Changes in the weather can wreak havoc with human health. Changes in weather conditions that can impact your health include temperature changes, high humidity, high winds, storms, very dry conditions, bright lights or sun glare, and barometric pressure changes. Of these significant weather variables, barometric pressure is both one of the most formidable and one of the least well understood. Barometric pressure, also known as atmospheric pressure, is the pressure that the earth's atmosphere exerts on us at any given time. High barometric pressure is generally associated with clear, sunny weather, while low barometric pressure is associated with clouds and moisture.
Changes in barometric pressure can affect the human body in many negative ways, but many of us don’t know enough about the dangers to protect ourselves. Chief among the complaints associated with low atmospheric pressure is low barometric pressure headaches, though flare-ups of rheumatic ailments like arthritis and joint pain, low back pain, and mood changes are also common complaints. A recent medical study has demonstrated a clear positive correlation between barometric pressure and migraine pain.
What triggers barometric pressure headache??
A barometric pressure headache is triggered by changes in barometric pressure. If you have ever flown in an airplane you know exactly what an abrupt change in barometric pressure feels like. At takeoff, when the plane accelerates and climbs rapidly, 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 interior air pressure of your ear chambers.
Our sinuses react in much the same way. Because our sinuses are filled with air, any change in barometric pressure can affect them. Depending on how quickly such changes occur and their intensity, the sinuses can be negatively impacted, causing persistent pain and headaches. More specifically, when barometric pressure is low, that means that the weight of the air pressing inwards from the atmosphere is less than the outward pressure generated inside the sinuses. When the inward pressure and the outward pressure are not balanced, the greater pressure inside the sinuses causes them to distend, especially in people with nasal congestion.
This process commonly results in what is known as a low barometric headache. On the other hand, increasing barometric pressure may cause dilation of blood vessels and abnormal flow of blood to the brain, increasing the risk of headaches. The sensitivity to pain and the severity of pain that people experience with changes in barometric pressure vary considerably between people. Headache statistics from various studies reveal that roughly 12% of the general population suffers from migraine headaches and that over 50% of those migraine sufferers are sensitive to weather conditions. In fact, weather conditions (notably barometric pressure) are considered to be the second or third most common trigger. In general, migraines are more common among women, often run in families, and typically recur once or twice a month. More women than men suffer from them.
Symptoms of Barometric Pressure Headaches
Barometric pressure headaches manifest as two types: either non-migraine headaches or migraine headaches.
Symptoms of the non-migraine type include:
• Headaches that can be one sided (unilateral) but typically involve both sides of the head (bilateral);
• Headaches that involve a tight band of pressure that moves slowly and is commonly described as being vise-like
• Headache pain that is commonly localized in the forehead and nasal bridge region, or in the back and lower rear (occipital) region of the head.
Symptoms of barometric pressure migraine headaches are much more severe. Interestingly, migraine sufferers who are barometric pressure sensitive, often experience their headaches under conditions involving high barometric pressure, especially in combination with elevated temperatures. Symptoms may include the following:
• Periodic, severe and debilitating headaches typically lasting 24 hrs. on average, but that can last as long as three days
• Strong, throbbing unilateral pain, though bilateral pain is also common
• Intense pain around the temples is typical, but 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 beats.
• Nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting
• Stomach pain sometimes accompanied by diarrhea
• Alterations in mood or emotional upheaval, like depression or anxiety
• An “aura” is 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.
Clearly, then, barometric pressure headaches are nothing to take lightly! So how can you best protect yourself? Mercifully, there are a variety of treatment options available to you, as well as prevention strategies.
Headache Treatment (Western and Eastern/Alternative Approaches)
The Western medicine approach to treating pressure 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 pain relievers
• 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 over the counter remedies, you may want to consult a doctor about taking prescription medications.
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 home remedies to cope with barometric pressure headaches and migraines:
• Apply a wrapped ice pack or pad to the painful areas of the head
• 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
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
● Music therapy
● Humidifiers and dehumidifiers
● Steamers to relax muscles and clear sinuses
● Nasal irrigation such as the Indian Neti Potuses which use salt water to clean and flush away nasal congestion, helping to reduce to eliminate pressure imbalances that contribute to headaches.
Each of the above approaches is a research project in itself, which goes beyond the scope of this article, but you would be wise to investigate several of them. You may also want to combine an Eastern approach with Western medicine, a strategy that has proven to be very effective 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 or ameliorate pressure headaches.
Summary of Prevention Strategies
● The best way to prevent a low barometric pressure headache is to acquaint yourself with your own unique headache patterns. Keep a headache diary for one month to help you determine whether you are barometric pressure sensitive, the degree of your sensitivity, and the precise weather or altitude conditions that trigger your headaches. The site Barometricpressureheadache.com offers a wonderful, ready-made, downloadable chart on which you can record your symptoms.
● To help you keep your diary, you may want to buy a barometric pressure instrument, known as a barometer, which monitors changes in barometric pressure. They are inexpensive and readily available online and in home goods stores. Again, the site Barometricpressureheadache.com is excellent for helping you to make your decision about commercially available equipment. Some digital barometers are able to record data over a period of time and enable you to upload it to your PC for convenience. You may also want to purchase your own hygrometer (to measure humidity), thermometer (to measure temperature) and altimeter (to measure altitude). You can buy these as single instruments or in combination packages, as digital weather stations or as wrist watch devices.
● Another good preventive measure for people trying to avoid barometric pressure headache is to use a humidifier or an ionizer. However, you shouldn’t add moisture to the air if you are living in a humid place.
● You may want to consult AccuWeather.com which offers a Migraine Headache Forecast for your geographic location, or the Aches and Pains Forecast on Weather.com. Both enjoy a reputation for being admirably accurate.
● If you take prescription medication for your headaches, be sure to take it at the first sign of a headache so that you can avoid a severe migraine.
● You may want to adopt stress-relieving practices, such as yoga or meditation
● Avoid alcohol and dehydration
● Develop good basic 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; and avoid skipping meals.