Headaches and air pressure: when weather plays tricks on our heads

Painted image of man with hands around his face. Air pressure and headaches on Silver Magazine

Headache for days? Sinus pain? Throbbing head? Blame it on the weather

From sunny skies to stormy days, the weather has various ways of impacting our moods, activities, and even our heads. Headaches, migraines, sinus pain – air pressure changes can be the devil that brings all the pain to your yard.

I’ve had a headache for four days now.

Across the weekend (thanks for that) and now into Monday, and as we speak, now Tuesday. It’s kind of migrainey; I’ve got a swimming head, also sinus pain, and light-sensitivity. And I can’t even wear my hair up because it’s pulling on my scalp. And my tinnitus is screaming. I’m typing this with the screen as dim as possible, but I want to be lying in a dark room.

A quick post on Facey shows that I’m not alone. And the reason for this collective headaching is air pressure.

Air pressure and headaches – how does it work?

Imagine a balloon. When you inflate it, the air inside pushes against the walls, creating a certain pressure. Our heads, in a way, are like balloons. They contain air (stop with the jokes about airheads), and just like our beloved party decs, changes in external air pressure can affect the delicate balance inside our skulls.

…low-pressure systems bring forth clouds, rain, and perhaps a sneaky headache

In the weather realm, high-pressure systems are associated with clear skies and sunny days. On the other hand, low-pressure systems bring forth clouds, rain, and perhaps a sneaky headache or two. Or three. Or four, dammit.

When the barometric pressure drops, it affects the equilibrium between the air pressure inside and outside our heads, leading to those dreaded head-pounding episodes.

Sinuses under pressure

It’s not just inside the skull though. Our sinuses, those hollow cavities nestled around our noses and cheeks, play a significant role in the headache-air pressure tango. When the outside air pressure decreases, it can cause our sinuses to expand slightly. This expansion puts pressure on the sensitive nerves surrounding them, resulting in discomfort and, you guessed it, headaches.

Trapped air troubles

But wait, there’s more. Remember your balloon-head? Well, trapped air within our heads, particularly in the middle ear and nasal passages, can become a headache catalyst. When the external air pressure changes rapidly, it can create a discrepancy between the trapped air and the outside pressure, leading to that unwelcome pounding sensation.

When the external air pressure drops, our Eustachian tubes have to work harder

Let’s give credit to the unsung heroes of our heads: the Eustachian tubes. These tiny passageways connect the middle ear to the back of the throat, aiding in maintaining equal air pressure on both sides of the eardrum. 

When the external air pressure drops, our Eustachian tubes have to work harder to equalise the pressure, also potentially causing discomfort and headaches. I’m still not sure if popping your ears helps, but I have found myself doing it unconsciously over the past few days, so maybe.

Migraines and atmospheric shenanigans

While regular headaches might have their roots in air pressure fluctuations, migraines take centre stage as the weather’s drama queens. Research suggests that changes in atmospheric pressure and other weather factors can trigger migraines in susceptible individuals. 

There’s a lot more to this, without getting madly technical, around blood flow to the brain – or lack of – and dilation of blood vessels associated with the physical load that atmospheric pressure brings. A Japanese study of migraine sufferers found that low air pressure increased the chance of migraine considerably. So that’s nice.

So what is the right pressure for us?

Obviously this varies a bit from person to person, but as a rule of thumb, if you want to nerd out on this, ‘standard’ air pressure setting is 1013 hPa. hPa is hectopascals, also called millibars, and a drop of 6-10 hPa is good enough to kick off a decent migraine or headache. 

I did a search for barometric pressure in my area (Adur, Sussex), and it’s around 1012 hPa as of 8am this morning, and rising. Hurrah! Unfortunately, right now the forecast is an air pressure decline again from Thursday, down to 1004 or so on Saturday (15th July). I can’t wait. Screenshot below – I’m really hoping it might change as the week goes on. Sorry it’s a bit blurry – frankly everything looks a bit like that at the moment.


Graph showing barometric pressure in Sussex. Air pressure causing headaches on Silver.

Tips for weather-related headache relief

I have no clue if these things will really help except the drugs one, but I found some ‘tips’ for helping with air-pressure-related head pains.

1. Stay hydrated: Proper hydration can help maintain the equilibrium within your body, potentially easing headache symptoms.

2. Practice relaxation techniques: Stress and tension can exacerbate headaches, so take some time to unwind with deep breathing, meditation, or gentle exercise.

3. Use warm or cold compresses: Applying a warm or cold compress to your forehead or the back of your neck may provide temporary relief.

4. Consider over-the-counter meds: Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, or decongestants may help alleviate headache symptoms. I am not a doctor, so don’t take this as proper medical advice though.

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About Sam Harrington-Lowe
Sam is Silver's founder and editor-in-chief. She's largely responsible for organising all the things, but still finds time to do the odd bit of writing. Not enough though. Send help.

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