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Can the weather trigger headaches and migraines?

Do you ever notice you get a headache or migraine when the weather changes? Perhaps a storm system moves in or it’s allergy season again or it’s extra-sunny outside. Regardless of what triggers your headaches, it’s important to know how to handle them when they occur. Joel Garrison, D.O., a Piedmont family medicine physician, explains why the weather can lead to headaches and migraines and how to treat them.

How can the weather trigger migraines or headaches?

“Different weather patterns can cause changes in the head and neck that can lead to headaches, including migraines, sinus headaches and pressure headaches,” says Dr. Garrison. “When the weather changes from season to season, from warm to cool air, or from dry to humid air, this can trigger headaches.”

Even daily changes like bright sunlight and temperature or barometric pressure fluctuations can lead to headaches.

Symptoms of weather-related headaches

Symptoms of weather-related headaches can include:

  • Pain in your head or neck

  • Pressure in your face, sinuses or ears

  • Allergy symptoms, like a runny nose, scratchy throat, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes

  • Post-nasal drip

Additionally, migraines may cause:

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Blurred vision

  • Dizziness

  • Upset stomach

  • Weakness, numbness or tingling (rarely)

What to do if you have weather-related headaches

If you notice your symptoms flare up when the weather changes, keep a headache journal for two to four weeks. If your symptoms are less frequent but severe, you may need to keep a log for eight to 12 weeks or more. Include:

  • The time of day your headache began

  • Where you were

  • Your symptoms and their severity

  • The weather conditions

“You and your provider can use your headache log to figure out the best treatment approach,” says Dr. Garrison. “We want to pinpoint which environmental triggers cause your headaches so we can put together a plan to prevent them or treat them as needed.”

When to seek medical care for a headache

“Headaches are one of the most common ailments we get,” he says. “The frequency and severity are the determining factors when considering seeing your health care provider.”

If you have more than one to two headaches a week or more than three to four per month, talk to your primary care provider. If you have less frequent headaches, but they are severe and debilitating (for example, you miss work or school or have trouble keeping up with your daily responsibilities), that also warrants a trip to see your provider.

Treatment options for weather-related headaches

Dr. Garrison recommends the following to manage weather-related headaches:

  • Use your headache log to identify your triggers and take steps to avoid them as best you can.

  • If seasonal allergies trigger your symptoms, ask your provider about allergy medications.

  • If bright sunlight is a factor, wear sunglasses when outdoors, use blinds or curtains at home, and keep the windows rolled up when driving.

  • If dry or humid air seems to be a factor, consider using a humidifier or dehumidifier at home.

  • Avoid other triggers, like nitrates, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or caffeine.

  • Manage your stress levels with regular exercise, good sleep, meditation, journaling, yoga or counseling.

  • Stay well-hydrated, especially in hot weather.

  • If you can’t control your triggers, consider taking pain medication earlier than you usually would to prevent your headache from becoming severe.

It’s essential to take a team approach with your health care provider. Keep track of your symptoms and work together to determine the lifestyle changes and medications that can help you manage weather-related headache symptoms.

We make getting great health care simple and convenient. Schedule an appointment today through your Piedmont MyChart account or our website.

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