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June 21, 2023

Migraines can be worse in the summer; here's how to combat them

To avoid headaches in the warmer months, experts suggest staying hydrated, avoiding extreme weather and wearing sunglasses

Many people look forward to the the longest day of sunlight, the summer solstice, which falls on June 21 this year. But for migraine sufferers, the official kickoff to summer may only bring about more headaches.

Each year, the Association of Migraine Disorders commemorates the summer solstice with "Shades for Migraine Day," a global awareness campaign that asks people to wear sunglasses to show their support for people who live with migraines. Sunglasses are one of the visible indicators a person may be suffering from a migraine, as light sensitivity is a common symptom.

Migraines are a type of headache characterized by recurrent throbbing and pulsating pain on one side of the head. The pain is caused by the activation of nerve fibers in the blood vessels around the brain and spinal cord, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and StrokeUntreated attacks can last from four to 72 hours, with symptoms like nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light, noise and odor.

At least 39 million Americans live with migraines, according to the American Migraine Foundation, and more than 1 billion people worldwide suffer from the neurological disease. Migraines are most common among people ages 20 to 50, and they are about three times more common in women than in men.

Researchers have generally reported higher migraine rates in the warmer months. One study found that higher temperatures led to an increased risk of severe headaches that required emergency evaluation.

So, why are migraines worse in the warmer months? And are there any ways to combat summer migraines?

Summer migraine triggers

In the summer, changes in temperature and barometric pressure (atmospheric air pressure) impact sinuses and brain chemicals, which can lead to migraines. Specifically, summertime migraine triggers can include sunlight glare, dehydration, high humidity, extreme heat and dry air. 

“Weather is a very important factor and element when it comes to migraine occurrence,” said Emad Estemalik, M.D., a headache specialist at Cleveland Clinic. “Especially around seasonal changes. So as we’re going from winter, into spring, into summer, you have significant barometric pressure change.”

Other factors that can trigger a migraine any time of year include too much or too little sleep, loud or sudden noise, skipped meals and stress, according to the NIH. Migraines are most likely to show up in the morning, especially upon waking up. The headache may worsen with physical activity or movement, including coughing or sneezing.

Tips to avoid summer migraines

Ways to fend off migraines during the summer include:

• Staying hydrated with water or electrolyte-containing beverages

• Avoiding too much time in the sun 

• Using fragrance-free sunscreen or insect repellent 

• Wearing sunglasses or hats to block out the sun

Experts also suggest that maintaining a consistent everyday schedule can help ward off migraines.

"Be consistent with your eating habits; be consistent with your sleep," said Dr. Rashmi Halker Singh, a Mayo Clinic neurologist. "Sometimes skipping meals can be a migraine trigger. Sometimes not sleeping enough or sleeping too much can also be a trigger. So maintaining consistency with that is important."

People who continually suffer from migraines can seek treatment, including medications, therapy and Botox, as well as implement dietary and lifestyle changes.

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