The Barometric Pressure Migraine: Tips on How to Weather the Storm.

When I was a child, I can remember my grandmother saying that she knew when a storm was coming because her arthritis would always start hurting. Fast-forward 30 years, and here I am a 40 year old woman who can tell if a change in the weather is going to occur within 300 miles of wherever I am located.

I haven’t always been effected by barometric pressure changes. Growing up in the Southeast United States it’s common to have VERY crazy weather patterns. It hasn’t been until my husband and I moved from Oregon to North Carolina that I noticed a MAJOR difference in my migraine attacks in correlation to drastic increases or decreases in the barometric pressure.

Barometric pressure can be simply defined as the air pressure within the atmosphere. A sharp change in this pressure can excacerbate some conditions; with headache or migraine being one of them. According to a NY Times Article, which interviewed Dr. Matthew Fink of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center:

"Differences in air pressure because of the weather or changes in altitude can have noticeable effects on the human body, though some people are more sensitive than others. Low barometric pressure can cause headaches by creating a pressure difference between the surrounding atmosphere and the sinuses, which are filled with air"

In a study that was published by the Journal of Internal Medicine, it was found that barometric pressure change can be one of the exacerbating factors of migraine headaches.

So maybe my grandmother wasn’t crazy when she could feel the weather coming! I know for certain that where I live currently has made a significant impact on my migraine frequency and duration. Which is frustrating when in fact it is an “act of God” which is causing your attacks to continue to happen.

Over the past 2.5 years, I have been trying to figure out ways to manage my migraine attacks according to the weather patterns. Here are a few tips that I have come up with—if you too are plagued with “weather migraine” attacks.

  1. Download a barometric pressure app on your phone. My favorite app is also a migraine tracking app as well- Migraine Buddy. It will let you know when there is going to be a significant change in barometric pressure in your area over a 48-hour period. This has been a life saver for me–so that I can plan my “bad days” around my schedule.
  2. Try barometric pressure earplugs. I ordered a pair of WeatherX ear plugs off of amazon to try to see if it would alleviate some of my pain during a weather change. Unfortunately, I have seen little impact on my migraine attack intensity or duration while using the earplugs. But, I also believe I am HIGHLY sensitive to pressure changes–so it might be worth a try.
  3. Try to stay as hydrated as possible—this is important as a chronic migraineur anyways–but I have found it is especially important during weather changes. Making sure that I am constantly keeping myself hydrated (even when I am in pain and DO NOT want to drink water) can help while the storm blows through.
  4. TAKE YOUR ABORTIVE MEDS as soon as you feel the attack beginning! Historically, I am not great about taking my medications soon enough to stop the pain train from leaving the station. What I have learned by having to manage extreme highs and lows of pressure changes in NC is that AS soon as I feel a twinge of an attack–its best to take my medication. The result if not taken in enough time is catastrophic– causing EXTREME pain and usually takes HOURS for my pain to settle down.
  5. If you are a mom like I am, and can see (or feel) a BIG pressure change coming—ask for help. So often, I have “pushed through” which only causes the attack to last even longer. Call a neighbor, babysitter, friend or family member to come give a helping hand during the worst of the attack so you can rest. The thing with weather triggered attacks is they typically (in my case) are fast, furious and intense. By taking the time to look out for me, and allowing myself to rest (when I can)–I typically shake an attack faster. I understand that this is not always possible–but if you can do not be afraid to waive your white flag of defeat and call in help!

As for long term management of such a strong sensitivity to weather patterns, I do not have any answers for that. From the research that I have done there are some areas of the United States that have less volatile pressure changes. At this point my husband and I are exploring all options when it comes to my migraine management, which may include a move. This is not an ideal situation, but with the quality of my life so depleted its worth the risk for me. The hope is that one day my migraine attacks will go from being “chronic” back to being “episodic”—so if we have to make a move to make that happen I am willing to give it a try!