Painful Summer: Migraine Triggers Bring a Season of Misery for Many

Seasonal triggers can send many into cascade of severe pain and nausea.

ByABC News
June 30, 2011, 4:44 PM

July 5, 2011— -- It's a difficult time of year for frequent migraine sufferer Nancy Scuri. Certain weather and atmospheric factors affect her sinuses, which, in turn, trigger her debilitating headaches.

"If a storm comes in where barometric pressure changes, that can affect me and set off a migraine," she said. "I also have an allergy to tree pollen, which affects my sinuses and breathing."

The tree pollen season has nearly ended but summer still brings plenty of storms that can come at any time.

"I constantly watch the Weather Channel," Scuri, 43, said.

Scuri of Hauppauge, N.Y., isn't the only one who gets more frequent migraines during the summer. Experts say there are numerous triggers that can make summer an especially painful time of year for many people prone to migraines. Some research has suggested that summer is the worst time of year, but experts say it really depends on what factors set off migraines.

"Some people do experience more migraines in the summer but, for others, the winter is worse," said Dr. Joel Saper, founder and director of the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor.

Those who suffer in the summer might experience a migraine when exposed to some of these common triggers:


Losing a lot of water and sodium through sweating can trigger migraines.

"If a lot of sodium is lost when sweating, it can dilute the bloodstream a bit and when sodium goes down to a certain point, it can be very headache-provoking," Saper said.

A similar effect can happen if people drink too much water. Over-hydration can also throw off the balance of electrolytes, which can lead to a migraine.

Dehydration often occurs during extended periods of exercise, but physical exertion on its own can also trigger migraines.

Lazy Days of Summer

"Migraines can happen at a time of a let down from stress. When a person has a chance to relax, it may be the time for headaches to happen," said Dr. Andrew Charles, director of the Headache Research and Treatment Program at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles. "The first days of vacation or the start of the weekend are common times for migraines to occur."

Changes in sleep patterns can also cause migraines in some people. The longer days often cause people to go to sleep later than usual.

"People stay out later and sleeping patterns tend to change," Saper said. "People with migraines don't shift time zones well on vacation or tolerate different sleeping patterns well."

Migraines can also be caused when people don't eat at their normal times, which tends to happen in the summer. Maintaining consistent sleeping and eating patterns is key, he said.

Environmental Factors

Summer allergens, such as grass pollen, can also trigger migraines.

"There are also some studies suggesting that differences in the levels of pollutants may be correlated with frequences in migraines," Charles said.

Humidity can increase the levels of some allergens in the environment and can also cause migraines in other ways.

"Humidity can trigger migraines because when it's humid, you can pick up odors you wouldn't smell on a less humid day," Saper said.

Other summer migraine triggers include the heat, which can cause changes in body temperature; alcoholic beverages and higher altitudes some people might experience when they go camping.

Experts recommend that migraine sufferers know what their triggers are and avoid them if possible, but say even when all precautions are followed, migraines might still strike.

That's a painful reality Scuri experiences on a regular basis.

"As long as I stay on top of things, I'm OK," she said. "But I still get migraines one or two times a month."