Weather Cold or Hot: Weather as a Migraine Trigger

by Sondra McElhinney, EdD

Today, sitting here, looking out my window I have seen rain, snow, bright sunshine, and the wind blowing the limbs of the trees. Weather conditions do not astound me. I had predicted the weather conditions I viewed from my window. Pressure and a heaviness had been building in my head for the past couple of days.

Looking out my window I see proof of that prediction. Looking inward, I feel the proof, as the intensity of my head pain has gotten steadily worse. The pain takes the form of pressure and heaviness in my head quite different from the sharp, piercing, throbbing of my usual migraine. My brain wants to escape my skull. I think, "If only I could put a pin hole in my skull, I could relieve the pressure and ease the pain with a big WHOOSH!."

The convergence of the complexities of the weather and complexities of the migraines combine to cause a unique pain for many migraine sufferers. Barometric pressure changes can be a trigger for some migraineurs. Migraineurs will applaud when all health-care professionals accept barometric pressure change as a trigger for migraine headaches.

Migraine sufferers have long recognized many of the other environmental triggers and food triggers that can cause our headache pain to get worse. Some environmental triggers and food triggers can be avoided. However the weather trigger cannot. The pressure and heaviness, and the pain come a day or two ahead of the actual weather change. An important factor here is the change in the barometric pressure. Whether the weather changes from bright sunshine to clouds and rain or whether the weather changes from a rain to a bright sunshine, my brain complains.

Some triggers can be avoided or modified to prevent increased pain and discomfort. But inside the house or outside the house, no one can avoid the intrusive weather.

I tell my doctor that spring is the worst season for my head pain due to the change from winter to spring, bringing the spring showers and tornados. I tell my doctor that summer is the worst season for my head pain due to the showers and storms. I tell my doctor that autumn is the worst season for my headache pain due to the changes to crisper air and cooler temperatures. I tell my doctor winter that winter is the worst season for my head pain due to cold, icy temperatures, snow and yes, sunshine.

Some doctors hear these conflicting statements causing confusion. They recall the story of the little boy who cried "wolf." Like the villagers, some doctors no longer hear. We must help them "hear" by assuming our responsibility in 'crying wolf.' We must help our doctors to know that weather cycles affect us year round.

Like most people, migraineurs cannot just pack up and leave the weather. Therefore many migraine sufferers must tolerate a certain level of pain, knowing that this peculiar cycle is never broken. Our "wolf" is always with us. In many cases, other triggers create additional pain building on the pain from the weather changes and thus the pain intensifies.

The migraineur's advantage is recognizing and understanding that weather is a migraine trigger. It exists. We, as migraineurs, must become educators to teach family and friends of the presence of this phenomenon.   Furthermore, as migraine educators, we must take the unique step and teach health-care professionals to  recognize that barometric pressure change is an unavoidable trigger in migraine headaches.

© Sondra McElhinney

Sondra McElhinney was the founder of HOPA ~ HeadOffPain Advocators, a nonprofit organization.