One of the trickiest migraine triggers is something you can't change—the weather. While you can't control Mother Nature, you can take charge of your weather-related migraines.

The National Headache Foundation says environmental factors that can provoke a migraine are extremely variable and affect only a small proportion of migraine sufferers. Environmental factors that can trigger a migraine include:

  • A change in climate or weather (such as a change in humidity or temperature)
  • A change in altitude or barometric pressure
  • High winds
  • Bright or flickering light (sunlight reflections, glare),
  • Extreme heat or cold

These kinds of weather conditions can trigger biological and neurovascular changes and shift our body chemistry in ways that can lead to migraines or headaches. For example, standing in the hot sun or squinting in bright light can cause blood vessels in the brain to constrict or relax, alter circulation and trigger a migraine. 

What can you do about weather-related migraines?

  • Keep a headache diary that lists when your headache/migraine occurred and the conditions (including the weather, your activities, what you ate and drank, your sleeping habits, etc.) that preceded it.
  • When you notice a pattern of migraines triggered by specific weather conditions, change your environment as much as possible. For example:
    • If cold or rainy weather is a trigger, avoid going outdoors or take precautions to avoid becoming chilled.
    • If heat is your trigger, stay indoors and use your air conditioner.
    • If dry weather is a problem, purchase a humidifier.
    • If bright sun brings on a migraine, use dark glasses, dim the lights indoors, keep shades drawn and avoid going outdoors during peak sun hours.
  • You may also find that your weather-related migraines have co-triggers that you can control. For example:
    • if you drink icy-cold liquids on hot days, ditching the ice cubes might help you avoid a migraine.
    • If cold days make you reach for the hot chocolate, switching to tea and avoiding chocolate (a common migraine trigger) might help.
  • Watch for symptoms that a migraine is coming, for example an aura, fatigue, visual changes, irritability or light sensitivity.
  • Take your migraine medication at the first sign of migraine symptoms.

If changing your behavior to suit the weather isn't a practical solution, you may need to treat your migraines with medications you take every day such as low-dose antidepressants, beta-blockers or other drugs prescribed by your doctor. Be diligent about eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise and rest and see your doctor for treatment options specific to your migraines. 

Liesa Harte, MD, reviewed this article.




National Headache Foundation
Environmental and Physical Factors