather conditions at the time of your headaches. Include the barometric pressure — you can find it by entering your zip code on the National Weather Service web page.
- Track lifestyle factors like sleep, food and water intake and stress levels to learn more about what might trigger your headaches.
- Watch for other weather-related headache triggers. “Some people who have migraines appear to be more sensitive to bright sunlight, glare, extreme heat or cold, high humidity or dry air,” Chavez said.
Look over the information in your headache diary to spot patterns. You might notice that your headaches always start before the weather changes. Knowing that you can find ways to deal with them.
How to cope
The first step in staying ahead of weather-related headaches is to keep an eye on the weather. “It’s important to be aware of upcoming weather changes if barometric pressure is a factor in your headaches,” Chavez said.
Watch the forecast for any upcoming storms or changes that could cause the barometric pressure to drop and track the barometric pressure levels.
If you know a storm is coming and you expect a headache or migraine, these steps could help:
- Plan short breaks or rests in your schedule.
- Drink plenty of water since dehydration can make headaches more frequent and more intense.
- Manage stress so it doesn’t make your headaches worse. Know what triggers your stress and the signs of stress in your body, like muscle tension or mood changes. Try deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, exercise, hobbies or socializing to help release tension.
Some healthy lifestyle habits can also help reduce weather-related headaches:
- Do your best to get a good night’s sleep every night. Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet, and try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning.
- Get regular physical activity. Low-impact activities are good choices since they are less likely to trigger headaches. Exercise indoors when the weather is bad or changing.
- Choose a healthy, balanced diet and watch for foods that might trigger headaches, such as chocolate, caffeine, aged cheese and processed meats.
These steps can help reduce your risk of headaches, but they probably can’t make all of your headaches disappear all the time.
Sometimes, you may want to try medication to relieve your pain. Here are some over-the-counter (OTC) options to consider. Be sure to follow the dosing directions and talk to your health care provider if you have any questions:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve).
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol).
You may also want to try OTC medications that include caffeine. Caffeine makes some pain relievers more effective and can be useful for headaches.
If your headaches happen often, your pain is severe or you’re not getting relief from OTC medications, talk to your provider. They can help you come up with a personalized treatment plan based on your symptoms, medical history and types of headache.
“People do not have to suffer from headaches anymore. Research has led to some exciting discoveries of medications that are specific to headaches. Obtaining care is vital in combating this problem and being proactive will give you your life back,” Chavez said.
Your provider may suggest a prescription medication:
- Triptans (sumatriptan, rizatriptan, naratriptan, and eletriptan) are often prescribed for migraines. They narrow blood vessels and reduce inflammation.
- Gepants (rimegepant, ubrogepant and atogepant) are also often prescribed for migraine treatment but can sometimes be used preventively.
- Other medications, including some that treat high blood pressure, depression and seizures, may also help make headaches less frequent and severe.
“Keep your migraine medicine with you, especially if you are in weather conditions that seem to trigger headaches. And if you experience any of the early symptoms or warning signs of migraines, you may want to consider taking your migraine medication to help avoid or lessen the severity of the headache,” Chavez said.
“Timing is everything. If the medication is not taken soon enough it may not be effective. If a powerful weather system is moving in, you may want to try taking medication in advance,” she said.
Connecting with support
It can be challenging to live with weather-related headaches, but leaning on your family and friends can help. Share your experiences with them so they understand what you’re going through. Tell them what you’re doing to help control your headaches.
If you’re having a headache or migraine, tell them if you need quiet time, help getting things done or emotional support.
Connecting with others who suffer from weather-related headaches can give you more ideas for coping and help you feel less alone. In-person and online options are available. Your health care provider may be able to help you find support groups.
If your headaches are frequent or severe, talk to your health care provider. You may also want to see a neurologist. It may be beneficial to consult with a mental health professional to learn how to manage the emotional impact of weather-related headaches or migraines.
If your headaches become more frequent, feel different, or come with other symptoms like confusion, neck rigidity, weakness in the arms or legs, fever or chills, you should see a doctor right away. “Some of those symptoms may be signs of a heart attack or stroke,” Chavez said.
The bottom line
Changes in the seasons can cause headaches and migraines. While you can’t control the weather, there are steps you can take to reduce the impact it has on the way you feel. Being prepared, taking care of your health and treating your headache pain with medication can all help you stay a step ahead of weather-related headaches.
To learn more about how to prevent and treat headaches and migraines, talk to your health care provider or reach out to an expert at Banner Health.