While the association between temperature, changes in temperature, and migraine headaches are not fully understood, around 75% of migraine sufferers cite temperature change as one of their triggers.
In a study during which patients provided access to their headache diaries, those who claim sensitivity to temperature had a far higher number of migraine episodes during the winter months.
If your migraines worsen as the weather deteriorates, here are some possible reasons why, and what you can do to avoid the worst.
The Winter Migraine Theories
There are various theories about why migraines are worse during the winter, and these include:
- Any change provokes migraine. With a change from cold to warm being as likely to cause headaches as a change from warm to cold, this may be true, but winter fluctuations in temperature are more dramatic than they are during the summer. Some people find that just going from a warm house onto a cold street is enough to cause headache.
- Greater risk of dehydration. Wind, indoor heaters, and fluctuations in barometric pressure can all create dry air conditions and lead to dehydration, which is a common migraine trigger. Some sufferers who keep a close watch on the triggers through a migraine diary report that allowing themselves to become dehydrated can indeed trigger a migraine, which lends truth to the theory.
- General winter excitement. This theory puts forward the idea that it is not so much winter that causes the migraine as the heightened activity during the winter months. We party more with seasonal celebrations and national holidays, there are more family pressures on us during the winter and, in cold temperatures, ordinary daily activities can become more stressful. Another component of winter months are the shorter days, which means longer hours of bright, twinkling and flashing lights. Flashing lights are very common migraine triggers.
Ways to Protect Yourself
Very often, just being aware of some of the hazards can go a long way towards helping you protect yourself from the ill effects and pain of migraine.
- Keep a draft free home. Make sure insulation at home is effective, use draft guards on doors and windows and try to keep the indoor temperature steady. This will help to regulate your own temperature and avoid the sudden fluctuations that can cause tension and lead to migraine.
- Eat healthy meals. Nothing is nicer than hot soup on a cold winter’s day but we don’t all have time to cook from scratch. If you’re buying in prepackaged soups and other meals look for foods that do not contain MSG.
- Stay hydrated. We don’t always drink enough during the winter months so accidentally becoming dehydrated is a migraine trigger that can creep up on you. Also remember, during the party season, that alcohol is dehydrating. If you are drinking alcohol at a party, alternate it with glasses of water to help ward off migraine or hangover.
- Wrap up warm. We lose most of our body heat through the head when it’s cold outside, so protect yourself with a hat and a scarf you can wrap around your mouth and nose to help warm and humidifying your air.
- Avoid the winter lie-in. beds are always at their most cozy on cold winter mornings, but changes in your sleep schedule can trigger migraine. While it might be momentarily uncomfortable to drag yourself out of bed on the weekend, your pain-free head will thank you later.
- Get plenty of exercise. One study revealed that undertaking 40 minutes of exercise three times a week over a period of three months reduced the frequency of migraines by around 25%. If it’s too cold to go outside, vigorous housework also works. The aim is to make your heart rate and breathing a bit faster and to sustain the effort over time. Exercise has the added benefit of releasing our “feel good” hormones, having a stress busting effect that can help keep migraines at bay.
Know Yourself and Ask for Help
Understanding your personal triggers and taking charge of your own condition is the best way of protecting yourself from migraine during the winter months. Maintain your diary, and look back over the previous winter entries to find patterns or triggers you may have forgotten.
With Christmas coming up, and all the associated added stress and activity, don’t be afraid to delegate jobs and share responsibility for preparations with other family members.
When one person traditionally takes care of the cooking, shopping, buying gifts or wrapping presents, others may accept the status quo and not offer help because they don’t think you want or need it. If having someone else take some of the strain would help you feel more relaxed and less prone to migraine episodes, no one will resent helping out.