Barometric Pressure Headaches: How a Change in Weather Can Trigger a Headache

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Barometric pressure is the air pressure in the atmosphere — the measure of the weight exerted by the air on the Earth’s surface. This pressure is not constant, and it changes based on location. Additionally, as barometric pressure changes, the weather changes.

A shift, rise, or drop in barometric pressure may alter the pressure levels in our ears or sinuses. This change can lead to headaches. If you’ve ever experienced a headache before or after a change in weather, it was probably a barometric pressure headache. You may need to start paying more attention to how you feel during a weather change.

It’s one thing to get worried about weather forecasts, but weather changes are unpredictable. So, how do you handle what nature throws at you? How do you prevent a headache experienced with barometric pressure changes from affecting your day-to-day activities and lifestyle?

Can a change in weather trigger a headache?

While it’s difficult to know the exact cause of our headaches — they may be triggered by many biological and environmental factors or lifestyles — a change in weather is a common trigger for most people. Research shows that about 60 percent of people experience headaches or migraines due to changes in weather conditions.

A change in weather may lead to a slight or significant change in barometric pressure, which can trigger headaches.

You may experience a headache from changes in barometric pressure caused by thunderstorms, traveling by air, or mountain climbing. Headaches that reoccur with the same symptoms during rainy or humid days are most likely barometric pressure headaches.

A man with an umbrella experiencing a headache with barometric pressure changes

What’s the link between barometric pressure and headaches?

A barometric pressure headache is discomfort caused by a change in the force or weight of the air around the Earth. It usually lasts for a few hours or up to three days. Barometric pressure headaches can be grouped into two categories:

  • Primary headaches may present as tension-type headaches (scalp tenderness and/or tension around the temple, neck, or shoulders) or migraines (primarily associated with sound and light sensitivity and nausea).
  • Secondary headaches are associated with air travel and high-altitude headaches (intense throbbing on the forehead or all around the head, light sensitivity, eye redness, and flushing).

Suppose the barometric pressure in your surroundings is lower than in your sinuses. In that case, it creates a difference between the pressure on the outside and the pressure in the sinuses. The difference can result in pain.

The same thing happens when you are on a plane; pressure changes with the altitude on takeoff, and you may experience pain because of it. Since our sinus and nasal cavities are air channels, any significant changes in their pressure affect them.

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The change in pressure pushes fluid into the sinus and nasal tissues, disrupting the fluid balance. This may inadvertently lead to a barometric pressure headache.

Some researchers also think headaches felt from barometric pressure changes may be due to changes in the pressure on your brain. It may affect the ability of your brain to block pain.

Symptoms of a headache from barometric pressure

Other than the pain that accompanies headaches due to a change in weather, there are other symptoms of headaches from barometric pressure. They include:

  • Stomach pain and nausea, which may be accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting
  • Tingling and numbness around the face, neck, head, and shoulders (this can also spread further to the arms and legs)
  • Pain around one or both temples that may affect the eyes, forehead, back of the head, and ears
  • Intense sensitivity to light
  • Dizziness and excessive yawning
  • Nasal drip
  • Change in feelings or mood, which may last for hours
  • A quick wave of pain that pulses with your heartbeat
  • Depression
  • Teary eyes
  • Insomnia
  • Cravings

What’s the difference between barometric pressure headaches and migraines?

Many people confuse migraines with barometric pressure headaches, but there are differences and similarities between migraines and headaches. Some think migraines are just bad or severe headaches, but they can have different triggers. Many triggers can cause migraines, but barometric pressure can intensify your symptoms.

No matter the level of pain, a headache with pressure behind the eye is one of the symptoms of a migraine episode.

Still, a migraine results from a brain imbalance or neurological imbalance, which leads to many other symptoms, plus headaches.

These other symptoms may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite, vomiting, numbness, tingling (in rare cases), or stomach upset

During a migraine attack, various signals interact with your blood vessels, brain, and surrounding nerves to produce responses from the symptoms mentioned above.

Headaches with barometric pressure changes may have migraine symptoms like light sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting, but they may also lead to pain around the sinuses, a numb neck, and teary eyes.

Download WeatherWell to track changes in barometric pressure and be prepared for your headache triggers.

You may have barometric headaches if you experience these symptoms with headaches regularly when it’s humid or rainy. For some people, barometric pressure changes can also cause headaches with pressure behind the eye.

Migraines usually start on one side of the head before slowly spreading to the other parts of the head. Barometric pressure headaches radiate around the forehead, cheek, and bridge of the nose.

Can you get a headache from low blood pressure?

Many people can get a headache from low blood pressure along with other symptoms such as lightheadedness, neck pain, fatigue, heart palpitations, and nausea. Low blood pressure is just one of the many causes of headaches. Some medications or a sudden change in posture can lead to low blood pressure, sometimes triggering a headache.

A woman taking medication to prevent a headache before or after a change in weather

Most times, low blood pressure doesn’t indicate a problem. If you experience a headache from low blood pressure, it’s not clear what’s causing it, and your typical treatment options aren’t working, your doctor may be able to find alternative approaches to treat low blood pressure and manage its symptoms. The main goal is to increase blood pressure.

How to prevent headaches from barometric pressure

No one can control weather changes, so you can’t escape atmospheric pressure changes. Change in weather isn’t the only way we get headaches. We can also get headaches with pressure behind the eye from lack of sleep, stress, or eye strain.

While you can’t control the weather, you can try out some safety tips and practices to reduce the risks of developing a headache from a change in weather.

  • Stay hydrated. A change in the fluid balance of the blood vessels around your brain can cause a headache. Drinking more water and other fluids to stay hydrated, especially before going out, would go a long way in preventing barometric pressure headaches.
  • Reduce your stress levels. If you experience a headache with barometric pressure, a change in weather may cause you to worry and stress over what is to come. You can manage stress by exercising, using breathing techniques, or listening to calming music.
  • Avoid headache-triggering foods. When the weather is bad, avoid foods that can cause headaches/migraines for some people, such as foods that contain caffeine, nitrates, alcohol, or monosodium glutamate.
  • Wear sunglasses. Flickering bright light through trees on a sunny day while driving or working can trigger a headache with pressure behind the eye. Invest in a good pair of sunglasses to help block the sunlight.
  • Eat well. Try to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Sleep well. Lack of sleep and too much sleep can stimulate your stress hormones, leading to headaches. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
  • Keep medications close to you. You can take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or aspirin. Alternatively, you can ask your doctor about available medications to see which one works for you.

Final thoughts

Many times, headaches aren’t a cause for concern. Understanding that many things can cause headaches should help you relax. While your headache may or may not be triggered by the change in weather, you should still have it checked out if it doesn’t resolve on its own or is bothering you.

You can’t control the weather, but you can take charge of your health and lifestyle habits, such as the type of food you eat, stress management, exercise, and good sleeping habits.

If your headaches or migraines are severe and interfering with your quality of life, seek medical help from your health care provider. They will help you analyze your symptoms, identify your triggers, and give a proper diagnosis. They can also suggest any lifestyle changes and treatments well suited to you.

January 24, 2023