You’re not imagining it: The drop in temps can trigger migraines.
If you feel like your migraines always seem to happen when the winter months come around, it might not be your imagination. “Cold weather can most definitely increase the risk of migraines in individuals,” says Cynthia Armand, MD, neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
There are a number of reasons winter can trigger more migraines:
Lower barometric or atmospheric pressure, which disrupts the equilibrium between the pressure in the air and the pressure in your sinuses
Snowstorms, which brings sudden dips in atmospheric pressure
Dry air, which can lead to dehydration (a common migraine trigger)
Indoor heating, which further dries the air and triggers dehydration and migraines
Extreme temperature changes between indoors and outdoors
And cold drafts that come in from windows and doors.
How to Protect Yourself from Winter Migraines
“In the cold winter months, it’s really important to be consistent and protect yourself in order to prevent migraines from occurring,” says Dr. Armand. A big part of preventing winter migraines is by moderating the extremes.
“When you’re going outside in the cold weather, you want to make sure that you bundle up. Wear a scarf. Insulate your head with a hat. That will shield you from the cold temperature drops that happens from moving from inside to outside,” says Dr. Armand.
Insulating yourself from the cold can help prevent migraines when you’re outdoors, but you also want to moderate the indoor extremes: the hot, dry air.
“When the heat is on, it shouldn’t be too high. It should be at a moderate level that doesn’t induce too much sweating on the body that can cause dehydration,” says Dr. Armand. Additionally, identify and insulate against drafts coming from windows and doors, which can help reduce temperature shifts within the house or office.
Preventing Winter Migraines from Dehydration
Many winter migraines are actually triggered from dehydration. You often think of the cold air and indoor heat as drying out your skin, but the dehydration goes beyond the epidermis.
“We know that dehydration is a very potent trigger of migraine, and we lose water on a day-to-day basis. We go to the bathroom, we sweat, so we want to make sure that we replenish that water in the body,” says Dr. Armand. Keep a water bottle on hand to help encourage you to keep drinking throughout the day.
Another option is to get a humidifier for your home or workspace. Says Dr. Armand, “Humidifiers produce moisture in the air. The air can be very dry from the heat indoors, so that’s actually a nice way to control the temperature and help keep the body hydrated.”
Finally, one of the best ways to prevent seasonal migraines is simply by sticking to your migraine prevention habits: Eat regularly, avoid triggers, keep a headache diary, stick to a sleep schedule, and stay hydrated. “The migraine brain loves a schedule,” says Dr. Armand.
If you’re still getting migraines despite lifestyle changes, be sure to see a doctor, ideally a headache specialist, to help identify the problem and fine-tune the management of your migraines.
Managing your migraine with headache hygiene. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2018. (Accessed on February 20, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/managing-migraine-headache-hygiene/.)
Preventive treatment of migraine in adults. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2020. (Accessed on February 20, 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 20, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/seasonal-migraine-triggers/.)