Does air pollution or hot weather trigger headaches?
A study of more than 7000 headache sufferers showed that higher temperatures and lower barometric air pressure may lead to a higher, short-term risk of headaches.
Heat leading to headaches
For the study, researchers looked at 7,054 people who were diagnosed with headache in a Boston emergency department over seven years. Scientists then compared temperature levels, barometric pressure, humidity and other air pollutant or weather factors (fine particulate matter, black carbon, and nitrogen and sulfur dioxides) during the one to three days leading up to the hospital visit.
The study found that higher temperatures increased the risk of headache. The risk went up by 7.5 percent for every five degree Celsius increase in temperature. Lower barometric air pressure within the two or three days leading up to a person’s hospital visit also increased the risk of non-migraine headaches. On the other hand, air pollution levels had no affect on the risk of headache in the study.
This falls in line with years of anecdotal evidence, but now has been confirmed in a medical study for the first time.
“Air temperature and pressure have been widely cited as a possible trigger for headaches, particularly migraines, but the potential connection hasn’t been well-documented,” says study author Kenneth Mukamal, MD, who is with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
“Certainly our results are consistent with the idea that severe headaches can be triggered by external factors,” says Mukamal. “These findings help tell us that the environment around us does affect our health and, in terms of headaches, may be impacting many, many people on a daily basis.”
Mukamal recommends that headache patients sit down with their doctors to identify the triggers that lead to their headache symptoms, adding that even though the weather can’t be altered, doctors might be able to prescribe medication that can be administered ahead of time to help avert the onset of weather-related headaches.