Too Much Sun Can Trigger Migraines—Here’s How to Protect Yourself

“We know that the sun is very important to live. We need the sun.”

If you notice that you’re more likely to get migraines in the summer, after long days outside, or on vacations, it’s possible that sunlight is a migraine trigger for you. (Here are other common migraine triggers.) 

“Too much sunlight can most definitely be risky to individuals who are prone to migraine,” says Cynthia Armand, MD, neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. There are two key reasons: 

  • Dehydration: “The sun emits heat, and that heat can in turn lead to dehydration,” says Dr. Armand. “There needs to be a certain level of hydration for things to run smoothly.” Dehydration causes the blood vessels to constrict, which can lead to migraine. 

  • Photosensitivity: “Sunlight emits certain wavelengths of light and those wavelengths can be really disruptive to how the brain interprets the light that's coming through the nerves,” says Dr. Armand.

If sunlight is a migraine trigger for you, you don’t have to move to cloudy Seattle or hibernate in your home. Here are habits that can help prevent migraines from sunlight:

1. Stay hydrated

“Before going out into the heat, make sure that you drink a lot of water, at least two to three glasses [to] keep the levels of hydrations up in the body,” says Dr. Armand.

2. Wear sunglasses

Protecting your eyes with the appropriate sunglasses can help prevent migraines from photosensitivity. Talk to an eyecare provider about the right sunglasses with proper tinting for migraine prevention.

3. Stay cool

Keeping the body cool can help prevent dehydration. Dr. Armand suggests wearing a hat to shade the face, staying in shaded areas, and wearing breathable garments.

4. Do *not* avoid the sun

“Avoiding the sun is not recommended at all. We know that the sun is very important to live. We need the sun. The sun gives us certain nutrients like vitamin D. Our body needs that to function,” says Dr. Armand. 

Sunlight also works with your internal clock to help regulate your hormones, which affects your sleep-wake cycles and your mood.

“If someone loves to spend time in the sun and, unfortunately, struggles with migraines because of that, I want to make sure that you live your best life. And the first thing that we would love for you to do is make sure that you see a headache specialist, because we can help you do that,” says Dr. Armand.

Cynthia E. Armand, MD

This video features Cynthia E. Armand, MD. Dr. Armand is a neurologist and headache specialist at Montefiore Headache Center in New York City.

Duration: 2:22. Last Updated On: Feb. 27, 2020, 8:43 p.m.
Reviewed by: Preeti Parikh, MD . Review date: Feb. 26, 2020
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