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The short version:
Barometric pressure headaches are usually caused by a change in pressure. Most of the migraines happen when air pressure drops. That often occurs when:
- You travel by aeroplane
- When the weather changes from “nice weather” to “bad weather”.
- “Nice weather” is associated with clear skies and calm conditions; “Bad weather” is associated with cloudy skies, windy conditions, wet weather, colder temperatures.
What can you do to alleviate barometric pressure headaches?
Stay hydrated; also avoid diuretics.
Use OTC (over-the-counter) medicine.
Keep a one month journal of your symptoms; then present it later to your doctor so he can asses your condition better.
These are just a few common sense recommendations. Read further to learn more in detail…
After reading this post, you’ll have a better understanding of the barometric pressure headaches. Also, you’ll find out what you can do to prevent or solve them.
Yearly, around 40 million Americans are complaining of headaches or migraines. Among reasons such as stress, food, allergies, noise, etc. a vast majority of reporters also refer to the weather and low atmospheric pressure as one of the culprits.
The most common types of barometric pressure headaches are associated with two factors:
1. Headaches related to weather – caused by changes in the atmospheric pressure
2. Airplane travel headaches caused by the changes in altitude. It happens at the take-off or landing.
What is Barometric Pressure?
Barometric pressure is the weight of the air surrounding us.
It is also defined as:
The force per unit area exerted by the atmosphere at any given point.
High barometric pressure is generally associated with bright sunny weather. Low pressure is associated with clouds and moisture.
What are the symptoms of Barometric Pressure Headaches?
How the headaches feel:
- Headaches that can be one-sided (unilateral) but typically involve both sides of the head (bilateral).
- Headaches associated with a tight band of pressure that moves slowly around your head.
- Pain that is commonly localized in the forehead and nasal bridge region, or in the back and lower rear (occipital) region of the head.
Most common associated symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Sleep issues
- Increased fatigue
- Flare-ups of rheumatic ailments like arthritis and joint pain
- Low back pain
- Mood changes
Most severe associated symptoms:
- Periodic, severe and debilitating headaches. Typically lasting 24 hrs, but that can last for up to 3 days.
- Sharp, throbbing unilateral pain.
- Intense pain around the temples is typical; may also affect the forehead, eyes, ears, or back of the head.
- Altered perception.
- Speech impairment.
- Exaggerated sensitivity to sound, light or smell.
- Waves of throbbing or pulsing pain that may be synchronized with the heartbeat: pain is caused by stretching of blood vessels each time the heart pulses.
- Nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting.
- Stomach pain sometimes accompanied by diarrhea.
- Alterations in mood or emotional upheavals, like depression or anxiety.
- An “aura” is a set of symptoms that most notably includes a halo of light around objects. The aura may be accompanied by visual distortions, pressure waves, tingling and/or numbness in the face, head, or extremities. In some cases, it precedes a migraine attack. We can say that people who experience auras are like the proverbial canary in the coal mine: they sense the oncoming danger before it actually arrives.
Who suffers from Barometric Pressure Headaches?
Headache statistics from various studies reveal that roughly 12% of the general population suffers from migraines. Also, over 50% of those sufferers have barometric pressure migraines. In fact, weather conditions (notably barometric pressure) are considered to be the second or third most common trigger.
Statistically, the headaches caused by changes in barometric pressure happen mostly for women aged 25 and 55. So, in general, migraines are more common among women, often run in families, and typically recur once or twice a month. So, often more women than men suffer from them.
However, airplane travel headaches could happen to anyone, regardless of sex or age.
What are the causes?
As explained before, the cause is the change in atmospheric pressure related to either weather or elevation.
Is it the increase or the decrease in barometric pressure that causes headaches?
Studies have found that most of the participants reported headaches when the barometric pressure decreases. However, one of the studies’ conclusion was that the migraines usually occur the day following the exposure to reduced barometric pressure.
Treatment and Prevention
How to deal with Barometric Pressure Headaches when traveling by air?
If you have ever flown in an airplane, you know what a sudden change in barometric pressure feels like. As the plane accelerates, the air pressure changes quickly, and you may experience a “popping” effect or pressure in your ears, which can be painful.
The discomfort is caused when the surrounding atmospheric pressure changes, creating a disparity between the external air pressure and the internal air pressure of your ear chambers.
We suggest wearing earplugs to lessen or even avoid this. You don’t have to wear the earplugs for the entire flight! You can use them just before the plane takes off, then again before the plane lands. Just be aware of the captain announcements and install your earplugs, preferably 20 minutes to half an hour before landing.
During the flight, drink plenty of water! Why? Because of the low oxygen and dry air conditions in the airplane, your skin and throat will dry as well; therefore, you are at the risk of dehydration.
A very effective solution that will also help you with your jetlag is to use a hydration supplement. This provides the necessary electrolytes to keep you hydrated. Take one tablet and throw it in your water glass or bottle.
Stay away from alcohol and coffee. Both of these two are diuretics – meaning that depletes your body from the water. However, you can have a coffee and a drink before the flight, but not while you fly.
Sinuses and Barometric Pressure
Barometric pressure can also affect your sinuses, resulting in headaches. It happens both when pressure changes from high to low and vice versa. You can feel this most when you travel by air. Because our sinuses are filled with air, any change in barometric pressure can affect them.
Why barometric pressure headaches causes headaches
On the other hand, increasing barometric pressure may cause dilation of blood vessels and abnormal flow of blood to the brain. This increases the risk of high barometric pressure headaches. The sensitivity to pain and the severity of pain that people experience with changes in barometric pressure vary considerably between people.
The most violent headaches will happen when you fly. Why? Because of the very sudden barometric pressure drop that affect the air in your sinuses. Therefore you need to consider these:
Avoid flying if you have flu. Your nose might be stuffed, and the pain you’ll experience might be very severe.
During the flight, use a nasal decongestant.
It also helps (especially for kids) to use chewing gum. It relieves the pressure from your sinuses and alleviates the headaches. It is a simple solution but works many times
Barometric Pressure Headaches caused by Changes in Weather. Western and Eastern/Alternative Approaches
Remember that in general atmospheric pressure drops from high to low when the weather changes from “nice weather” to “bad weather.”
The Western medicine approach to treating barometric headaches and migraines typically advocates using over the counter medications such as the following:
- Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
- Over-the-counter medications developed specifically for migraines
- Anti-nausea products
- Analgesic products, especially creams containing capsaicin
- To treat acute migraine headaches that do not respond to OTC remedies, you may want to consult a doctor about taking prescription medications.
Remember to discuss with your doctor to get a more effective solution, such as prescribed medication.
Non-medicinal approaches to managing headaches may also help reduce the symptoms of headaches and may lessen the time they last. You may want to try the following barometric pressure headache home remedies:
- Apply a wrapped ice pack or pad to the painful areas of the head. You can use disposable ice packs.
- Try to relax and breathe through the pain, remembering it will pass eventually.
- Avoid known triggers like caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and trans fats.
- Avoid excessive physical activity or exertion.
- Take a warm, relaxing bath or shower.
- Avoid noisy or brightly lit environments. Use a sleeping mask if possible.
Many people have opted to use Eastern or “alternative” therapies to treat the causes and symptoms of barometric pressure headaches.
The following list includes various approaches (some of them ancient) that are known to help people reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches/migraines in general, including barometric pressure headaches.
- Herbal remedies
- Pressure point and acupressure therapy
- Massage therapy
- Music therapy
- Yoga and Meditation
- Music therapy (our favorite gadget so far!)
- Humidifiers and dehumidifiers. Be aware that you shouldn’t add moisture to the air if you are living in a humid place.
- Steamers to relax muscles and clear sinuses
- Nasal irrigation, such as the Indian Neti pot. This device uses saltwater to clean and flush away nasal congestion, helping to reduce to eliminate pressure imbalances that contribute to headaches. Be sure to follow the FDA instructions when using a Neti pot . Misuse of this device can be dangerous.
Each of the above approaches is a research project in itself, which goes beyond the scope of this article. Still, you would be wise to investigate several of them.
You may also want to combine an Eastern approach with Western medicine. This strategy has proven to be very useful for some people who struggle to control their headaches.
As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So, let’s look at some tactics you can use to prevent the barometric pressure headaches.
Weather Instruments and Tools you can use
The best way to prevent a falling barometric pressure headache is to acquaint yourself with your own unique headache patterns. Keep a headache diary for one month before talking to your physician. Besides getting your thoughts in order and helping you think clearly in general – in this particular situation – keeping a journal will help you:
- Determine whether you are barometric pressure sensitive.
- The degree of your sensitivity.
- The precise weather or altitude conditions that trigger your headaches.
- To help you keep your diary, you may want to buy a barometric pressure instrument. This is also known as a barometer, which monitors changes in barometric pressure. They are inexpensive and readily available online and in-home goods stores.
The average amount of humidity at your home should be 40% to 50% – and you can read that with your hygrometer.
Other helpful Tools & Gadgets…
- Hygrometer (to measure humidity)
- Thermometer (to measure temperature)
- Altimeter (to measure altitude)
- If you are a weather enthusiast, you can buy these as single instruments. However, if you want to minimize the number of tools, just buy combination packages, as digital weather stations or as wrist devices.
- Consult AccuWeather.com, which offers a Migraine Headache Forecast for your geographic location.
Regardless of the techniques or tools and gadgets you use to alleviate the symptoms, an important factor is to develop good essential healthcare habits:
Get enough sleep each night.
Exercise most days of the week, whenever possible.
Avoid sources of positive or negative stress.
Eat a balanced diet.
Did we miss anything?
Now we’d like to hear from you.
What are the issues you experience when the barometric pressure changes?
Have you tried so far any of the solutions presented in this article?
If not, Which solution from today’s post are you going to try first?
Or maybe we didn’t mention one of your favorite solutions.
Either way, let us know by leaving a comment below right now. We can deal with both praise and criticism 😉