For most of us, a day of thunderstorms on a summer Saturday means staying inside with a cup of tea and a good movie. For others, though, a thunderstorm may be a brutal trigger for a headache.
Let’s read about the science behind how a thunderstorm and other weather-related changes, may precipitate head pain.
Weather as a Headache Trigger
It’s fairly common for a person with headaches or migraines to subjectively report weather as a trigger for their attacks. Some people cite simply a “change in weather” as their trigger, and others can pin down more specific weather changes like high or low temperatures, humidity, sunlight, wind speed, and dew point.
For example, one study in Cephalalgia examined over 1200 participants with migraines. Weather was identified as the fourth most frequent migraine trigger, occurring in approximately 50 percent of the participants.
In another study, in The Journal of Headache and Pain, of 120 people with either migraines or tension-type headaches, the weather was described as the most common trigger.
Despite these subjective reports, however, studies on the effects of weather on headaches and migraines reveal inconsistent results. This means that in some studies, certain weather changes were linked with whether a migraine or a headache occurred and/or persisted, and in other studies, there was no significant link found.
Thunderstorms as a Headache Trigger
Besides simply weather changes, you may wonder whether a thunderstorm (a specific weather event) can trigger a headache or migraine. Indeed, many of us can recall plugging along at work or in our homes on a gloomy, damp day with a nagging headache. Was it triggered by that morning thunderstorm? Many of us claim it was, and some experts agree (some do not).
During a storm, cold and warm air collide, creating an extreme difference in barometric (or air) pressure. This creates the elements of a thunderstorm, like wind and rain. The change in barometric pressure may be what triggers your headache, whether that is a migraine, tension-type headache, or a sinus headache. Although, the idea of a storm triggering a headache is still a questionable phenomenon.
In addition, with a thunderstorm comes lightning. Sferics, which are electromagnetic impulses produced by lightning, may also trigger migraines (like thunderstorms, this phenomenon is still in dispute among experts).
Barometric Pressure and Headaches
Regarding barometric pressure, one study in Internal Medicine examined a small number of people with migraines living in Japan. The participants kept a headache diary for one year. Half of the participants reported low barometric pressure as a migraine trigger. Additionally, results revealed that half of the participants had more frequent headaches the day following a drop in barometric pressure.
On the other hand, another large study in Headache examined over 900 patients with migraines and did not find a link between migraine attacks and falls in barometric pressure.
A Word From Verywell
Overall, there is not great evidence or science behind the triggering effect of weather changes, like thunderstorms, on headaches. Nevertheless, listen to your gut. If weather changes consistently trigger your headaches, being prepared for managing your headache when rain clouds are brewing (or your unique weather-related trigger is occurring) can only serve to help you in the end.
Unlike many other headache and migraine triggers which can be avoided, it’s not always possible to avoid a weather-related trigger, which is why coping is your next best option.