“A lot of people for years have said ‘my head is like my barometer – it’s as good as a weather forecast,’” John Porter, MD, a Bon Secours neurologist, shares. “There is definitely a connection between the weather and onset of migraines.”
And there is even data to prove it. Several studies have used data from the National Weather Service along with notes people made in their “headache diary” to evaluate the phenomenon. Turns out, four out of 10 people do have a genuine connection with the weather.
“The Martin study clearly showed that if you are within 10 miles of a lightning strike, you are substantially more likely to have a migraine the next day than people who were 25 or 30 miles away,” Dr. Porter shares.
While many people often try to avoid migraine triggers like chocolate, coffee or beer, you can’t control the weather. However, Dr. Porter says you can prepare for it.
“There are strategies where you can, at vulnerable periods of time, take medication,” he says. “These are medications you don’t necessarily have to take every day.”
Proactive measures can also make a ton of difference for people who are planning a vacation to a place with a different weather climate or that are located at different altitudes.
“Most people, when they’re going somewhere, don’t want to waste time sitting in a waiting room of an urgent care,” Dr. Porter says. “It’s one of those things that if you know you’re vulnerable, you can see your primary care provider before you leave, and they can usually give you with something that will help.”
What causes weather-related migraines is climate change and the body’s response as it tries to adapt. For instance, the oxygen level in your blood drops by 3 percent for every 1,000 feet above sea level.
“It’s not so much where you start, but the change when you go to a new place. There are people living at extremely high altitudes, but their hemoglobin levels are substantially higher to compensate,” Dr. Porter explains. “For example, if you were to move from Greenville to Denver and we measured your blood work before you left and about two months after your arrival, you’ll find your hemoglobin has gone up. When people are just there for a short time, there isn’t time for that adjustment to happen. That’s why they get sick or have headaches.”
There are lots of things you can do to stave off a migraine, including a regular sleep routine, a healthy diet, staying hydrated and avoiding things that are known to trigger the onset of symptoms. For things you can’t control, such as the weather, medication is often the best defense. However, not all medications are created equal.
“Over-the-counter medications and, in some cases, prescription medicines may actually make migraines worse over the long term. If you have a headache every two to three months, they work. On the other hand, if you’re having three a week, you need to do something else,” Dr. Porter shares.
There’s an entire new generation of headache medications that don’t potentiate chronic headaches. For this reason, Dr. Porter says it’s important to talk to your health care provider about the best option for you.
“One in 11 out of the population, or one in six women and one in 15 men, suffer from migraines. This makes migraines one of the most common conditions that afflict mankind. But we have so many more strategies now than we did even five years ago to help make people well and comfortable.”