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, the frequency of your migraines increase, or they get worse, it probably isn’t your imagination.
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.
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 feeling frigid air on your face and head can bring on the pain. 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.
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.
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 https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephaniemayberry/