How Weather May Trigger Headaches

The Science Behind This Trigger Is Still Uncertain

Are Thunderstorms a Culprit Behind Your Headaches?
Are Thunderstorms a Culprit Behind Your Headaches?. Shannon Bileski/Getty Images

For most of us, a day of thunderstorms on a summer Saturday means staying inside with a cup of tea and a good movie. For others, though, a thunderstorm may be a brutal trigger for a headache.

Let's read about the science behind how a thunderstorm and other weather-related changes, may precipitate head pain.

Weather As A Headache Trigger

It's fairly common for a person with headaches and/or migraines to subjectively report weather as a trigger for their attacks.

Some people cite simply a "change in weather" as their trigger, and others can pin down more specific weather change like high or low temperatures, humidity, sunlight, wind speed, and dew point. 

One study in Cephalalgia examined over 1200 participants with migraines. Weather was identified as the fourth most frequent migraine trigger, occurring in approximately 50 percent of the participants—this is pretty high. 

In another study, in The Journal of Headache and Pain, of 120 people with either migraines or tension-type headaches, the ​weather was described as the most common trigger.

That being said, despite these subjective reports, studies on the effects of weather on headaches and migraines reveal inconsistent results. This means that in some studies, certain weather changes correlated with whether a migraine or a headache occurred and/or persisted, and in other studies, there was no significant correlation or link found.

Thunderstorms as a Headache Trigger

But what about storms—can they trigger headaches and migraines? Indeed, many of us can recall plugging along at work or in our homes on a gloomy, damp day with a nagging headache. Was it triggered by that morning thunderstorm? Many of us claim it was, and some experts agree (some do not).

During a storm, cold and warm air collide, creating an extreme difference in barometric (or air) pressure. This creates the elements of a thunderstorm, like wind and rain. The change in barometric pressure may be what triggers your headache, whether that is a migraine, tension-type headache, or a sinus headache—although this is still a questionable phenomenon.

In addition, with a thunderstorm comes lightning. Sferics, which are electromagnetic impulses produced by lightning, may also trigger migraines—again, this is still in dispute among experts.

More on Barometric Pressure and Headaches

Regarding barometric pressure, one study in Internal Medicine examined a small number of people with migraines living in Japan. The participants kept a headache diary for one year. Half of the participants reported low barometric pressure as a migraine trigger. Additionally, results revealed that half of the participants had more frequent headaches the day following a drop in barometric pressure.

On the other hand, another large study in Headache examined over 900 patients with migraines and did not find a link between migraine attacks and falls in barometric pressure.

A Word From Verywell

Overall, there is not great evidence or science behind the triggering effect of weather changes like thunderstorms on headaches. Nevertheless, listen to your gut. If certain weather changes consistently trigger your headaches, being prepared for managing your headache when rain clouds are brewing (or your unique weather-related trigger is occurring) can only serve to help you in the end.

Remember too, if you do suffer from weather-triggered headaches, there is not much you can do to escape this phenomenon. Instead, coping with the trigger is your best option.

One good idea is to keep a headache diary and review it with your doctor who may help you form a plan to prevent or lessen your attack the next time a certain weather change occurs. It would also be beneficial to discuss over-the-counter medications or possibly a prescription medication with your doctor to help you manage your headache or migraines.

Sources:

Friedman DI. De Ver Dye T. Migraine and the Environment. Headache. 2009 Jun;49(6):941-52.

Kelman L. The triggers or precipitants of the acute migraine attack. Cephalgia. 2007;27:394-402.

Kimoto K, Aiba S, Takashima R, Suzuki K, Takekawa H, Watanabe Y, Tatsumoto M, Hirata K. Influence of barometric pressure in patients with migraine headache. Intern Med. 2011;50(18):1923-8.

Wöber C, Holzhammer J, Zeitlhofer J, Wessely P, Wöber-Bingöl C. Trigger factors of migraine and tension-type headache: Experience and knowledge of the patients. J Headache Pain. 2006;7:188-195.

Zebenholzer K et al. Migraine and weather: a prospective diary-based analysts. Cephalalgia. 2011 Mar;31(4):391-400.

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