“A change of season is a hallmark of unpredictability.”
“Changes in the season are very difficult for migraine sufferers because a change of season is a hallmark of unpredictability,” says Cynthia Armand, MD, neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. To make it worse, if these changes trigger migraines for you, you might feel powerless because these weather changes are out of your control.
There are a number of reasons that changes in season can trigger migraines. A major part of it is fluctuation in barometric or atmospheric pressure, or the force exerted by the atmosphere. Barometric pressure drops from things like rain storms or cold fronts, but the problem is that it can upset the equilibrium between the pressure outside your body and the pressure in your sinuses—and that can trigger a migraine.
Each season can bring its own set of triggers:
Fall brings a drop in humidity, an increase in wind, and a dip in temperatures—all of which can trigger migraines.
Winter is associated with extreme temperatures and snowstorms. Additionally, the days offer shorter hours of sunlight, which can disrupt sleep schedules and lead to migraines. Learn more about winter migraine triggers here.
Spring brings warmer temperatures, and the change can trigger migraines. Spring also has turbulent weather, with abrupt fluctuations between sun and rain. To make it worse, spring is also a common time for seasonal allergies. “What happens is that these allergens irritate the sinuses … and those air pockets get really inflamed,” says Dr. Armand. “They become swollen and there’s some mucus that forms and drains, and that disrupts the equilibrium.”
Summer, of course, brings extreme heat and higher humidity. “That can cause the body to sweat and cause us to lose water from our body, and that can lead to dehydration,” says Dr. Armand. The bright sunlight can also be triggering for people who have photosensitivity.
“Very often people can feel so frustrated with these seasonal changes and it can lead to this lack of control and lack of empowerment,” says Dr. Armand. “The best thing that I say to patients about that is being prepared.”
Preventing seasonal migraines is actually not too different from your everyday prevention. Staying hydrated, avoiding triggers, keeping a consistent sleep schedule, and eating regularly are all great migraine prevention habits that can act as a buffer against seasonal changes.
“If you feel as though you don’t know what to do and you don’t know where to start, make an appointment with your primary care doctor or a healthcare professional and keep a headache diary,” says Dr. Armand. “Once you have that information, you can work together with your doctor in order to create a plan so that when those seasons are approaching, you know exactly what you need to do and you’ll be prepared.”
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Preventive treatment of migraine in adults. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2020. (Accessed on February 19, 2020 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/preventive-treatment-of-migraine-in-adults.)
Seasonal migraine triggers. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2017. (Accessed on February 19, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/seasonal-migraine-triggers/.)
Tips for avoiding summer migraines and headaches. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation. (Accessed on February 19, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/tips-for-avoiding-summer-migraines-and-headaches/.)