Can Bad Weather Really Cause Headaches
In this article, Professor Amanda Ellison explores the connection between headaches and the weather, and explains how to reduce the impact that headaches have on our daily lives.
We all know somebody who claims they can predict the weather with their body. Whether its your arthritic relative who knows rain is on the way when their knees ache or your lifelong pal who gets a headache when a storm is approaching. Having , I hear a lot from people I meet about headaches that are related to the weather. But as it turns out, there actually is a scientific basis for why some people are able to sense changes in the weather by the headaches they cause.
While its difficult to say how many people actually suffer from weather-related headache, research shows over 60% of people who suffer from migraines think theyre sensitive to the weather. In 2015, researchers who collected daily sales figures of a headache medication in Japan showed that sales peaked significantly when average barometric pressure decreased. This often happens before bad weather.
But why do these headaches happen? There are two mechanisms of action here.
Both of these will at the very least cause a generalised headache in those who are sensitive to pressure changes. But even small drops in pressure have been correlated with increases in migraine episodes in sufferers.
Migraines And Allergic Rhinitis
There are a few ways that respiratory allergies could affect your migraines. First, there is a clear relationship between inflammation and allergies. An inflammatory reaction caused by allergies leads to the release of chemicals and these chemicals can, in turn, trigger migraines. Second, allergic rhinitis causes nasal congestion. This could irritate nerves in the nose and sinuses and provoke a migraine. Finally, allergies have been shown to worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, which could also affect the number of migraines you experience.
At least one study has suggested that people with allergic rhinitis are more likely to experience a migraine than people without allergic rhinitis. Also, it showed that allergic rhinitis may increase the frequency of ones migraines. Other studies have shown a relationship between allergic asthma and migraine headaches. Unfortunately, it is not clear what is causing allergies and asthma in these patients.
Treatment of allergic rhinitis may help prevent or treat headaches in people that seem to have allergy-based triggers to their migraines. Unfortunately, there have been few studies performed that can prove or disprove this.
Your Sinus Headache Might Actually Be A Migraine
Sinus headaches and migraines can both feel like tiny construction workers are jackhammering away inside your skull. Otherwise, though, they may seem like completely separate issues. The surprising truth is that sinus headaches and migraines are a lot more connected than you might thinkso much so that what you think of as a sinus headache might be a migraine instead.
I work with ear, nose, and throat doctors very closely. They get a lot of referrals for sinus headaches, but most of those end up being migraines, Kevin Weber, M.D., a neurologist who specializes in treating patients with headaches at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. Sinus headache is very overdiagnosed, and migraine is underdiagnosed.
Knowing the correct cause of your head pain is the first step toward making it go away. Heres what you need to know about sinus headaches, migraines, and how to tell the difference.
Sinus headaches happen due to sinusitis, or an inflammation of your sinuses, the cavities in your skull that are connected to your nose, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can be acute, meaning it lasts for under 10 days, or seems to recede then comes back with a vengeance. It can also become chronic and last for 12 or more miserable weeks. You can get sinusitis thanks to things like a cold, allergies, or abnormalities in your nasal passages, like a deviated septum.
Here are some clear signs you may indeed have a sinus headache:
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Causes And Symptoms Of Sinus Headaches
Causes of a real sinus headache are an infection in your sinuses known as sinusitis. It may feel like the following:
- Pressure and fullness in your cheeks, forehead, and brows.
- Ache in your your upper teeth
- Swollen or puffy face
Sinusitis usually occurs after a respiratory viral infection or cold. There is normally a thick discolored mucus, a reduced sense of smell, and in a nutshell, with a sinus headache your whole face hurts.
You may develop a sinus headache from the common cold, a deviated septum where there is not sufficient air flow to help drain the mucus from your sinuses, seasonal allergies which cause congestion and mucus, and nasal polyps which also prevent mucus from draining properly.
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Barometric Pressure: Effects On Sinuses
Most people donât think much about how barometric pressure might affect them, especially when theyâre younger. However, as the body ages, it may become more susceptible to environmental triggers for pain. When the barometric pressure changes, it can cause changes to the way blood flows through the body, causing increased or decreased blood pressure, sinus pressure, and more.A change in barometric pressure may be responsible for increased instances of migraines and weather may cause changes so subtle that itâs difficult for sufferers or their physicians to discern the problem.Barometric pressure and sinuses also share connections that are not yet fully understood by the scientific or medical communities, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact changes that trigger migraines, stuffiness, changes in blood pressure, and more.Watching the weather for upcoming changes in the barometric pressure, and being aware of when those changes are taking place, can give sufferers a chance to head off problems and pains before they begin with a proactive, preventative approach as recommended by their physician.
What Is A Sinus Headache
It is migraine with sinus symptoms. A very large study involving almost 3,000 patients was very important in evaluating the frequent complaint of sinus headache. In this study, the participants had at least six sinus headaches in the six months prior to entrance into the study. They had never been diagnosed with migraine and had never been treated with a migraine-specific medication.
What were the results? Eighty-eight percent of the participants were found to be having migraine headache and not a sinus headache. Strict criteria from the International Classification of Headache Disorders were used to tell the difference between headache types. In addition to their common symptoms of nasal and sinus congestion and facial pain and pressure, sufferers often had the following symptoms we associate with migraine:
- Pulsing/throbbing pain
- Headache worsened by activity
In this study, almost 3,000 patients with the complaint of sinus headache were taking lots of over the counter and prescription decongestants, antihistamines, nasal sprays, analgesics, and anti-inflammatory medications. However, there was a lot of patient dissatisfaction with their results. The dissatisfaction makes sense since many actually had migraine producing the sinus complaints.
What Can I Do About Recurring Sinus Headaches
Many sinus headaches, especially those that recur, are actually migraines. But its smart to see your healthcare provider to figure out the cause of your headaches.
You may find that the best long-term solution is figuring out what triggers your migraine headaches so you can avoid them. Its helpful to keep a headache diary to track potential triggers. Triggers you can control include:
- Specific foods, such as chocolate, red wine or strong cheese.
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What Causes A Sinus Headache
A sinus headache is usually caused by infection and inflammation of the sinuses, which is known as rhinosinusitis. As your nasal passages become swollen, they become blocked with mucus and the area becomes congested, resulting in sinus pressure. This leads to a sinus headache.
Since its cause is rooted in sinus issues, a sinus headache is often treated with decongestants and nasal irrigation to help clear out the congested area and ease the pressure. Nasal steroids can also be used, and, if the underlying infection is caused by bacteria, antibiotics may also be prescribed.
If sinusitis are chronic defined as lasting more than 12 weeks despite attempts at treatment surgery may be recommended in some cases if theres an underlying cause that can be surgically corrected.
For example, if a deviated septum is causing congestion thats a breeding ground for infection, surgery can be used to correct this. And by correcting the issue thats causing the inflammation, sinus headaches will also be helped.
Is It A Migraine Or Sinusitis
Migraines are often confused with sinus headaches from sinusitis and other nasal infections, leading to many people with migraine attacks being diagnosed with sinusitis or self-diagnosed with sinus headaches.
A study in The Journal of Headache and Pain found that of the 130 migraine patients with a past diagnosis of sinusitis, 106 were misdiagnosed with the condition. Since their research was found to be in line with other studies, the data indicate that many patients complaining about sinus headaches may fit the criteria for migraine.²
Being able to tell the difference between the two conditions can make a substantial difference in the success of your treatment.
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How Can You Tell The Difference
The difference between migraine and sinusitis is in the additional signs and symptoms you may be experiencing. For instance, are you experiencing symptoms outside of a stuffy nose, runny nose, and other sinus symptoms? Particularly, are you experiencing sensitivities to lights or sounds, difficulty concentrating, or nausea?
According to a self-administering screening test for migraines called ID Migraine, which research has confirmed as a reliable method for screening, there are three questions to ask yourself to determine if you fit the criteria for migraines:
Has a headache limited your activities for a day or more in the last three months?
Are you nauseated or sick to your stomach when you have a headache?
Does light bother you when you have a headache?
According to the test, if you can answer ‘yes’ to two or more of these questions, you will likely have migraines, not another condition like sinusitis. In fact, The American Migraine Foundation reports that if you can answer ‘yes’ to two of the questions, then the likelihood that you have migraines is 93%. If you can answer ‘yes’ to all three, the likelihood spikes to 98%.
How Do They Differ From Other Types Of Headaches
The major difference between sinus headaches and other headaches tension, cluster, and migraine headaches is not nasal symptoms. It’s the root cause of the flare-up, typically associated with sinus congestion and infections. Another important difference is that once the infection is resolved, the headache will also begin to resolve.
On the other hand, tension headaches are from tightened muscles in the neck and scalp. Migraines result from abnormal neurological changes in the brain, and a nerve pathway triggers cluster headaches in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus .
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Are These Your Symptoms
From those patients confirmed with a migraine diagnosis in the study:
- 83% noticed the weather affected their headaches
- 73% noticed seasonal variations in their headaches
- 62% said their headaches were triggered by allergies
- 56% had nasal congestion
- 25% had a runny nose
- 22% had red eyes
- 19% had watery eyes
You could be forgiven for thinking these symptoms are sinus related. They look a lot like the symptoms you might expect from a sinus infection so its no surprise that there is a significant amount of confusion between sinus headache and migraine.
Results found that 9 out of 10 patients in the study had migraine, not sinus headache.
Furthermore, the 100 patients from the study had seen an average of 4 physicians each and had gone on average 25 years without the correct diagnosis or significant relief.
Thats 25 years without significant relief and 4 physicians who had gotten the diagnosis wrong!
The lead investigator of the SAMS study Dr. Eross says It was hard to convince some of them that they actually suffered from migraine headaches, said Dr. Eross. Many were shocked.
One in ten people from the study knew they had migraine, but thought they had sinus headaches in addition. In reality they actually suffered two different types of migraine, one with sinus symptoms and one without, Dr. Eross noted.
Much of the pain or pressure is in the face, on both sides, so it doesnt occur to them that this might be a migraine. Dr Eross
How Do You Know If You Have Sinus Headache Or Migraine
Listing all the symptoms separately can be confusing and is perhaps why so many sinus headache sufferers have not been correctly diagnosed.
Instead, below are the key symptoms side by side, Sinus Headache vs Migraine, in an easy to follow checklist so you can quickly find out the truth.
If youre not experiencing fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a persistent green or yellow nasal discharge and you have a headache in the sinus area, then you likely have migraine. It is difficult for doctors of patients with migraine and sinus symptoms to acknowledge that a CT scan of their sinuses looks normal and does not show the inflammation, fluid or swelling they would expect after years of rhinosinusitis. Patients and their doctors often fall into the trap of believing that they are nipping sinus infections in the bud with frequent antibiotics and that is why they never get infected drainage.
Take a moment to digest. Most people from the study who were told this rejected the finding at first. They had been told by on average by 4 doctors that it was their sinus. They had also been wrongly diagnosed for an average of 25 years
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How Do I Get Rid Of A Sinus Headache
To get rid of a sinus headache, you have to treat the underlying cause. But you can take steps to ease sinus pressure and pain at home:
- Apply a warm compress to painful areas of the face.
- Use a decongestant to reduce sinus swelling and allow mucus to drain.
- Try a saline nasal spray or drops to thin mucus.
- Use a vaporizer or inhale steam from a pan of boiled water. Warm, moist air may help relieve sinus congestion.
Viruses, bacteria and sometimes fungi cause sinus infections. Viral infections often go away on their own. But if your infection is bacterial or fungal, you need antibiotics or antifungal medications. Your healthcare provider may also recommend other medications to ease discomfort, such as:
- Antihistamines to prevent allergy symptoms.
- Pain relievers to ease headache pain.
- Steroids to reduce inflammation.
Migraines with sinus symptoms
Sinus headaches that are actually migraines need a different type of treatment. The first step is to relieve your pain. You should know that frequently using over-the-counter medications when you have a headache can cause even more headaches .
Your provider may recommend prescription medication for migraine pain. You may also need a preventive medication that helps you have fewer migraine attacks.
How Is A Sinus Headache Different From A Migraine Attack
Whereas a sinus headache is a result of pressure on the nasal walls, migraine attacks originate in the brain, says Rajneesh. Theres often a clear association in a person who has a history of allergies, and then their allergies flare up, which then leads to headaches, and the headache is usually frontal, he says.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, people with allergic rhinitis are more than 10 times more likely to have migraine.
Although both migraine and a sinus headache can come with a runny nose, with migraine the discharge is usually clear, whereas in a headache that comes with sinusitis, it can be colored or foul smelling, says Rajneesh.
Migraine attacks are often associated with other symptoms besides a headache, which can include nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, and sound sensitivity, according to Weber. Some migraine patients have an aura, typically visual, with spots, lights, or colors prior to the onset of a migraine attack, he says.
How a Migraine Attack Unfolds
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How Do You Diagnose Sinus Headaches Caused By Migraines
Sinus headaches are most likely due to migraines or tension headaches. Migraines are diagnosed by symptoms, including the frequency and severity of symptoms, family history, and by physical exam. Migraines can also include nausea and vomiting. These episodes may be triggered by hormonal changes, lack of sleep, certain foods or alcohol or caffeine, stress, or environmental changes like weather, altitude changes, or allergens. Many patients with migraines have family members who also experience migraine headaches.
If you have unusual or severe symptoms, additional tests such as an MRI of the brain may be ordered to rule out more serious conditions that can cause headache pain, such as tumors or bleeding around the brain. If you have repeated episodes of sinus pain and pressure, a nasal endoscopy or imaging such as an MRI or CT scan can determine if sinus pain or pressure is due to a sinus infection or other sinus pathology. A normal sinus CT scan while you have symptoms could help rule out sinusitis, and determine if migraines, headaches, or other causes of facial pain and pressure are causing the sinus symptoms.
Other causes of facial pain and pressure can include temporomandibular joint syndrome, clenching or grinding your teeth, trigeminal nerve pain, temporal arteritis , dental infection, or other neurologic causes of facial pain.
Tips To Reduce The Likelihood Of Having A Sinus Headache
There are a few ways you can reduce the likelihood of having a sinus headache, although none is a guaranteed prevention method.
First, you should keep your allergies under control by consulting your doctor about the best ways to prevent allergic reactions, particularly measures you can take around allergy season or other common exposures.
Another preventative measure is avoiding contact with people you know to have a cold or respiratory infection. These are common illnesses that affect the sinus and can potentially cause you to have a sinus headache.
If you are a smoker, you should stop smoking. Otherwise, avoiding second-hand smoke and other air pollutants can be beneficial since they have been associated with chronic rhinosinusitis.
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