The guide to combating weather and light-triggered migraines
Many people with migraines list light and weather as some of their triggers. Surprisingly, research is inconclusive if the weather is a trigger. A past study conducted in Australia showed that “the influence of weather factors on headaches and migraines is small and questionable.”2 This, however, does not entirely dismiss weather as a migraines trigger. Recent research suggests that in some subgroups of migrainers, a significant weather sensitivity could be observed1. Light, on the other hand, is a proven trigger, specifically sunlight. Here is a detailed guide to help you get through weather and light triggers.
Light sensitivity and migraines
If bright lights make you want to run to the darkest room during migraine attacks, then you are among the 80% of migrainers who suffer from photosensitivity or photophobia4. In migraines, these terms do not refer to the fear of bright lights, but rather to sensitivity to them.
Photosensitivity is one of the methods used to diagnose migraines. According to Dr. Rami Burstein, a neuroscience professor at Harvard, migraine and photophobia are so closely linked that in the absence of a central nervous system or ocular condition, photosensitivity without headache pain can still result in a migraine diagnosis.
Everyone is sensitive to bright lights, but the degree and discomfort caused varies. For a migraineur with light sensitivity, prolonged exposure to light causes throbbing headaches. Aside from the degree of brightness, the wavelength of the light (color) also matters. A Harvard study3 found that patients are more sensitive to blue light than any other light. The amount of light you live in can increase your sensitivity. For instance, if you stay in the dark all the time, you are likely to perceive lights to be brighter than they are.
Does light trigger migraines every time?
Migraine stimuli do not trigger headaches every time a migraineur is exposed to them. You can experience migraines even without being exposed to any of your triggers. While a majority of migrainers have photophobia, light does not always trigger migraines for them. Only 30-60% of the attacks are triggered by light4. The visual stimuli known to trigger migraines include sunlight, fluorescent bulbs, flickering from motion pictures, and television. All these stimuli emit blue light.
How can I combat light sensitivity?
When living with photophobia, you experience sensitivity when exposed to both natural and artificial light. Should you avoid light or shield yourself from it? Definitely not! Doing so will only increase your sensitivity to light and make it hard for you to function in environments that you have no control of.
What should you do if you have already been limiting your exposure to light? Increase the brightness of your environment gradually to build tolerance. If you work in a place that has a lot of artificial light, sit next to the windows. Also, avoid glares or flickering lights. What else can you do to combat sensitivity?
Wear tinted lenses
By now, we've already established that living in darkness will only increase your light sensitivity. Hence, sunglasses aren't a great option for a migraineur with light sensitivity because they block out all kinds of light. Specially tinted lenses, on the other hand, are a brilliant option. They only block out the light that has been proven to cause migraines and sensitivity; hence reducing the number of migraine attacks, you get in a month.
Use a friendly lighting scheme at home
Go for bulbs that produce little blue light. Though CFLs and LEDs are energy efficient, they provide more blue light than incandescent bulbs. If you must use these energy efficient bulbs, ensure that you go for those that produce warm white light instead of blue light. Ambient lighting like overhead lights or floor lamps can light up your room without putting a strain on your eyes. You can also buy reading lamps to produce ample, friendly light for reading.
Get enough magnesium
Magnesium keeps your cardiovascular system healthy. Unfortunately, it is one of the scarcest minerals on earth. As a matter of fact, 75% of the world's population suffer from magnesium deficiency. Magnesium deficiency is a proven cause of light sensitivity. To reduce your sensitivity, ensure that you get enough magnesium from magnesium-rich foods such as spinach and bananas. Alternatively, take all natural magnesium supplements daily. (Just going to mention, you’re in the right place for an-all natural magnesium supplement since it’s the only one that effectively passes the blood brain barrier*) ;)
Avoid looking at screens for extended periods of time
We get blue wavelengths during the day from the sun, which is beneficial because they boost mood, reaction times, and attention. However, blue light is not as helpful during the night. We are exposed to lots of blue light at night from computers, phones, TV screens, and fluorescent bulbs. Blue light at night throws the body’s circadian rhythm (biological clock) out of balance. It also increases sensitivity and makes you prone to migraine attacks. To avoid these adverse effects, wear lenses that block out blue light or avoid looking at screens beginning two hours before you go to bed5.
People with migraines and light sensitivity are more likely to experience glare and illusions when viewing stripped patterns6. Ensuring that you do not stay in dark rooms and taking enough magnesium can help reduce light sensitivity. How can you deal with migraines induced by weather patterns?
Weather and migraines
Some subgroups of migrainers have reported to experience attacks due to changes in weather7. Why do weather changes cause headaches? For some subgroups, changes in the weather imbalance brain chemicals such as serotonin, which prompts or worsens migraines.
Although scientists have found it hard to prove that weather is a migraine trigger, you know your headache better, and if you feel that weather contributes to it, then no research should tell you that you are wrong. You may have noticed that you have many triggers that lead to your migraine. Often, a single trigger does not have the power to start a migraine by itself. Many triggers work together to lead to the onset of your migraine. Hence, changes in weather cannot be entirely dismissed because when they work hand in hand with other triggers, say some foods; they could lead to headaches.
Weather patterns that trigger migraines
People with weather sensitivity do not react to the same weather patterns; every person has a unique set of patterns that they react to. Here are some of those patterns:
- Temperature and humidity: in days where temperatures are high, and humidity is low, the number of patients visiting the emergency room with migraines increases.
- Barometric pressure: according to Dr. Matthew Fink, the neurologist in chief at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, low barometric pressure can lead to headaches since it creates a difference in pressure between the surrounding atmosphere and sinuses which are filled with air10. This could lead to distended sinuses especially when there is congestion or blockage. A study conducted in Japan during typhoon season showed 75% of migrainers experienced migraine attacks as a result of the drop in barometric pressure. 20% of the population with tension headaches also had headaches9.
- Sunshine: the amount of sunshine that one is exposed to also triggers migraines for some people. In one study conducted in Austria, being exposed to the sun for more than three hours caused migraines for some patients. A Norwegian study found that migrainers were more prone to migraines during the long summer days in the Arctic.
Some other patterns that cause migraines include:
- High humidity
- Dry air
- Sun glare, windy or stormy weather
A study of migrainers during Chinook winds in Western Canada found that some people with migraines were sensitive the day before the winds start, due to a drop in barometric pressure. Others were sensitive the day after the winds began, but only if they were very strong. In a North American prospective study, 50% of the participants were found to be weather sensitive8. This confirms that weather is a trigger in some subgroups of patients, though they react to different weather patterns.
How can I combat weather sensitivity?
While you can avoid some of your migraine triggers such as irregular sleep patterns, there is no avoiding weather! What should you do if changes in weather patterns keep stimulating your attacks?
Visit the doctor
The medication used to treat weather triggered migraines is similar to that which is used to treat other migraines. However, if you get frequent weather-related migraines, you should visit a doctor and ask if daily preventive medications are appropriate for you. Beta-blockers and topiramate are examples of preventive medicine. I know, we’re all here for all-natural migraine relief, but if there are affordable options that will work for your specific case, you really should explore all options.
Make healthy lifestyle choices
Exercise regularly, drink enough water, sleep well, and eat healthy foods that increase your tolerance to weather changes. Yes, we hear it all the time, and it’s very annoying. But really, have you ever actually committed to trying a healthier lifestyle? For example, if you are prone to cold hands and cold feet during low temperatures, this is an indicator that you do not consume enough magnesium. A deficiency in magnesium tenses up your muscles and decreases the size of your arteries, which translates to improper blood flow. Little blood flow could result in migraines. You can compensate magnesium deficiency with supplements or magnesium-rich foods.
Keep a diary
Part of combating your weather-related migraines is understanding the events leading up to a migraine. In your diary, list each migraine, when it happened, how long it lasted, and which weather pattern caused it. This way, you can keep warm or dress light depending on which pattern affected you, and stop a future attack.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle helps you combat future light and weather-related migraines. Remember that you should not stay in dark rooms when you experience light sensitivity, as this will only worsen the condition. Obviously while your pain is excruciating, take all precautions. But once the symptoms start to diminish, start introducing natural light back into your range of vision. Also, improving your cardiovascular system's health helps to reduce the probability of getting attacks. Healthy magnesium foods, all natural magnesium supplements like MigraineStop, healthy weight, and lack of stress all work together to keep your system healthy and reduce migraine attacks.