How extreme heat contributes to headaches and migraines

How extreme heat contributes to headaches and migraines

Audrey Pachuta first suffered from heat headaches when she was nine years old. During a softball tournament this summer in her home state of New Jersey, the heat was sweltering, and players on the field were exposed to temperatures over 90 degrees.

Strong pain, she remembered, and after every game there was a pulsing behind her eyes.

“I can’t see anything!” she shouted to her father after a particularly heated game.

Pachuta, 19, now knows that her vision problems are due to migraines triggered by the heat.

Since then, heat waves have become more frequent and longer around the world due to climate change. An estimated 39 million Americans suffer from migraines, according to the American Migraine Foundation. Half of migraine sufferers cite the weather as one of their headache triggers, says Elizabeth Loder, chief of the headache division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Here you can learn all about heat headaches and how to avoid them.

Does heat really cause headaches?

Experts agree that heat can be an important factor, although headaches are often caused by a combination of several environmental factors.

High temperatures are often accompanied by fluctuations in air pressure, direct sunlight and humidity. These environmental changes can trigger headaches in migraine sufferers.

“The migraine brain doesn’t like variety,” says Jessica Ailani, a neurologist and director of the Headache Center at MedStar Georgetown. “It wants you to sleep at the same time and eat the same thing. So big changes in temperature and weather are not good for migraines.”

Experts aren’t sure about the exact mechanism by which heat can trigger headaches, although heat can trigger processes known to cause headaches. Extreme dehydration can cause the brain to shrink and pull on the blood vessels that line the brain, which can lead to physical pain, Loder said.

In extreme cases, heat the function of brain neurons, according to neurologist Narayan Kissoon of the Mayo Clinic. Altered cell function leads to increased activity in the pain centers of the brain, he said.

What is the difference between a headache and a migraine?

Headaches are a common symptom of many diseases, Loder said, while migraines are a neurological disorder that causes headaches.

“It’s like the difference between sneezing (possibly an allergy) and a cold (a specific viral disease),” Cherubino Di Lorenzo, chair of neurology at Sapienza University in Rome, said in an email.

People diagnosed with migraine experience Headaches due to a variety of Factors including Stress, dehydration, lack of sleep – and yes, even heat, experts said. Women suffer from migraines more often than men. Migraines are usually accompanied by other symptoms, such as Nausea, tiredness, dizziness and hypersensitivity to light or noise.

Pachuta finds Relieving heat-related migraines by lying down in a dark room with your eyes closed until the pain behind your eyes subsides. It can detect a migraine attack early on when a mild headache is accompanied by a general feeling of “not being”.

However, in people who don’t normally suffer from them, heat is unlikely to trigger headaches, Loder says.

In these cases, a headache caused by high temperatures can be a sign of a more serious related heat illness, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, Loder said. It’s important to recognize these symptoms early, stay hydrated and find a place to cool off.

Dehydration can certainly impair your body’s ability to handle heat, but it is not necessarily the cause of heat-related headaches, the experts agreed.

Extreme heat can cause electrolyte imbalance as the body loses sodium through sweating, so it’s important to replenish your electrolytes in addition to water.

“Dehydration is closely linked to electrolyte imbalances because salt is followed by water,” Kissoon said. “Salt loss reduces the body’s ability to retain water.”

However, heat headaches can occur even with sufficient fluid intake.

Patrick Cortesi, 55, is a landscaper for his local school district in Bloomington, Illinois. Because his job requires him to spend 40 hours a week outdoors, Cortesi wears sun-protective clothing, drinks plenty of water and takes breaks in the air conditioning during the warmer days of the year. Still, in a region known for its seasonally muggy conditions that can cause corn sweats, Cortesi suffers multiple headaches during the week.

“It’s not just dehydration,” Ailani said. “You have to take better care of yourself when the heat index gets to that point… You can’t just drink it away.”

What can you do to relieve the symptoms?

Experts advise not to simply dismiss the matter.

A heat-related headache, especially if you are not suffering from a migraine, is a sign that things may be getting worse. Get out of the heat and try to cool down with a cold drink or an ice pack. Stay indoors in air-conditioned spaces and use cooling centers during a heat wave.

Drink water and electrolyte drinks to help your body recover. Add electrolytes to your water by sprinkling in some salt or lemon juice, Ailani said.

Then you can use the strategies that normally help you manage headaches, Loder says, like lying down in a dark room with your eyes closed.

Avoid known food triggers and reduce your alcohol intake, as it can contribute to dehydration, Kissoon said. Sugary drinks can also lead to dehydration, Di Lorenzo said.

Another seemingly obvious suggestion? Avoid exercising outdoors in high temperatures.

“This seems like trivial advice, but almost all cases of heat stroke headaches described in the literature involved people who did not follow this common sense rule,” said Di Lorenzo.

If you must be outside, sunglasses can be a helpful preventative measure, he added.

There are several proven over-the-counter medications for headaches, such as aspirin and Tylenol. Doctors may also prescribe triptans, which work by binding to serotonin receptors and preventing the release of substances that stimulate nerve activity, Loder said.

Recently approved migraine treatments by the Food and Drug Administration include CGRP antagonists, which target the molecule involved in headaches. Lasmiditan, which works similarly to triptans, may be safer for migraine sufferers with a history of vascular disease, Kissoon said.

Additional preventive treatments such as CGRP monoclonal antibodies block the action of CGRP and are taken by people with migraines regardless of whether they suffer from headaches or not.

“We recommend that a person with migraine who has any type of headache on six or more days per month take preventive medication to reduce the number of days they have headaches,” Kissoon said.

For those who suffer from headaches, it is important to contact their doctor.

“It’s not hopeless,” Ailani said. “There are many treatments that can help you get through these tough months.”