Cold weather can be difficult for many migraineurs. The stress of the cold, the change in the weather, and the glare from low winter sun, frost and snow can all play havoc with migraine. The air may be fresh and crisp but breathing it in can feel like being on an expedition in the Antarctic! At least there, the penguins know how to shelter.
Photo: March of the Penguins – Warner Bros & empereur.luc-jacquet.com
In two recent studies, researchers found that temperature decreases in winter accounted for an increase in migraine attacks.
- One study suggests a 16.5 % of variance in headache incidence in winter was found.
- In another a temperature decrease of 5 °C resulted in an increase of 24 in 8% of participants 
They concluded that those who reported temperature sensitivity are more likely to have headache increase during the winter, particular for mild headaches.
So, what can you do to soften the blow of winter migraine?
Skipping meals is a known trigger. In fact, it’s now thought that skipping meals is more of a trigger than any actual food – although, some people can point to a specific food that triggers their migraine. Keep a healthy snack handy or a quick supply in your car at work if you think you’ll miss a meal. If you tend to wake with a migraine, try to take something small, like a bowl of cereal, or slice of toast about an hour before bed. It may help keep the blood sugar levels up as overnight is a long time for a migraineur to go without food.
Wintertime is my favourite time of the year. I much prefer the darkness to all the light because light is my biggest problem when it comes to my migraine. However, the change to the dark evenings and mornings, the clocks going back, and time off work or school for Christmas can all interfere with our sleep patterns. Good quality sleep is essential for keeping migraine at bay, but also for memory and cognition so for anyone doing Christmas exams in school or college keep this in mind. Too much or too little sleep can also make things worse so try to keep regular patterns, no late nights or lies-in (not even during sparkly season) soz!
I know it’s difficult sometimes to drink cold drinks in winter; I love those soup ads where the cosy mittens wrap around the steaming mug of tomato soup, but water is essential for migraineurs. Dehydration is a big trigger. However, water can be boring, so adding some lemon/lime (unless citrus is a trigger), cucumber, or mint to the water to add a little flavour can help. You could also use warm water from the kettle with lemon and honey to flavour it too if cold water is too much. It’s especially important to drink water after sport or exercise.
Exercise in winter can literally be an uphill struggle, especially in terrible wet and windy weather, however, researchers are now finding evidence that moderate exercise can reduce the frequency and severity of migraine in some people. Therefore, regular exercise can be effective in preventing migraine. As migraineurs though we need to be careful; exercise with hard physical impact on the body, and breathing in freezing air when outside can trigger or make migraine worse, so smooth actions and indoor exercise can often be better in winter. An exercise bike or cross trainer might make a good Christmas present! Remember to wrap up though if you do exercise outdoors in Winter.
Keep your medication handy, but make sure you avoid too many OTC or other acute medications. If possible, use your diary or app to spot and avoid triggers and try non-medicated methods to treat attacks or symptoms, such as cold hats, herbal teas, essential oils, yoga and relaxation methods, leaving the medication for when it’s very bad. Incidentally some good ideas for gifts there!
Wear Sunglasses or Migraine Glasses
I’ve been known to wander the streets on a dull, wet, windy winter’s day looking like a movie star wannabe in a pair of dark sunglasses. I know that look you get when people who are not in the least bit bothered by daylight look at you as if you have ten heads for wearing sunglasses on a dull day. Just ignore the looks, pretend you are a star and rock those shades. The glare from the low, watery, and dazzling sunlight, the white of frost and snow, along with increasingly wintry weather can trigger attacks or make symptoms worse at this time of year. You could try a pair of migraine glasses such as those created by Axon Optics. In fact, they might be something to suggest to your secret Santa!
Obvious, I know, but we don’t always dress appropriately for the cold weather! How many times have you left the house without your hat or scarf when it’s baltic outside? I’ve done it myself, especially doing jobs around the garden. Staying warm and keeping our bodies at a nice, comfortable temperature can help keep migraine attacks at bay. Hot packs and heating pads can relax tense muscles. Warm showers or baths may have a similar effect and adding things like essential oils, lightly scented bath bombs or bath salts can make it even more relaxing. Again, consider adding these suggestions to your Christmas list.
Keep an eye on the weather! Download the Met Éireann app or something similar. Storms, wintery weather, low temperatures, thunder, lightning and other severe changes in weather and barometric pressure can trigger migraine and make things worse. High winds that are cold can be particularly difficult and not only affect migraine but give very bad ear aches among other things. Early warning could be helpful, giving you time to prepare and avoid other triggers or circumstances that might make things worse. You could ask Santa for a barometer this Christmas! Its honestly not a bad thing to have if you find changes in weather affect you.
For more tips on preventing winter migraine see the lovely graphic below courtesy of Axon Optics axonoptics.com/migraine-glasses who kindly gave us their permission to use it, as well as other information in this article. Axon Optics have an excellent blog with lots of information and tips relating to different aspects of migraine.
Nollaig Shona agus Athbhlian faoi Mhaise dhaoibh go léir!
Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!
The information contained in this article is for information only and not intended nor suitable to replace medical advice or diagnosis.
 Patients with migraine are right about their perception of temperature as a trigger: time series analysis of headache diary data Albert C. Yang, Jong-Ling Fuh, Norden E. Huang, Ben-Chang Shia & Shuu-Jiun Wang The Journal of Headache and Pain
 Influence of temperature changes on migraine occurrence in Germany Jörg Scheidt, Christina Koppe, Sven Rill, Dirk Reinel, Florian Wogenstein & Johannes Drescher International Journal of Biometeorology