Can changes in the weather and shifts between seasons trigger migraine attacks?
Seasonal migraine triggers can be hard to pinpoint, especially if you suspect something like a change in the weather is impacting your 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 Facebook Live presentation hosted by the American Migraine Foundation, Dr. Armand said the changes in the weather and seasons can be migraine triggers.
It’s important to note that “seasonal migraine” is not an official term or diagnosis, but certain environmental triggers can be influenced by the seasons. For example, the summer months are generally hotter and you might sweat more. This could lead to dehydration, which is a common migraine trigger.
Learn more about how the seasons and weather can impact your migraine and what you can do about it.
What are some seasonal or weather-related migraine triggers?
There are certain “substances or conditions” that can trigger a migraine attack, including some of the subtle changes that accompany the shift between seasons, Dr. Armand said. These triggers won’t affect everyone, but anticipating their arrival can be a useful tool for people trying to manage their migraine.
Changing barometric pressure—also called atmospheric pressure—is a potential trigger for people with migraine. Barometric pressure fluctuates as the seasons change, and those variations can trigger an attack.
“Our head is made up of pockets of air that we call sinuses. Usually, those pockets of air are at equilibrium with the atmospheric pressure,” said Dr. Armand. “When there’s a change in that atmospheric pressure, it creates a change, kind of like a shift, between what you’re experiencing in your head and what’s going on in the air.” That abrupt change may trigger migraine.
A small Japanese study looked at whether falling barometric pressure, which comes before a storm, seemed to trigger headaches. It found that 75% of people with migraine had migraine attacks associated with the drop in barometric pressure, while only 20% of people with tension-type headache experienced an attack.
Similarly, changing temperatures, whether from a warm summer easing into chilly autumn or cold winter temperatures climbing into a mild spring, can also be a trigger for people with migraine.
Other seasonal or weather-related triggers include:
- Bright sunlight or sun glare
- Extreme heat or cold
- Humidity or dry air
- Windy or stormy weather
What To Watch Out For Each Season
Spring Migraine Triggers
The spring can see frequent shifts between sun and showers, meaning the barometric pressure is changing, which can be a migraine trigger. Spring can also be a tough time for people with seasonal allergies. Migraine attacks are not caused by allergies, but migraine is commonly misdiagnosed as a sinus headache. Migraine attacks often include sinus symptoms like runny nose and watery eyes, but fever and discharge are symptoms that point to sinus issues rather than migraine.
Summer Migraine Triggers
This season is warm and humid, and people tend to sweat more, which can lead to dehydration. People with migraine need to keep hydrated to avoid an attack, Dr. Armand said. There’s more sunlight and longer days in the summer, which can change people’s sleep patterns—a possible trigger for migraine. An inconsistent sleep cycle can trigger migraine, so try to track your sleep and make sure you’re getting enough rest. Sun glare can also trigger an attack, so wearing a hat or sunglasses can help remove that trigger.
Fall Migraine Triggers
This is the time of year when cooler temperatures are coming in—meaning there will be temperature fluctuations at the beginning of the season, Dr. Armand said. Humidity will decrease and the barometric pressure will change as the days get windier. But there’s another aspect of fall you might not expect: The days are getting shorter, which can change your sleep schedule and trigger migraines attacks.
Winter Migraine Triggers
The winter usually comes with cold temperatures, dry air and snowstorms. That cold and dry air can lead to dehydration—especially if you increase the heating in your home, Dr. Armand said. The snowstorms that hit during the winter are also connected to changes in the barometric pressure, another possible trigger for migraine.
Avoiding Seasonal Triggers
While you can avoid a glass of red wine or use noise-cancelling headphones in crowded places, you can’t exactly avoid the weather. But many of the same preventive measures recommended year-round to reduce migraine attacks are also effective against seasonal triggers.
The most important one can be to keep a consistent schedule. “The migraine brain loves schedule, so try to keep a normal schedule as much as possible,” Dr. Armand said. People with migraine should keep track of their diet, exercise and sleep cycles. Taking care of these aspects of your life can help you better protect against seasonal and weather-related triggers when they occur.
In the spring, you should monitor the weather if changes in barometric pressure are a trigger for you so you can be prepared to treat an attack.
Once summer comes, Dr. Armand recommends drinking more water than usual to stay hydrated. You should continue taking allergy medications if you have problems with pollen from trees, grass and weeds.
During the fall, do your best to avoid catching the colds that often circulate as temperatures dip. Wear weather-appropriate clothing, especially hats, to keep your body warm, and avoid exposure to anyone currently battling a bug. If you feel the warning signs of sickness, take immediate care to prevent your symptoms from worsening.
In the winter, people with migraine should increase how much water they’re drinking, since indoor heating dries out the air around you. A humidifier can be helpful to keep additional moisture in your environment.
The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. For more of the latest news and information on migraine, visit the AMF Resource Library. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.
Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.