Studies point to the connection between changes in weather and certain types of headaches. Thanks to a new medication, some can find relief as cooler air continues to arrive.
“Shifts in barometric pressure that happen when the weather changes may affect headache patients,” said Stephanie Goldberg, MD, Headache Specialist and Neurologist at Tufts Medical Center. “And shorter days can affect a person’s sleep cycle and trigger migraines.”
About one out of seven Americans suffer from migraine headaches. According to the National Institutes of Health, migraine and headache are leading causes of outpatient and emergency department visits and remain an important public health problem, particularly among women during their reproductive years.
Migraine headaches usually present with throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head, often at the temples or behind one eye or ear. Light and sound sensitivity, nausea and vomiting can accompany migraines. Women are more likely to have migraine headaches than men. For some, the pain can last for hours, even days.
“Many emergency departments aren’t set up to handle headaches, so often there’s no benefit for people with severe headaches to wait long hours in a noisy ED,” said Dr. Goldberg. “It’s critical to educate headache patients about their unique condition and what lifestyle changes, coping strategies and treatments might help.”
A new promising treatment
Dr. Goldberg cautioned against looking for a miracle headache drug, but she is optimistic about a medication recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called monoclonal antibodies against calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP). CGRP is a protein fragment overproduced in people with chronic migraines. The medication blocks CGRP and comes in an injectable form that can be used at home or in your medical provider’s office. However, it’s not right for everyone.
“There’s no one size fits all when dealing with headaches. Some find immediate relief with certain medications, lifestyle changes or coping strategies while others don’t find any,” said Dr. Goldberg. “Unfortunately, many of these medications also come with side effects.”
Often patients visit several providers and try various treatments before they see Dr. Goldberg.
“Some patients are at wit’s end when they see me,” said Dr. Goldberg. “Headache specialists should be good listeners in order to understand the type of headache someone is having.”
Although most of Dr. Goldberg’s patients have migraines, not every severe headache is a migraine. Cluster headaches, more rare, can also be very debilitating.
Another kind of headache develops from using too much over the counter or prescribed pain medicine. Dr. Goldberg warns about using these daily to relieve symptoms because they could make the underlying headache worse.
Her advice is to find out the kind of headache you have and start trying different treatments to get relief.
What is a headache specialist?
A headache specialist is a physician who has been trained in headache medicine. Consider seeing a specialist if your headache is:
- Unusual and does not go away after taking over the counter analgesics for approximately 7 to 14 days.
- Happening more frequently and accompanied by other symptoms
- Interfering with your routine activities