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Hurricane migraines? Storms may physically trigger headaches, scientists say

Scientists say changes in the weather can impact health and trigger headaches and migraines, either by temperature or pressure changes. On social media, some users reporting suffering from headaches as the storm approached.
Scientists say changes in the weather can impact health and trigger headaches and migraines, either by temperature or pressure changes. On social media, some users reporting suffering from headaches as the storm approached. El Nuevo Herald File

As Hurricane Florence creeps closer to the mainland, people across social media began reporting headaches — and not just from trying to keep up with all the weather news.

It may seem strange, but scientists say weather changes like high heat, winds or big storms really can cause spikes in headaches and migraines for certain people.

“We don’t understand why hurricanes cause headaches, but clearly weather systems are one of the most potent causes,” said Dan Kassicieh, an osteopathic neurologist and headache specialist, according to Naples News.

For years, scientists were not sure if weather changes really caused headaches and migraines, Discover Magazine reported.

But a 2009 study from Harvard found that increases in temperature and drops in pressure (which occur before storms) were associated with increased risks of headaches, according to the magazine.

Low pressure can cause abnormal pressure in the sinuses, which are air-filled spaces in the skull, the New York Times reported in 2013.

“Just as light, sounds or smells can trigger migraine, the pressure change associated with storms and weather changes likely influences and excites the pain centers in susceptible patients,” neurologist William Evans told The Sun Herald in 2017. “We see many patients that experience migraine pain associated with weather changes.”

But weather changes may only be one part of a larger puzzle.

“It may be that people who get migraines are very susceptible to any fluctuation, whether it’s weather change, foods, sleep or stress,” Dr. Carolyn Bernstein of Harvard Medical’s headache center said, according to CNN. “Many patients do report worsening migraines with acute storms. Here in Boston, I have seen a spike in migraines for my patient population each August during hurricane season.”

High winds might also be a cause. A 2000 study found a connection between warm, blustery winds called Chinooks in Canada and a higher incidence of headaches.

“Most people believe weather affects their health,” neurologist and study author Werner Becker said in a news release at the time. “Overall, approximately 50 percent of migraine sufferers indicate certain weather conditions may precipitate migraine attacks. This study validates what patients have been saying all along.”

So is there any way to prevent them?

Ellen Drexler, associate professor of neurology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, said it could be helpful to take an over-the-counter painkiller in the morning as a precaution and to take extra care to avoid any other triggers, like caffeine, according to Health.com.

Evacuations for Hurricane Florence are underway in South Carolina as some highway lanes are reversed to increase the flow of traffic away from Charleston and the SC coast.

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