Winter Weather Migraines: Triggers and Treatments
Winter migraines characterised by seasonal weather changes can cause migraines to be experienced more frequently. Read which migraine triggers to watch out for and what treatments are available to help with your migraine management and prevention.
Updated: Thursday 16 June 2022
Migraines can be triggered by many different factors such as stress, tiredness, diet, sensory stimuli such as certain sounds and visual cues, physical exertion and hormonal changes.
Working out exactly what is triggering your migraine can be a difficult challenge, it often takes time to narrow down what can set them off.
If you’ve just recently been experiencing migraines, it’s important to think about what has changed in your day-to-day life that might act as a possible trigger. A common migraine trigger to be aware of is the weather and environmental changes. Now that we’re deep into winter and the colder, dryer weather is in full effect, it’s essential to see if the frequency of your migraines have increased.
In this article, we outline a detailed overview of how the environmental conditions of the winter months can affect migraine symptoms and how you can most effectively treat and prevent them.
What is it about the winter season that causes migraines?
Winter officially starts on the 21st December and ends on 20th March. Winter is categorised by a stark change in weather and environmental conditions. Most noticeably, in the UK, winter brings much colder weather with frequent rain. One revealing study investigating the impact of seasonal weather on migraines, reported that 43% of their sample cited seasonal changes as a key trigger; with 7% emphasising the role of winter as a direct trigger.
The winter season typically has a higher barometric pressure (essentially the weight of the air) due to the colder, denser air. Fluctuations and changes in barometric pressure are believed to influence electrical and chemical activity in the brain, which has been a suggested cause for an increased onset of migraines. These fluctuations can change subtly or dramatically which can lead to the onset of a migraine. Furthermore, the winter months typically have dryer air, caused by low humidity. Dry air is also another recognised possible cause of migraines and headaches.
What are the common migraine triggers caused by winter weather?
As well as changes to the weather conditions, the winter season can have a knock-on effect on other factors of our daily lives which can then trigger the onset of a migraine.
The most common winter weather migraine triggers are:
Dehydration is also a well known cause of migraines. Dryer air due to colder weather and an increased indoor heating temperature can lead to being more frequently dehydrated.
Therefore, it’s important to avoid dehydration by remembering to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Reduced physical activity
It’s widely reported that the colder, darker, and often more adverse weather conditions of winter can have a negative impact on our motivation to exercise; especially if our usual mode of exercise is completed outside (e.g. running, walking or cycling).
Exercise is essential for decreasing stress and regulating sleep; high stress and poor sleep quality are two key migraine triggers that can be effectively mitigated with regular moderate exercise.
Some people can experience exercise-induced migraines, which is why it’s important to make sure the type of exercise is not too strenuous. You shouldn’t discount exercise altogether as it can have a positive effect on migraine symptom management.
Lack of Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays the important role of keeping our bones, teeth and muscles healthy. It’s naturally acquired through absorption from sunlight by the skin. During the winter, reduced light intensity and reduced daylight duration can increase the likelihood of being deficient in Vitamin D.
Research has linked Vitamin D deficiency and an increased onset of migraines and headaches, with a recommended solution of adequate Vitamin D supplementation. Therefore, ensuring sufficient Vitamin D supplementation through a healthy diet and specialised Vitamin D supplements may help to prevent the increased onset of migraines.
What coping strategies can I use to cope with winter migraines?
Migraines can cause a whole host of symptoms such as headaches, visual disturbances, neck stiffness and nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can occur in different combinations and range from mild or severe, which is why it’s important to try each strategy to see which works best for you. You can read our 'Migraines: Everything you need to know guide' for an in depth explanation of symptoms and causes.
Common coping strategies consist of:
- Sleeping or lying down in a dark room. The intensity of migraines can be made worse by light and noise, removing these stimuli can help to minimise discomfort until it passes.
Over the counter pain relief such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and nurofen plus offer effective relief from headaches and discomfort caused by migraines.
The ‘first-line’ therapy option that’s most recommended to treat migraines are:
Prescription medication called Triptans. Triptans such as Sumatriptan, Imigran and Rizatriptan are all regarded as highly effective treatment options to provide powerful, fast-acting relief from migraine symptoms.
How do you effectively prevent and manage winter migraines?
While having a reliable treatment and coping strategy in place is important. Being able to avoid migraines all together is essential to minimise the frequency of them and the level of discomfort and disruption they can cause.
Preventing migraines all comes down to knowing which triggers to avoid and be aware of and how they might impact you. Below are some of the most effective ways to prevent and manage migraine triggers.
Track your triggers
Migraines are caused by many different triggers, so being able to avoid them fundamentally depends on being able to identify them. Keeping a migraine trigger diary is an effective method to help with identifying triggers. The more information you can give to your doctor or GP the better, they will typically ask about migraine frequency, intensity, duration and certain lifestyle factors that might be relevant.
Management and mitigation of other triggers
It may be worth making sure that well known triggers such as tiredness and high stress are avoided. Getting sufficient sleep (7-8 hours per night is recommended) and taking part in regular stress reducing activities such as exercise and meditation may help to rule these out as migraine triggers.
Keeping a steady daily routine
Changes to your daily routine may inadvertently lead to the triggering of a migraine. Sticking to a consistent routine that is often migraine free may help to minimise the onset of migraines. It’s important that any routine you opt for is healthy and reasonably varies as to not impact on health and well-being.
When it comes to managing migraines in the winter, it’s important to be aware of the new triggers, especially if your frequency or intensity of migraines has changed since the turn of the winter season. Be sure to try these treatment options and prevention strategies to help with migraine management.
If you have any questions about migraines or treatment options, you can contact our expert pharmacy team here.
- Robbins, L., 1994. Precipitating factors in migraine: a retrospective review of 494 patients. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 34(4), pp.214-216.
- NHS 10 Headache Triggers
- Amin, F.M., 2018. The association between migraine and physical exercise. The journal of headache and pain, 19(1), pp.1-9
- Song, T.J., 2018. Effect of vitamin D deficiency on the frequency of headaches in migraine. Journal of Clinical Neurology, 14(3), pp.366-373.
Authored by Toby Watson
Pharmica Medical Writer
Toby (BSc) is an experienced medical writer, producing educational articles on many areas of health including sexual health, fitness, nutrition and mental health.
He particularly enjoys debunking misconceptions around heath conditions and their treatments, researching each topic in detail and writing easily-accessible content.