Updated: November 4, 2021
Many people suffer from seasonal migraines and headaches due to many different reasons. Most people will reach for Tylenol, ibuprofen, or something similar to relieve the symptoms, but we’re here to provide you with other options available to help you manage your migraine pain as the weather gets colder.
What is a seasonal migraine (or headache)?
A seasonal migraine isn’t an official term, but it is commonly used to describe a migraine (or headache) brought upon by seasonal changes in weather and sometimes air pressure. Similar to seasonal allergies, a seasonal migraine can be brought on by a number of different factors.
How does cold weather affect migraines and headaches?
In Alberta, we’re lucky enough to be able to enjoy all four seasons: summer, fall, winter, and spring. However, when the temperature drops, so does the barometric (atmospheric) pressure. This abrupt change in pressure disrupts the air equilibrium in your sinuses, which can trigger a headache or migraine.
What time of year is the worst for seasonal migraines and headaches in Alberta?
Those of us who live here know the weather in Alberta can shift dramatically, making it difficult for migraine sufferers to predict when a seasonal migraine might hit.
Alberta’s worst months for temperature fluctuations tend to be at the end of our warm weather (October & November) and during our coldest months (January & February). If you suffer from seasonal headaches and migraines, you might notice a worsening of symptoms during these months.
However, since Alberta’s weather can shift at almost any time, it’s good to get in the habit of keeping a watch on the weather forecast. If you see a dramatic change in temperature, you might be able to better predict an oncoming migraine!
Causes & Triggers Of Seasonal Migraines
1. Increased Tension
Increased tension can lead to headaches, and this becomes more common as the weather changes. With colder weather, people tend to tense more quickly to protect themselves from the elements. They will shrug their shoulders, pull their heads down, and bend forward.
This change in posture puts more strain on the neck and shoulders. The tension in the neck muscles and poor positioning of the neck joints can lead to headaches.
2. Too Many Indoor Activities
Indoor activities, such as reading, watching TV or spending more time on their devices can also put extra stress on the body and lead to tension headaches. As the weather gets colder, people spend more time indoors. This can lead to eye strain or other strain on the neck or upper back from sitting for extended periods of time with less than ideal posture, which in turn can cause tension.
People are surprisingly more likely to become dehydrated in the colder months. When it gets cold, we tend not to drink as much water, and inadequate hydration can cause headaches or trigger migraines.
Similarly, this can also be a problem during spikes of hot weather if we aren’t able to consume enough water.
4. Dramatic Changes In Temperature
Like we mentioned above, a drop in temperature can upset the barometric pressure in your sinuses and trigger a headache or migraine. However, migraines and headaches can be caused by any change in pressure, which means a spike in temperature could be just as troublesome.
5. Humidity Levels
It can be hard to pinpoint exactly why humidity causes migraines and headaches. Too much moisture in the air can reduce oxygen levels, causing blood vessels to expand or contract, and potentially compress nerve fibres. A lack of moisture in the air can dry out sinuses or result in dehydration. These may be some of the factors linking humidity to migraines and headaches.
6. Air Pressure
As we’ve shared above, any change in air pressure can be troublesome for people prone to migraines or headaches! A change in atmospheric air pressure can lead to an imbalance in pressure within your inner ear or sinuses triggering migraines or headaches.
Being exposed to allergens triggers your immune system which can cause inflammation throughout your body. This inflammation helps explain why an allergic reaction would result in seasonal migraines and headaches.
Wind can blow dust, particles, and allergens into your sinuses. This can cause an allergic reaction, or simply irritate the sinus membranes – both of which can be migraine triggers.
9. Sunlight Or Glare
There is a neural pathway between your eye and the brain that becomes activated when exposed to light. Having a light sensitivity, or being exposed to increased or prolonged light, leads to hyperactivity in the brain and, you guessed it, a migraine. It’s a good idea to keep a pair of sunglasses around to help with this.
Taking a close look at your diet may help you identify any food triggers. Some common food and drinks to watch out for are:
- Cultured dairy products
- Soy products
- Artificial sweeteners
- Foods containing MSG
- Processed foods
- Pickled or fermented foods
- Frozen foods
If you develop any head pain or discomfort after eating or drinking, you should make a note of it as it may be one of your triggers.
11. Change Of Sleep Patterns
Not sleeping enough disrupts your body’s protein levels which can play a role in the development of a migraine. However, you also don’t want to sleep too much! Oversleeping alters neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) in the brain which can also lead to a headache or migraine.
12. Holiday Stress
As the weather gets cooler in Alberta, we begin to see more holidays (e.g. Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc). Holiday shopping and plans can cause unwanted or increased stress resulting in migraines or headaches.
How To Avoid Seasonal Migraine Triggers
The best way to avoid seasonal migraine triggers is to know what they are and avoid them as best you can.
Certain lifestyle choices can help alleviate seasonal headaches and migraines. If you know that you tend to get headaches around this time of year, start to track your headaches or migraines to determine your triggers. It is helpful to note the weather and any changes you made in your diet or activity on those days. Once you understand your unique triggers, you can be more proactive in preventing headaches or migraines. We recommend Migraine Buddy as a helpful tool in tracking your migraines.
However, some triggers cannot be avoided. For example, weather and air pressure aren’t something you can change, but your diet, sleep, and levels of hydration are all examples of triggers you can manage and control.
Knowing your triggers can also help you take precautionary steps to prevent a migraine such as specific prescription drugs or other forms of treatment that we’ll expand more on below.
Seasonal Migraine & Headache Prevention
Seasonal migraine prevention will look different for every single individual. It entirely depends on knowing and understanding your triggers and trying out different methods to help you manage the volume and intensity of your migraines or headaches.
If you’re looking for non-medication-related prevention methods to try, we recommend massage therapy, physiotherapy, acupuncture, and intramuscular stimulation.
Massage Therapy & Physiotherapy For Seasonal Migraine Relief & Prevention
Massage therapy or physiotherapy are both great ways to treat any seasonal tension. Our therapists work with patients to help ensure they maintain proper posture to keep joints and muscles in optimal and less strained positions.
These treatments also restore normal movement to the affected joints and work to release muscle tension.
Pain can also prevent a full night’s sleep. Seeing one of our therapists to reduce your pain can help to restore your sleep which, in turn, can help reduce headaches.
Depending on the person’s condition, we may recommend more than one session, as it can take time for the symptoms and tightness to settle down. Patients get take-home exercises and stretches to increase the effectiveness of their treatments.
Acupuncture and Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) For Seasonal Migraine Relief & Prevention
Acupuncture and Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) also help to reduce muscle tightness and increase blood flow to the affected area. Our therapists use acupuncture to help with sinus headaches and headaches caused by allergies.
Acupuncture is also used to relieve sinus pressure and stimulate the allergy and immune points.
Need help managing seasonal migraines or headaches?
Note: New clients are always welcome, and a doctor’s referral isn’t needed.