Here’s How Extreme Cold Can Affect Your Migraines

by Mika Doyle

You hear all the time that changes in weather are common migraine triggers, but it turns out extreme cold can cause migraines, too. According to a study published in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, people who experience migraines are more sensitive to cold, so if you found yourself experiencing a migraine during the polar vortex that swept the country the last week of January, it might’ve been caused by the major drop in temperature.

“[People who experience migraines] are more likely to report sensitivity to cold weather compared to people without migraine,” Dr. Sara Crystal, neurologist, headache specialist, and medical advisor for Cove, which offers personalized migraine treatment, tells Bustle. “It’s probably related to dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, which affects the blood vessels in the brain and throughout the body.”

A really small study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain also found a direct connection between cold weather and migraines. The researchers analyzed a year’s worth of headache diary entries from 66 migraine patients at a headache clinic in Taiwan. They found that patients who were sensitive to temperature showed more sensitivity during cold weather. Not only did the study link migraines to temperature, but the migraine patients who were sensitive to temperature were more likely to experience migraines during the winter.

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The Mayo Clinic says the weather can definitely affect your migraines, whether through barometric pressure changes, extreme heat or cold, high humidity, dry air, or even bright sunlight. But it’s not just the cold that could make you have a migraine during the winter. According to the American Migraine Foundation, winter can trigger migraines in a few different ways. Just like summer thunderstorms, winter snow storms can change the barometric pressure, setting off a migraine for some people, says the American Migraine Foundation. And you might not realize it, but the American Migraine Foundation says that the cold, dry air during the winter can make you dehydrated, which can also cause migraines.

“In the winter, people with migraine should increase how much water they’re drinking, since indoor heating dries out the air around you,” Cynthia Armand, a physician at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York, told the American Migraine Foundation. “A humidifier can be helpful to keep additional moisture in your environment. Seal any drafts in your house to avoid temperature fluctuation inside your home.”

Dr. Crystal tells Bustle that when the weather gets super cold, the best thing you can do for your migraines is to treat the cold like any other migraine trigger and minimize your exposure. “As with all migraine triggers, avoidance is best,” says Dr. Crystal. “Although you may not be able to hibernate, try to minimize cold exposure to the face and head by wearing a hat and scarf. And be extra vigilant about the triggers you can control, unlike the weather.”

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That means if you know what your other migraines causes are — like maybe a specific food or activity — try to be extra aware of what those are when the temps drop so you don’t pile on the migraine triggers accidentally. But if the cold weather does happen to cause a migraine, Dr. Crystal recommends treating it as you would any other migraine depending on what you and your doctor have figured out works for you.

You might not be able to control the weather, but you can at least watch for the signs of a migraine when the weather is about to change if you know you’re temperature-sensitive. Hopefully knowing the cold might be a potential migraine trigger will help you be a little more prepared if a migraine happens.