Preventing Cold Weather Migraines

Ari Magill MD

Medically reviewed by:
Ari Magill, MD

Written by:

Preventing Cold Weather Migraines

Ways to prevent cold weather migraines

I am here to tell you, cold weather migraines are no fun. With winter in full swing, you might find that you are experiencing increased migraine activity. Many migraineurs report a spike in their migraine frequency when the weather turns chilly. The cooler temperatures are often a culprit, but certain things we do when it gets cold outside can trigger migraines.

A study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain as well as a German study both show a correlation between a change in ambient temperature (particularly cold weather) and migraines. So if you notice you get more headaches or migraines, or they get worse, the cold weather might be the cause.

I am a southern girl, born and raised. I grew up in Louisiana which tends to be quite balmy. However, I went to college in Montana and worked in Washington, D.C. so I’m really no stranger to chillier temps, snow, and ice. Unfortunately, I am also no stranger to cold weather migraines.

I expected our recent move to Alabama to have the added benefit of warmer weather – no more winter migraines or cold weather headaches. Boy howdy, was I wrong. Right now we are now looking at a second cold front coming through here in just the last couple of weeks, bringing with it bitter winds and winter precipitation, both ice and snow. That’s not what I envisioned!

Since our cold snap down here, I’ve had an almost continuous headache. It escalates to migraine proportions nearly every day. I like it cool, but I can’t handle cold air on my face or head. It causes my head and face to ache, then the ache morphs into a full-blown migraine, complete with blurry vision and light sensitivity that is off the charts. The fluctuations in barometric pressure certainly aren’t helping. I had a headache the entire week the last front came to visit, and as this new front comes to call the pain is bearing down once again.

I feel like there is no escape. My head feels like it is about to pop off my neck and fly around the room – and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it. My natural migraine remedies help, but not enough.

I’m going to be smarter this time around though. These are some of the cold weather migraine tips that I’ve found to be helpful (OK, a cup of hot cocoa helps too). I’m doing my best to follow this advice myself so I can stay ahead of the game and minimize my migraine pain.

Hopefully, they’ll help you too.

Cold Weather Migraine Remedies

Some simple remedies for winter migraines or headaches include wearing migraine glasses, staying warm, getting proper sleep, getting enough vitamin D, maintaining proper humidity, being hydrated, and avoiding foods containing MSG.

We’ll dive into each of these in more detail below.

Stay warm to help prevent cold weather migraines

Wear Migraine Glasses – Even overcast winter days can be too bright and the glare can cause a lot of problems if you have any sensitivity to light. Precision tinted glasses will give your eyes much-needed protection which can help prevent cold weather migraines (they work great in the warmer, sunnier months too!). There are several studies that prove it, including one that examined the effects of tinted lenses for treating photophobia in traumatic brain injury patients.

Stay Warm – This may seem like common sense, but many people do not dress appropriately for the cold. The stress on your body from being too cold can trigger cold weather migraines, but even just cold air on your face and head is enough to trigger a headache. Wear a hat and scarf, especially if the temperatures dip below freezing. Protect your face and head from the cold and wind to help prevent migraines.

Sleep – The time change, shorter days, and typically overcast skies of winter can really upset your sleep patterns. Try to get on a fairly regular sleep schedule and make sure you are getting not only enough sleep, but good quality sleep too. A recent study shows that sleep can help stop migraines, but it also suggests that regular, good quality sleep can also help prevent them.

Medicate Wisely – If you are using medication to treat your migraine pain do so carefully. Overmedicating with prescription or over the counter drugs, especially ibuprofen, can cause rebound headaches. These medication-overuse headaches can be worse than the original pain you were fighting. The real trouble is, you get a worse headache and take more medication which only exacerbates the problem.

Avoid Drafts – Sitting in drafty areas can bring on killer cold weather migraines, especially if cold air continuously hits your face. One study showed a link between cold weather and wind (drafts) and migraines exclusively in female subjects. Avoiding drafts can help you avoid migraines. Use guards on your windows and doors, and make sure your home is properly insulated. Do what you can to keep the temperature in your home consistent with no drafts.

Skipping meals can cause migraines

Eat – Skipping meals can bring on a wicked migraine, so just don’t do it. One study showed that skipping meals is a strong migraine trigger, almost on the same level as stress. Carry healthy snacks with you for those times that you can’t get away to eat. Try to keep your meals on regular intervals. Your body will thank you.

Get Vitamin D – A study conducted at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Headache Centre showed that more than 40 percent of the subjects who had chronic migraines were deficient in Vitamin D. Fish and eggs are rich in the vitamin, or you can spend a little time outside if it isn’t too cold. There are also supplements available so you may choose that route.

Humidify – Winter air tends to be dryer and indoor heating systems can zap all the humidity out of the air. This can lead to headaches, migraines, and illness. One study found that migraineur visits to the emergency department increased with low humidity. Invest in a humidifier and a home humidity monitor. Try to keep your indoor humidity between 35% and 50%since these are considered to be healthy levels.

Move – Exercise can help prevent migraines as well as stave off depression.A study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness details the benefits that migraineurs can gain from regular exercise. The good news is, you don’t really have to do that much to reap the benefits.Take a walk, ride your bike, or do a simple home exercise routine three or four times a week. If you’re prone to cold weather migraines you might want to keep your workouts confined to indoors while the temps are low.

Hydrate! – Dry winter air and indoor heating systems can cause you to dehydrate much quicker than usual which can lead to cold weather migraines. There’s no shortage of information that touts the many benefits of water – including helping to prevent or stop migraines. Make sure that you drink lots of water or hydration drinks during winter weather, especially if you are spending a lot of time indoors. Hydration can also help flush out your system if you have over indulged in sodium laden comfort food and are feeling the effects.

Avoid MSG – It is such a treat to curl up with a nice, steaming bowl of soup or a hearty stew on a cold winter’s day – and it is a great way to stay warm. However, if you are getting canned or prepared soups, read the labels. These products tend to be full of sodium and MSG. While the research is inclusive regarding the role that they play in migraines, many people believe they are serious migraine triggers.

Taking good care of yourself during the cooler months – and all year round – will help you stay healthier, happier, and (hopefully) give you fewer migraine days. If you have more cold weather migraine tips, I’d love to hear them! I’m always looking to add more migraine prevention strategies to my arsenal.

cold weather migraines can be prevented

Stephanie A. Mayberry, an accomplished writer who also happens to be a migraineur, is known for being a wife, mother, life liver, and avid wearer of warm, comfy socks. Whether she is working on another book or is delving deep into research for a client’s article, she draws from her life events to create something beyond reading material for her audience – she gives them experiences. Connect with Stephanie at

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40 thoughts on “Preventing Cold Weather Migraines

  1. Stanzin dolkrer says:

    Thanks soo much at the beginning of the October my headache start and it never stop , at the every morning I drink hot water +honey it make me warmer . At the time of the study my headache never stop I take a sleep for a while it’s keep better and hot tea help me but I never concern with doctor. Thanks for the suggestion ??

    • Roy Palomo says:

      OMG, thank you so much for sharing. It all started when I moved to Vancouver Canada for work from California back in 1992. My 1st winter there I had a hang type over feeling for 2 weeks, After living there for 6 years, and suffering through the pain every beginning of winter, I moved to Reno Nevada (another cold winter location) and it’s continued on. I’ve been to Allergists, Ear Nose & Throat doctors, and even a Neurologist, and no one has ever told me just what I suffer from.. This year it started in the 1st week of October, and has continued everyday for 2 months now. Sorry that anyone is suffering like myself, but at least now I have an idea how to help myself. Wear sunglasses outside, because of the winter glare, take vitamin D, avoid MSG, and get myself a good humidifier for the house. Take care all.

      • Nicole says:

        Oh man, that’s rough and I’m sorry. Thank you for sharing your experience and I’m glad you have found things to help.

    • Lori Glover says:

      Weather can be a huge trigger! Axon Optics eye-wear provides relief from overcast light and light reflecting off snow. All of our non prescription frames have a 30 day return policy if you find them ineffective. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Connie Boddie says:

    THANK YOU STEPHANIE!!! This is the first time that I’ve ever had all my symptoms shared by others. i live in DC and cool breezes begin in October . I have to bring out my hats that cover my forehead and ears looking like Nanuke of the north wearing kids hats. l
    use most of your tips already but i will try the others. one thing that i use that helps is my netti pot. it warms the sinus cavity and removes irritants.
    Thanks Steph for letting me know that I’m not the only adult seeking kids hats to stay healthy

  3. JoAnn Pelas says:

    I thought it was all in my mind. I have more migraines in winter than in summer. I too am from Louisiana where we can have one season all year sprinkled with dashes of bitter cold here and there.

  4. Judy says:

    These remedies & I can appreciate you reminding me as to the many culprits to these migraines. On any given day life can take you of course on your personal health care. Kudos to you for reminders in black & white so worth the read & they are spot on holistically

  5. pol says:

    i found this website and finally found out that i am not alone, 2 things that causes my headaches is stress and sudden coldness exposure to my head. what i am trying to search is a natural remedy similar to analgesia, although paracetamol most of the time helps. i have this theory that the cause of headache is our blood veins in the head is constricted thus triggering a pain, therefore it need to be dilated. and i have been doing and following most of the suggestions here, e.g always covered my head by wearing hats and beanies, but on a extreme coldness does not help.

  6. Patty says:

    I am from North Dakota. We have had six months of snow and still snowing. I have chronic migraines from the weather, sounds, and stress. I also have chronic sore throat. So I am going to order an electric heated eye mask and heated neck brace from internet to try for next winter. Also a heated throw. Also I drink herbal teas which are concocted for migraines. I wear ear plugs and watch the words captioned on TV. Sometimes I use a heating pad.

  7. Shaiza S. Malik says:

    hi Staphanie A. Mayberry. You did a great job for writing up all those tips. winters are heading in Asia though only for a brief period and also these are not below freezing point but they are really tough for migraneurs like me. all the tips u’ve written are same as i have experienced since the last 4 years. specially the “hydration” ,”not skipping the meals”, and “sleep”. my husband is a shift engineer in sugar crushing mill,, his season starts in winters and since then i am not getting a scheduled full night sleep. i am worried for this parameter again.

  8. Jazzi Kao says:

    this is the first that I’ve experienced cold weather migraines. which is funny because I’ve lived in northern VA my whole life just outside of DC 30-40 minutes. I am definitely not a stranger to mid-Atlantic weather. in fact, just a hooded sweatshirt on top would suffice for me. anyways I’m excited to try some of these out. im glad you took the time to write about this. i thought i was going insane for only being 22 yrs old and having symptoms my parents have from cold weather.

  9. Luke says:

    Really useful article, many thanks. I have suffered with migraines for the last 20 years and only recently notice that they are a lot worse in the winter! A key trigger for me is too much sugar, its the following crash that brings on headaches and migraines for me. Since cutting out all sugary drinks I found it has made a huge difference.

  10. D. Gonzalez says:

    This happens to me all the time! Worse if you do not dry your hair before you go out side. The only thing that works for me is putting a hot towel over my head. I put the towel in the dryer, then to my head for a couple of times and works better than any type of medication!

  11. Marilyn Hobbs says:

    Wow! Thank you! That sickening pain has a source and it’s NOT in my head (pardon the pun). Living in Canada’s capital Ottawa, ON, (one of the world’s colder capitals) I’ve suffered these brutal headaches more often than I care to recall. This is twice in 8 days that a sudden cold snap has rendered me helpless with pain, light sensitivity, nausea, blurry vision etc. and I know in my gut it’s the weather. But it always helps to be reassured. Thanks a bunch!

  12. Judi Bennett says:

    Hi everyone, I thought I was crazy. I have had chronic migraines since my first son was born 50+ yrs. ago. They have gotten much worse. I have seen several drs. & take prescription meds. My problem is at night when I sit down to watch tv, Just my face & nose gets cold. I put aspercreme on my face & forehead to warm up my muscles but sometimes that doesn’t help & I am in such pain I have to lay down in bed. I have these all the time, mri showed nothing wrong & I pray to God all the time to heal me. I will try the hot cocoa but certain chocolates are bad for me

    • Lori Glover says:

      Axon Optics has a lenient return policy so you can determine if the lenses are effective for you. Our indoor lenses are perfect for night time activities and watching tv. Feel free to email [email protected] anytime.

  13. Winnie Chinthumba says:

    Since the cold has increased my headaches were so bad that couldn’t even sleep and I wondered why for I didn’t know that the cold weather also cold trigger such
    This is helpful
    The pain was unbearable

  14. Brenda McAdoo says:

    I am very sensitive to cold I always keep a hat on when it is cold weather. My problem is when I sleep and breathe in cold air doing the night I get up with a headache. The thing is my body is warm my head is not covered I think I need to protect my sinus with a nose cover. Anybody know of anything like that that is safe for sleeping.

  15. Ola Mohamed says:

    I also wanted to add that in winter when I wash my hair it takes forever to feel that my head is warm. So I just decided to cut my hair shoulder length and blow dry it very well before I start feeling my head is cold. That made big difference. Ofcouse lots of wool hats at home 🙂 Thanks for the post. I thought I was having head colds but now I know they were migraines. Off the counter medication is working well.

  16. Jacqueline McAdam says:

    I too develop headaches when it’s cold at night. My partner likes the window open even in the depths of winter, so we comprise a lot depending on the temperature. I sleep in a hat (really attractive – not!), but cold air I breathe in still causes a headache at times. The only solution for me is to cover my whole face with the duvet and then a nice hot bath in the early hours to warm me right through.

  17. Sean McCabe says:

    I’m confused!

    You state “One study found that migraineur visits to the emergency department increased with low humidity. Invest in a humidifier and a home humidity monitor. Try to keep your indoor humidity between 35% and 50%since these are considered to be healthy levels.”

    Doesn’tthis keep the humidity low and therefore contradict itself?

    I live in Scotland by the way. I experience more dizziness spells starting around October when the temperature drops. It must be related because when I travel to SE Asia for a month or so my symptoms dissapear. I’m seriously considering returning soon to SPain.

    • Nicole says:

      Depending on where you live in the world, working to keep the humidity at ideal levels may require a humidifier which adds moisture to the air, OR a de-humidifier which takes moisture out of the air. We are located in Utah which is a high altitude desert and we need all the humidity we can get for optimal health.

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