Allergens, carbon monoxide and other triggers of winter headaches; how to prevent them

The idea that changes in weather can trigger headaches, especially in people who are naturally more prone to migraines or cluster headaches, is well documented globally

Myupchar December 23, 2020 16:55:23 IST
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Allergens, carbon monoxide and other triggers of winter headaches; how to prevent them

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There are many people who get migraines and headaches throughout the year and many who seem to get them more often during the winter months. The idea that changes in weather can trigger headaches, especially in people who are naturally more prone to migraines or cluster headaches, is well documented globally.

But the explanation of why this happens more during the winter months has to do with more than just lower temperatures, although that might seem like the most obvious cause and rightly so.

A study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain in 2015 explains that people who are sensitive to cold temperatures are more likely to report an increase in headaches in winters and that these headaches are usually mild in nature.

When there’s a sudden dip in temperature between morning, afternoon and evening during winters, people with increased cold sensitivity can easily perceive it.

The discomfort it all leads to even when you’re indoors can add to the incidence of headaches during this season, the study says. In summers, however, these temperature transitions throughout the day aren’t very severe unless you live in zones where the temperatures do change drastically between morning, noon and night.

Apart from this association between low temperatures and headaches, there are at least three other reasons why we see an increase in headache incidence during winters:

1. Allergens

A study published in Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports in 2016 suggests that allergic rhinitis is one of the most common causes of headaches and may be easily confused with other causes of headaches in winter. It’s very well known that lack of ventilation in winters can increase the presence of dust mites and other allergens that cause allergic rhinitis.

The nasal congestion and inflammation due to rhinitis may in turn trigger headaches in those with increased exposure or susceptibility to this health issue.

2. Wet hair, sinus and posterior eye pain

A combination of wet hair and cold weather is believed to increase the risks of headaches by affecting the sinuses during winters, says a study published in Medical Hypotheses in 2012. It explains that when your hair is wet and the atmospheric temperature low, it cools the brain temperatures and leads to the accumulation of mucus in the sinuses. This, in turn, leads to headaches, facial pain and posterior eye pain.

The study states that it’s very important to reduce this cooling of the brain and flooding of the sinuses to prevent headaches during winters.

3. Carbon monoxide poisoning

To keep the cold wind out, people often tend to bar all the doors and windows and turn on room heaters during winters. This, as an old study published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine in 1987 suggests, leads to the accumulation of carbon monoxide indoors. What many people aren’t aware of is that headache is an early symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning, and so this indoor pollution actually turns out to be a major cause of headaches and even death in winters.

How to prevent winter headaches

Now that you know why winter headaches occur, it may be easier to prevent them too. The following are some key tips to remember if you want to stay headache-free during the winter months:

  • Keep the cold away by layering up and stay warm. Avoid cold exposure in any way possible.
  • Keep your extremities warm. Covering your head, hands and feet can help you prevent headaches.
  • If you wash your hair during winters, dry it quickly using a hair dryer and keep your head covered thereafter.
  • Taking steam at least twice a day can prevent sinus and nasal congestion and therefore cut off that cause of headaches.
  • Keeping your home clean and ventilated can not only reduce allergens but also prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Use an exhaust fan or kitchen chimney.
  • Don’t keep your room heaters or any heating device switched on throughout the night.

For more information, read our article on Home remedies for headache relief.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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