Everything You Need to Know About Barometric Pressure Headaches
My body can predict shifts in weather — it's kind of my superpower. When bad weather is on the way, an arm that I broke over 10 years ago starts to feel achy.
While I can handle a little arm discomfort, that pain has recently come with headaches, too — for which I have zero patience. So, I reached out to Dr. Scott Braunstein, MD, the medical director of Sollis Health Los Angeles, for an explanation.
It turns out my superpower is actually called barometric pressure headaches.
Have you ever heard of a barometer? If not, it's a device used to measure the atmospheric pressure (aka the weight of the atmosphere).
According to Dr. Braunstein, barometric pressure headaches (and some joint pain!) are induced by drops in atmospheric barometric pressure, which are often accompanied by increased humidity and precipitation. Head pain occurs when a pressure gradient is created between the outside air and the air spaces in your head or sinuses.
Barometric pressure headaches often resemble migraines (side effects include sensitivity to sound or light and induced nausea) or tension headaches (which can cause pressure sensations on your temples or around the head), Dr. Braunstein says.
Many migraine sufferers often experience increased frequency of their headaches with drops in barometric pressure, too.
With all that said, it can be difficult to differentiate barometric pressure headaches from other headache types — but it's not impossible. Dr. Braunstein recommends keeping a detailed headache diary that includes suspected triggers, including the weather: "Headaches which recur with similar symptoms, and are more common on humid or rainy days are highly suspicious for barometric pressure headaches."
Dr. Braunstein suggests trying out free weather apps (like Barometer Plus, for example!) that provide barometric pressure forecasts or alert you when there is a drop, which can assist you in monitoring your symptoms.
Another way to avoid barometric pressure headaches is by paying close attention to your travel plans. Dr. Braunstein says that changes in altitude (like traveling down from mountain regions or flying) can induce or worsen barometric pressure headaches.
If you need relief and believe barometric pressure headaches are the root of your pain, it's important to first get evaluated by a doctor, Dr. Braunstein says — common treatments include acetaminophen, NSAIDs, antinausea medications, or migraine-specific medications.
Now that I know I'm not alone in my pain, I plan on starting a new league of real-life superheroes that can predict weather patterns — I'll be accepting applications shortly.