Barometric pressure and headaches
Barometric pressure and headaches? Are they related?
Yes, unfortunately for some people they do have an unwanted and annoying alliance.
When there are weather-changes including overcast cloudy conditions a pressure change in the surrounding atmosphere usually takes place. While this will obviously make things look gloomy outside for everybody but for some unlucky ones things start shaping out gloomy even inside their body. They will start experiencing bothersome headache of varying intensity. And this might stay as long as the weather changes persist or until they abort the headache with some effective measure.
Types of headaches
Some experience a migraine type headache and others experience a headache that resembles a sinus type. The sinus type is centered in and around the sinus and forehead area. There is controversy regarding is it really a sinus headache due to development of some congestion within the sinus, or is it a variant of migraine. It is difficult to conclude anything because we still do not have a diagnostic test for migraine.
What causes these headaches?
Although the exact triggering factor and the pathogenesis of this type of headache are not clear but it is assumed that the weather change somehow stimulates the chemicals, receptors and pathways related to migraine and other headaches. This may result in the dilatation of the arteries supplying the brain, stretching effect on the artery wall and sensitizing the nerve fiber endings that carry pain and headache sensation.
Similar arterial dilatation in the nose and sinus area may cause sinus type headache.
In typical cases there is no need of any investigations. Majority of the patients who experience this kind of headache are able to relate it to changes in weather. If cases are very atypical then an imaging study of the brain like CT or MRI is necessary. Sinus X rays or CT scan also may be indicated in some patients.
Obviously the best treatment is to avoid the exposure to such weather changes but it is obviously easier said than done. It is not easy to escape an hide from the fury of the Mother Nature, agree? But a patient could try whatever they can, for example staying indoors as much as possible until the weather clears. They can also try taking a cold or hot shower if one of them seems to help.
Patients should also experiment and find out what else help them; humidification may help some so try it. If a hot cup of coffee can alleviate the pain go for it. For the sinus type headache inhaling warm or hot air might help some. The patient should stay near a source of flame or fire and inhale the hot air, of course with all fire precautions.
Simple over the counter medications like naproxen ibuprofen might help some. Don’t consume them excessively as these drugs can cause serious gastrointestinal bleeding. Other OTC agents like feverfew, magnesium some multivitamin preparations might help some.
Prescription medications like triptan agents (e.g. imitrex), ergot preparations (e.g. caffergot) are necessary if the headache is migraine type and not responding to simple measures.
Read an interesting article related with Barometric pressure and headaches in journal Neurology. 2009 Mar 10;72(10):922-7, Weather and air pollution as triggers of severe headaches.
So Barometric pressure and headaches seems to be related for some unlucky people and hope we unravel more on its pathogenesis and be able to find better therapeutic measures.
A neurologist is commonly involved in the management of all types of headaches including the above mentioned type of headaches.
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