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.
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.