Migraines are more likely when days get longer—but you can manage the risk.
The frustrating thing about migraine triggers is that just when you think you’ve figured them out, a new season comes along, bringing new weather, new holidays, new foods, and new hobbies. “Seasonal migraines can be so challenging for some people,” says Cynthia Armand, MD, neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
Seasonal migraine triggers include changes in weather—especially from changes in atmospheric pressure, or the force exerted by the atmosphere. When atmospheric pressure changes, it disrupts the equilibrium between the pressure in the air and the pressure in your sinuses, which can potentially trigger a migraine. Temperature changes, snow, and rain are all things that can change atmospheric pressure.
But seasonal migraine triggers go beyond weather. Here are some of the seasonal migraine triggers to look out for, according to Dr. Armand:
Migraine Triggers in the Fall
Fall is the start of the holiday season, and the holidays are overflowing with potential migraine triggers. Halloween and Thanksgiving may both include parties with alcohol and late nights that disrupt your usual sleep cycle. There may be candy with artificial sweeteners, or meat and cheese platters full of seasonal migraine trigger foods.
On Thanksgiving, many people make the mistake of fasting before the big feast. This method isn’t recommended for anyone, but skipping meals is especially risky for people prone to migraines. Fasting is also a key component of certain fall holidays like Yom Kippur.
Beyond the holidays, fall can trigger migraines due to shorter days—when the sun starts setting by dinner time. This can disrupt your sleep-wake cycles, and changes in sleep (either too much or too little) can lead to migraines.
Migraine Triggers in the Winter
The combination of harsh weather conditions and holiday chaos make winter particularly challenging for people prone to seasonal migraines. Holiday shopping can be very triggering to the migraine brain, with loud noises, large crowds, and the strong fragrances of mall pretzels and perfume samples.
“There’s something with the noise called phonophobia, which is where people can be very noise-sensitive,” says Dr. Armand. “When we’re outside, we hear ringing bells. There’s music. There are a lot of individuals outside talking—a lot of chatter that can be very disruptive to someone with migraine.”
And then, of course, there’s the stress. The holidays can bring up money worries, panic if you procrastinate on your shopping list, travel woes, and negative feelings if your family situation is turbulent. Stress, as well as a sudden letdown of stress, can trigger migraines.
Migraine Triggers in the Spring
Spring offers a small break from holiday madness, but that doesn’t mean it’s free from migraine triggers. “The first [trigger] is we spring forward in time. That itself can disrupt sleep schedules,” says Dr. Armand. “People may tend to sleep more or sleep less, and that particular change can trigger a migraine.”
Another biggie during spring is the burden of seasonal allergies. If you’re sensitive to spring allergens, your sinuses may become inflamed, swollen, and filled with mucus. Just like with changes in weather, this inflammation can disturb the equilibrium between the pressure in the air and your sinuses, potentially triggering a migraine.
Finally, spring has turbulent weather, alternating quickly between sunshine and rain showers. This causes never-ending changes in atmospheric pressure, which can cause a migraine.
Migraine Triggers in the Summer
“In the summertime, people prone to migraines should most definitely be aware of the impact the sun can have on them,” says Dr. Armand. “The sun emits heat [and] wavelengths of light that can be sensitive to the eyes and the nerves.”
The heat can lead to sweating and dehydration, another big migraine trigger. “In the summertime, we need to protect ourselves with sunscreen, wearing sunglasses, and also drinking a lot of water to keep the hydration up in the body.” Learn more about preventing migraines from sunlight here.
The summer also has a vacations, holidays (like July 4th), and lots of grilling—all of which come with potential migraine triggers. For example, grilling can trigger migraines thanks to cerrtain foods like hot dogs and alcohol.
Preventing Seasonal Migraines
“A migraine trigger diary can be so important in migraine management. I think it’s the number one piece of advice I give my patients,” says Dr. Armand. “It most definitely can help the individual be more in tune with their body.”
A migraine trigger diary doesn’t have to be an actual diary: “All they need to do is keep an account of when they have a headache—just simply put an X on a calendar,” says Dr. Armand. “They’ll see a pattern that arises, and when they recognize those patterns, they can start to make connections between what’s happening.”
Additionally, following a migraine prevention lifestyle every day can be a great buffer against seasonal migraines.
If you’re still struggling with migraines, consider seeing a headache specialist. “You don’t have to do this by yourself. We have resources for you, and we are waiting for you to come see us,” says Dr. Armand.
Dr. Armand is a neurologist and headache specialist at Montefiore Headache Center in New York City.
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Seasonal migraines can be so challenging for some people.
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One of the first reasons is that a change in season
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represents a change in being able to predict occurrences.
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When weather patterns occur, we feel like there's a lack
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of control and we don't know what to do.
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I can't control when it's going to snowstorm,
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and if a snowstorm is my migraine trigger,
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then that can be rather disheartening.
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Other changes that occur that can impact migraines are,
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for example, in the fall time, we fall back in the timing,
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and that can lead to change in sleep-wake cycles,
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so if someone sleeps too often
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or if someone doesn't get enough sleep,
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that can cause a migraine as well.
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For many holidays, the hallmark of celebration
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has to do with food, whether it means there's fasting
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that's involved, or there are certain types of foods
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that people indulge in, that can be very difficult for individuals.
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Fasting, for example, represents inconsistency
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in eating patterns, and that inconsistency can trigger migraines,
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and during Thanksgiving, you sit down to a big feast.
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That can cause migraines as well
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because there are certain ingredients that can be triggers.
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When we think about the hustle and the bustle
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of holiday shopping, there's a lot there that can be irritable
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to the brain, especially a migraine brain.
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We have long lines. We have a lot of noise.
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People can be very noise-sensitive,
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and in the holiday season, we hear ringing bells,
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there's music, that can itself cause a migraine.
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The stress of shopping, that as well can cause migraine.
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Many factors in the spring can trigger migraines.
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The first one is we spring forward in time.
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That itself can disrupt sleep schedules,
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and that particular change can trigger a migraine.
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There are high level of allergens that arise,
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and these allergens can disrupt our sinuses
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and they can become irritable and they swell.
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There can be mucus that forms and drains,
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and that can trigger a migraine as well.
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The other thing that happens in the springtime
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are inclement weather changes, and particularly rain storms.
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Those changes can drop the barometric pressure,
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and that can cause a migraine attack.
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In the summertime, people prone to migraines
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should most definitely be aware of the impact the sun
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can have on them.
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The sun emits wavelengths of light that can be sensitive
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to the eyes and the nerves, and the brain can interpret them
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in such a way that can cause sensitivity to light.
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That itself can cause migraines.
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The heat can cause us to lose water in our bodies and sweat.
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That can lead to dehydration,
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and so that can cause migraines as well.
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So in the summertime, we need to protect ourselves
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with sunscreen, wearing sunglasses, and also drinking
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a lot of water to keep the hydration up in the body.
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A migraine trigger diary can be
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so important in migraine management.
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I think it's the number one piece of advice I give my patients.
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It most definitely can help the individual be more in tune
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with their body, and all they need to do is
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keep an account of when they have a headache.
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Just simply put an X on the calendar.
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When they start to do that and they feel comfortable,
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they'll see a pattern that arises, and when they recognize
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those patterns, they can start to make connections
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between what's happeneing, for example, with food,
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with the weather, and see if there are
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cause-and-effect relationships, and start to recognize triggers
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that can cause migraine.
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Alcohol and migraine. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2016. (Accessed on February 21, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/alcohol-and-migraine/.)
Diet and headache control. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2016. (Accessed on February 21, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/diet/)
Headache hygiene - what is it? Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2016. (Accessed on February 21, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/understanding-migraineheadache-hygiene-what-is-it/.)
Migraines, holiday sleep and stress. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2016. (Accessed on February 24, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/migraines-holiday-sleep-stress/.)
Preventive treatment of migraine in adults. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2020. (Accessed on February 21, 2020 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/preventive-treatment-of-migraine-in-adults.)