People who suffer from migraines or cluster headaches can often tell when the seasons are changing due to an increase in the number and severity of their symptoms. While doctors don’t know the exact cause of the seasonal spike of severe headaches, there are several theories. One theory is that there is an increase in certain headache triggers, like changing weather patterns and sleep schedules. Another theory is the change in the circadian clock, the internal clock that controls sleep cycles, that is extremely sensitive to a person’s exposure to daylight hours. Headache triggers like weather and sleep are more commonly associated with migraines, and circadian clock changes are more commonly associated with cluster headaches, but both may be involved.
Common Causes of Worsening Headache Symptoms in the Fall
Cooler temperatures at the beginning of the fall season mean a decrease in humidity and an increase in barometric pressure. This can trigger headache symptoms all year long, but can be especially dramatic during the shift from summer to autumn. The increase in symptoms is not due to the weather itself, but rather, changes in the atmospheric pressure.
For people who also suffer from seasonal allergies, increased histamine levels in the fall may also contribute to migraine, cluster, and sinus headaches. The reason for this is that the increased levels of histamine causes nasal congestion in an area close to the central nervous system. This in turn could act as a trigger for migraine and other types of headaches.
Daylight savings time can also be a factor in triggering migraines and cluster headaches. As previously mentioned, time changes affect the body’s circadian rhythm. When sleeping patterns change, the body feels a noticeable difference and chronic conditions can be triggered. This time change may also impact the amount of natural light a person is exposed to which impacts their sleep-wake cycle.
How to Prevent and Manage Seasonal Headache Triggers
There is no escaping seasonal weather changes since even areas with the most consistent climates experience some shifting of barometric pressure in the autumn months. One of the most helpful things headache sufferers can do, is keep a headache diary to track and determine the cause of their symptoms. It does not need to be elaborate to uncover a lot of useful information, but it should include the following details at a minimum:
• Date, start time and end time
• Intensity of headache with one representing little to no pain and ten representing excruciating pain
• Symptoms experienced before the onset of the headache such as flashing lights or wavy lines
• Triggers such as attending a loud gathering, stress, or reaction to a certain food
• Medication taken, including the dosage
• Degree of relief obtained from the medication ranging from none to complete
Determining symptoms and triggers is an essential component of headache management. During the fall season, it is helpful to track sleep patterns and allergy symptoms if applicable to the headache sufferer.
Autumn is a time when leaves fall from the trees in most climates. Unfortunately, leaves can attract mold and this could trigger allergy and headache symptoms. People who know that they are sensitive to seasonal weather changes should consider hiring someone to complete outdoor chores this time of year to avoid making their symptoms worse.
Fall is also a common time of year to catch a cold or the flu. These are highly contagious viruses that can make life miserable for someone who already suffers from migraines or cluster headaches. Dressing for the weather, using hand sanitizers, and avoiding people who are sick, can go a long way in staying well in the cooler months of the year.
Those who suffer from headaches should consult with their doctor before the change in seasons. The doctor can review the patient’s headache diary and prescribe medication that may prevent or greatly reduce symptoms. After identifying changing weather patterns as a trigger, patients should keep medicine readily available to take at the first sign of any type of headache.
Connect with the Will Irwin Headache Research Foundation. Our non-profit organization exists to support research that will one day end debilitating headaches.