Researchers don’t know exactly what causes some people to experience migraine attacks. Genes, changes in the brain, or changes in levels of brain chemicals could be involved.
But it’s clear that certain things set off migraine attacks. Specific foods, hormonal changes, and stress are among the most often cited migraine triggers. Weather can also be a factor.
According to a
Storms, temperature extremes, and changes in barometric pressure might all contribute to these attacks by altering levels of serotonin and other brain chemicals.
Research on the connection between migraine and weather has been mixed, in part because it’s difficult to study. Weather changes can trigger varying reactions, so it’s hard for researchers to narrow down one cause.
Not everyone responds to each weather change in the same way, either.
Heat triggers migraine attacks in some people, while others get attacks when the temperature drops. Certain people are more sensitive than others to shifts in temperature and humidity.
In some cases, many different factors come together to trigger a migraine attack. For example, you might get an attack on humid days, but only if you’re also stressed or hungry.
There may be a link between humidity, temperature, and migraine, but it’s not always consistent.
In general, higher humidity and temperatures seem to set off migraine attacks. Sudden changes in humidity or temperature — up or down — might also be a factor.
One reason for the increase in migraine attacks during hot or dry weather could be dehydration, which is a recognized migraine trigger.
Temperature on its own may also lead to migraine attacks, though different studies disagree.
People who weren’t temperature-sensitive had more attacks in the summer, but to a lesser extent. According to the study, the cause could be temperature-sensitive people noting cold temperature changes more easily.
Still, another study from 2020 found no relationship between hot or cold weather and migraine. More research needs to be done.
Few studies directly examine the effect of storms on migraine.
A study from 2013 found that lightning was linked to headaches in people living with migraine. However, it was unclear why this would be the case.
Storms as a migraine trigger may be related to changes in air pressure. Lowering barometric (air) pressure generally indicates a coming storm and was associated with migraine in a small
The study authors recommended that people with migraine be ready with medication when cyclones are in the forecast.
As with other weather conditions, there’s conflicting information regarding the effects of dry conditions on migraine. This may be because weather affects people differently, but it also indicates that more research is needed.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, cold and dry air in the winter may result in dehydration and lead to migraine attacks.
On the other hand, other research, including a study from 2019, suggests that higher humidity in warm weather is linked to a higher chance of migraine attacks.
The relationship between dust and migraine is likely tied to allergies.
More generally, a
Inflammation in response to allergens may be one cause of these migraine attacks.
There’s little recent research on wind and migraine, though wind is often listed as a migraine trigger.
The study found that on days before Chinook winds and days with high-speed Chinook winds, migraine attacks were more likely in some of the study participants.
Barometric pressure is a measurement of pressure in the air. Rising barometric pressure means the air pressure is increasing, and falling barometric pressure means air pressure is decreasing.
How does barometric pressure influence headaches? The answer has to do with blood vessels: When the pressure rises, blood vessels narrow, and when the pressure drops, blood vessels widen.
The authors say a drop in barometric pressure causes blood vessels in the brain to widen, which triggers the release of serotonin.
As serotonin levels rise, they set off the visual phenomenon known as aura. When serotonin levels drop again, the blood vessels swell, which may trigger a migraine attack.
Besides the weather, other environmental factors may also cause migraine attacks in some people, though the cause is often unclear. These include bright light, smoking or breathing secondhand smoke, and higher altitudes.
Sometimes sunlight can cause a migraine attack. This makes sense, considering that bright light is a common trigger.
Researchers say sunlight could travel through the retina and optic nerve and activate sensitive nerve cells in the brain.
Another theory is that ultraviolet radiation from the sun leads to the release of chemicals in the skin that widen blood vessels, which can cause a migraine attack.
The strength and brightness of sunlight could help determine whether it causes a migraine attack.
In one small study, people experienced more migraine incidents when exposed to summer sun (which is stronger) than winter sun (which is weaker).
Smoking and secondhand smoke are often listed as migraine triggers, but their relationship to migraine is still unclear.
A 2015 research review noted that there’s conflicting data about the effect of smoking on migraine, but that they’re likely related.
According to a small study from 2018, frequency of smoking and using smokeless tobacco may contribute to migraine. Specifically, smoking more than six cigarettes per day resulted in more migraine attacks.
Smoking may lead to migraine attacks because the nicotine in tobacco causes blood vessels to narrow. This results in less blood flow to the brain and reduces brain activity, which is a factor in migraine.
Altitude may also play a role in migraine. A
The study rejected high-altitude headaches and lack of oxygen as a cause. Still, it wasn’t able to provide another explanation for migraine resulting from living at altitude.
There’s currently no cure for migraine, but you can take steps to prevent attacks and treat symptoms.
In general, exercising regularly, staying hydrated, and managing stress may lower the number of migraine attacks you experience.
When you get migraine symptoms, medications may help. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and potential medications.
You can also relieve your migraine symptoms with medications like sumatriptan, ibuprofen, or aspirin.
The main symptom of a migraine attack is head pain, but side effects may include:
- nausea or vomiting
- visual changes, such as blurry vision or blind spots, called aura
- sensitivity to sound
- sensitivity to light
To reduce nausea and vomiting, you can take medications like chlorpromazine and prochlorperazine (Compro). If a migraine attack makes you sensitive to light or sound, lying down in a dark, silent room may help.
Aspirin, ibuprofen, or other medications can also help reduce pain. However, taking them too frequently may lead to medication overuse headaches.
Although you can’t control the weather, you can gain more control over migraine when the temperature or humidity changes.
One way is to figure out your triggers. Keep a diary of what you’re doing when your migraine attacks start. Over time, you’ll be able to see which weather patterns tend to set off your headaches.
If you’re on a preventive medication, like erenumab (Aimovig), make sure you take it. And have an abortive medication ready if the weather looks like it’s changing.
Try to limit your time outdoors when conditions look like they could set off a migraine attack. And if you do have to be out in the sun, shield your eyes with a pair of UV-protective sunglasses.