What Is a Barometric Pressure Headache?

Treatment for a barometric pressure headache includes lowering blood pressure.
The changes in air pressure that accompany storms can also create headaches.
Some people suffer migraine headaches when the atmosphere is electrically charged.
A commonly applied relaxation technique for a barometric pressure headache is aroma therapy.
Barometric pressure headaches often resemble sinus headaches, and can occur on one side or both sides of the head.
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  • Written By: T. Flanagan
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2014
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A barometric pressure headache is a type of migraine headache that is caused by a change in atmospheric air pressure and is characterized by a pounding headache centered on the front of the head and sinus area. Nobody knows exactly why pressure changes cause some people to develop headaches. Treatments include taking pain medication and taking steps to counteract the pressure change by lowering blood pressure.

Air pressure, caused by the weight of air pressing against the Earth, is called barometric pressure because it is measured by barometers. Barometric pressure is affected by weather. An approaching storm causes barometric pressure to drop, which is usually when a barometric pressure headache will form. The barometric pressure will increase again after a storm has passed.

Barometric pressure is also affected by altitude. Barometric pressure is lower at high altitudes, such as in the mountains. This causes some people to develop headaches while hiking, flying, skiing or traveling to new locations.

Many scientists and researchers disagree on exactly why atmospheric pressure changes can instigate headaches. One theory is that the barometric receptors in the brain, which regulate blood pressure when one stands up quickly or changes position, might be affected by atmospheric pressure changes. A similar theory poses that a change in the atmospheric pressure causes small pressure changes in the fluid of the brain.

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Atmospheric oxygen levels can be affected by changes in air pressure because of both weather and altitude. Blood vessels try to compensate for lowered oxygen levels by contracting and expanding, thus instigating a headache. High temperatures and high humidity levels can also trigger weather-related headaches. Some people also suffer migraine headaches when the atmosphere is electrically charged, such as before a thunderstorm.

A barometric pressure headache is often misdiagnosed by sufferers as a sinus headache. Pain can happen on one or both sides of the head and usually centers on the forehead and nose. Other symptoms of migraine headaches might also be present, including a pounding head; sensitivity to light, noise and smells; or nausea.

One way to treat this type of headache is to prevent it from forming in the first place. Doctors sometimes advise patients who take migraine medication to slightly increase their dosage if the barometric pressure is falling. Some people find that increasing their intake of magnesium when there is a change in pressure prevents the headache from developing.

If a barometric pressure headache has formed, the only course of action is to treat the pain. Pain relievers, whether prescription or over-the-counter medicine, are effective in dulling headache pain. Some people find that doing aerobic exercise also helps, because exercise stimulates the production of serotonin and releases endorphins.

Relaxation techniques can also be effective in curing barometric pressure headaches. Lowering blood pressure might help counteract the effect of the pressure changes on the blood vessels in the head. Meditation, acupuncture, aroma therapy, yoga and massage might be helpful in ameliorating a barometric pressure headache.

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anon930527
Post 5

Thanks for this article. I've always wondered what the mechanism for this might be! It always confused me because I assumed it was related to increases in barometric pressure (I have sinus problems and thought that the increase in pressure must be due to higher pressure in smaller spaces), but obviously storm fronts are the opposite. This makes much more sense now, and also why my meditative practice is the only thing that helps sometimes!

ProfessorMac
Post 4

As to why low barometric pressures, storm fronts and trips to the mountains trigger headaches, it is felt the (lower) pressure on the body causes a lowering of blood and intracranial pressure in the brain, and that the brain's CSF fluid must adapt by circulating CSF to help "constrict" blood vessels that dilate with lower barometric pressure. Medications such as Excedrin, which contain caffeine, a vasoconstrictor, help offset vessel dilation. Higher humidity also seems to contribute to migraine and sinus troubles, likely due to the body having to adjust its water output through the skin, lungs and kidneys.

Regular exercise can help with migraines and your response to low pressure fronts, especially exercises involving change of posture from standing to lying down, which helps the brain to better adjust to the acute pressure changes of a storm.

This may be why yoga exercises are so helpful, with the various change in posture. I do a lot of work with drumming, or drum circles. But I'd have to favor yoga on this one.

burcidi
Post 3

@MikeMason-- I get both sinus and pressure headaches. What works for me is using hot or cold packs and taking a nap in a dark, quiet room. If these don't work, I take a pain reliever with caffeine in it, caffeine seems to help a lot.

Some people get headache relief from cold packs applied on the head and forehead, others with hot packs. Both work for me, sometimes I alternate them.

There are also these warm eye masks that you can buy at the pharmacy or online. They warm up when I put them on and they smell like lavender which is very calming. When I take a nap with one on, I feel so much better when I wake up.

stoneMason
Post 2

I have barometric pressure headaches frequently. I live on the coast and whenever the weather gets windy and stormy, it sets off a headache that can last for days. Medications have not worked for me. Does anyone else here have these type of headaches? How do you deal with them?

fify
Post 1

I went to Colorado last month with a group from college. We were in Colorado Springs, we visited the Air Force Academy there. As soon as we arrived, our guides told us that the altitude change might affects us. They told us to watch out for migraines and nausea and to let them know if we feel sick. We were also told not to drink too much because alcohol affects people more at high altitudes.

After a few hours of arriving in Colorado Springs, I started getting a migraine. I told one of our guides and she got some pain relievers for me. We were there for three days and I was on pain relievers the entire time. The change in barometric pressure really got to me. For some reason, no one else in the group got sick. I enjoyed the trip but I don't think I'm going to travel to high altitudes again.

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