Migraine is a neurological condition that has many triggers. For some, the weather and change of seasons can trigger seasonal episodes.
While migraine headaches occur for numerous reasons, one common trigger is the transition of seasons. For some people, weather and temperature changes may trigger migraine attacks.
Triggers can also vary depending on the season. It can be helpful to understand and know what they are so you can be better equipped to avoid them and lessen the frequency of these painful and often debilitating episodes.
Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to treatment and prevention. The more you learn about the nature of your migraine condition, the better you can manage and avoid attacks.
Here are three of the most common triggers, according to Medhat Mikhael, MD, a pain management specialist and anesthesiologist, and medical director of MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center’s Spine Health Center in Fountain Valley, California.
1. Changing barometric pressure
Barometric pressure, also known as atmospheric pressure, is a potential trigger for people with migraine. It fluctuates as the seasons change, and those variations can provoke a migraine attack.
2. Pollen and allergies
During the spring season, allergies are at an all-time high. This can cause sinusitis, which can trigger migraine episodes.
3. Stress during very hot or cold weather
Sometimes, it’s a combination of things that can trigger painful episodes.
Potential factors include dehydration, stress, and lack of sleep.
“A patient’s migraine brain is sensitive — and the response to change often is a migraine exacerbation,” says Shae Datta, MD, specializing in neurology at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island. “Tracking weather can be helpful to predict and help treat these ahead of time.”
People with migraine tend to be more sensitive to bright light, including sunlight, so summer can trigger episodes, Datta adds.
Here are a few more potential triggers:
- extreme heat or cold
- sun glare
- high humidity
- dry air
- windy or stormy weather
For some people, weather changes may cause imbalances in brain chemicals, including serotonin, which can prompt a migraine attack. Weather-related triggers may also worsen headaches caused by other triggers.
In most cases, the treatment for seasonal migraine is the same as for chronic migraine. The key to preventing migraine is avoiding triggers.
“Doctors always try to link the triggers to the migraine,” Mikhael explains.
“When realizing a seasonal one, I encourage patients to avoid some of these seasonal factors to avoid the development of migraine. At the end of the day, when a [migraine headache] develops, treatment is the same, and patients with episodic, recurrent, and chronic migraine receive appropriate preventive and abortive measures.”
To receive an accurate diagnosis, it’s necessary to get a complete picture of your health and preexisting triggers.
“We may get brain or neck imaging. The physical exam may reveal sinus pressure or pain at a specific site that will give us clues about the diagnosis, but most of the diagnosis will come from a history of your triggers and patterns that you observe,” says Datta.
It’s important to keep in mind that your triggers may differ from someone else with migraine. And, it’s not always possible to avoid triggers, including weather-specific ones.
But knowing a weather change is coming may help you prepare and reduce your exposure to known triggers within your control.
Sinus pain and migraine
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To prevent barometric pressure headaches, Mikhael suggests the following:
- Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Drink a minimum of eight glasses of water per day.
- Exercise most days of the week.
- Eat a balanced diet and avoid skipping meals.
- Practice relaxation techniques if you’re experiencing stress.
Along with making healthy lifestyle choices, Datta recommends abortive migraine medication at the first sign of a migraine headache.
You may not always find it easy to avoid triggers or follow all the above tips. When you’re in pain, factors like sleep, exercise, and eating right can be challenging. On pain-free days, though, these strategies may help you avoid or lessen the severity of future attacks.
It may also be a good idea to monitor the weather and keep track of your migraine episodes.
“Impending storms can often trigger headaches. If patients have a brewing storm, make sure to avoid your known food triggers, get plenty of rest, practice stress reduction, and take medications as prescribed,” Datta explains.
Datta also recommends people with migraine keep a headache diary. “There are many apps that help you track your headaches,” she says.
These strategies may help reduce the number and severity of your migraine episodes.
The change of seasons and weather conditions are common causes of migraine attacks. But, triggers can vary according to each season, so it’s important to be aware of them to minimize your symptoms.
While there are many lifestyle changes you can try to help manage and prevent migraine attacks — like getting enough sleep, exercising, and hydrating regularly — it’s also a good idea to consider talking to a headache specialist about your symptoms.
Living with migraine doesn’t mean you have to grit your teeth through the pain.
There’s no cure for migraine, but many preventive and abortive medications exist that can lend a hand in managing debilitating seasonal episodes. A migraine specialist can help you figure out your triggers and find a treatment that allows you to live more pain-free days.