Environmental, Weather & Seasonal Migraine Triggers

Environmental Issues

Environmental Triggers

According to the National Headache Foundation environmental factors that can trigger a migraine include a change in climate or weather (such as a change in humidity or temperature), a change in altitude or barometric pressure, high winds, traveling, or a change in routine. 1

Bright lights can also be included in this section.

Many migraineurs are triggered by odours such as perfumes or strong smells like pollutants.

Migraine.com suggests that "some researchers believe that people with environmentally-induced migraines are more sensitive to influences in the atmosphere. Changes in the environment have also been blamed on allergies, pain and fatigue." 2

There are certain trigger factors which can be related to environmental issues such as high altitude, weather changes, high humidity, loud noises, exposure to glare or flickering lights. It is unclear if light and sound are themselves triggers or if heightened sensitivity to them are early features in the attack. 3

  • Bright or flickering lights
    • exposure to sunlight 4
    • flickering or flashing lights 5
  • Barometric Pressure Changes
    • altitude, air pressure (as in airplane travel) 6
  • Strong Odours (perfumes, cleaning agents)
    • Smells like cigarettes, fuel, fire smoke, perfumes 7
  • Weather Conditions (Chinook Winds, Alberta) , Strom Fronts
    • high winds or Chinook winds (native to Alberta) 8
    • humidity and extreme cold or heat 9

Note: there are more environmental triggers but space does permit a comprehensive list; the above environmental triggers are the most common types.

One migraine organization suggests...

Dr. Alexander Mauskop from the New York Headache Centre in New York suggests carrying a small vial of pure organic lavender or peppermint oils. Neither has been linked with headaches and peppermint has been found to help reduce throbbing pain. Lavender, meanwhile, chills you out making it great for preventing stress and tension headaches. Take a whiff whenever you need to disguise offending smells. 10

"Rising barometric pressure can trigger a migraine attack in some individuals. Falling barometric pressure can trigger it in some individuals. But the two often do not cross. So generally speaking, you’re either sensitive to falls or you’re sensitive to rises but not both." - Dr. Vince Martin, World Migraine Summit, 2018

Why Weather Triggers Migraines

It can be difficult to prove scientifically that a particular weather pattern tends to trigger migraine attacks. A migraine trigger is a factor that temporarily increases the chances that a person with migraine will experience a migraine attack. Any single person may have a number of migraine triggers, so even if weather changes are one of them, many of that person’s migraine attacks may be caused by other triggers. 11

In addition, often a single trigger like a specific weather change—may not be able to start a migraine attack by itself unless the weather change is very dramatic. The weather change may only “cause” a migraine attack if it combined with another trigger like a meal containing monosodium glutamate or a glass of red wine. Also, the weather change may only be able to trigger an attack if the person is already migraine-prone because of fatigue, stress, or lack of sleep. Therefore, it may be hard to clearly see a relationship between a certain weather pattern and the onset of migraine attacks. 11

There may be different reasons for why certain weather events trigger migraine. High humidity and extremely dry conditions may exacerbate dehydration, one of the most common and preventable migraine triggers. Bright lights and sun glare activate a condition called photophobia (a painful sensitivity to light) among many people with migraine. 12

Barometric pressure is a very common weather trigger that refers to pressure in the air or the amount of force that is being applied to your body from the air. Because our sinuses are filled with air, any change in that pressure can affect headaches. 13

What can we do about weather-related migraines?

According to Migraine Again the following techniques have proven useful for some people that suffer from weather-related migraines:

  1. Drink plenty of water - high humidity and extremely dry weather can be managed with better hydration.
  2. Stay indoors - it will help you manage exposure to bright light, extreme temperatures and high humidity
  3. Ask your optometrist about proper new sunglasses - Even when you’re indoors, fluorescent lights and other bright lights can aggravate some migraine sufferers. Block indoor lights and outdoor glare with migraine glasses
  4. Prepare yourself for fast-moving weather - There are a number of weather tracking devices to research fast-moving weather conditions.
  5. Keep your eye on barometric pressure - You can’t control the pressure change but monitoring it can give you a heads-up that a potential Migraine trigger is on its way. If you don’t travel much, you can get a barometer for your home or workplace. The advantage of having a barometric pressure monitor on your desk or in your kitchen is the visual heads-up it will give you of barometric changes. Or you can search for an APP on your phone
  6. Talk to your doctor about prevention - If you notice a clear pattern between migraine weather and your attacks, it may be worth talking to your doctor about a preventative medication
  7. Limit your other triggers -Once you know that a storm is on its way or underway, the key to avoiding a weather-related migraine attack is to limit your exposure to other triggers. Avoid positive or negative stress, guard your sleep, avoid any potential food and drink triggers, ensure you exercise and practice the best prevention protocol possible
  8. If all else fails, consider relocating - Yes, as Migraine Again points out this seems like a radical idea to many but if chronic migraines are ruining your life (and have been proven to be triggered by weather patterns) and you can get better control of a major trigger by moving, this might be an option for you. 14

Authors Note: The obvious flip-side to the above statement is that a geographical move will quite-likely invite a new set of weather-related triggers for you to deal with

View these tips at here

Why changes in the weather and shifts between seasons can trigger migraine attacks

Watching the seasons change can be an enjoyable experience for everyone. But spring rain, winter’s first snowfall or the arrival of fall foliage also signal changes in the atmosphere that can trigger migraine attacks. Cynthia Armand MD, a physician at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York, studies how the changing seasons affect people with migraine. During a recent Facebook Live presentation hosted by the American Migraine Foundation, Armand said the changes in the weather and transitions between seasons can influence migraine symptoms — but there are ways to mitigate those effects. 15

Dr. Armand's points are shortened for faster reading, with a link below.

Seasonal Migraine Triggers

  • Spring
    • Spring often sees an influx of frequent shifts between sun and showers
    • barometric pressure often fluctuates
    • allergens are more prevalent
  • Summer
    • often warm and humid temperatures means that people perspire more, which can lead to dehydration
    • sleep patterns change due to longer sunlight
    • some experience a "stress let down" headache from getting off work or from summer vacations
  • Fall
    • cooler temperatures means temperature fluctuations
    • humidity decreases and barometric pressure changes
    • the days are getting shorter which can often alter sleep schedules
  • Winter
    • winter is usually marked with cold temperatures, dry air and snowstorms
    • cold and dry air can lead to dehydration
    • snowstorms are prevalent and are sometimes linked to changes in barometric pressure 16  

Dr. Cynthia Armand on Seasonal Migraine triggers can be found here

REFERENCES

  1. National Headache Foundation, Environmental Factors
  2. Migraine.com, Environmental triggers
  3. Migraine Trust, Common Triggers
  4. Migraine Trust, Glaring Sunlight Trigger
  5. Migraine Research Foundation, Flickering Lights Trigger
  6. Migrtaine Research Foundation, Triggers, Barometric Pressure Changes
  7. Migraine Canada, Migraine Odour Triggers
  8. Dr. Werner Becker, Migraine Environment Triggers, Chinook Winds
  9. Migraine Canada, Migraine Humidity Trigger
  10. Migraine Again, Migraine Odour Triggers
  11. American Migraine Foundation, Weather and Headache, Dr. Werner Becker
  12. Migraine Again, Weather Trigger
  13. The Healthline, Barometric Pressure Changes
  14. Migraine Again, Weather-related Tips
  15. Americvan Migraine Foundation, Dr. Cynthia Armand, Seasonal Migraine Triggers
  16. Dr. Cynthia Armand, Why changes in the weather and shifts between seasons can trigger migraine attacks

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