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fall seasonal headache triggers

Seasonal Migraine and Headache Sufferers: Know Your Potential Fall Triggers

Fall offers plenty to enjoy, but the headache can be downright painful for some headache sufferers.

Autumn is a favorite time of year for many: The smell of candy corn, the feel of your favorite cozy sweater and picturesque landscapes filled with shades of red, orange and yellow. What’s not to love?

The season might actually feel like the absolute worst time of year for some headache sufferers. Several studies back that up, providing evidence that people experience significantly more headaches of all types from September through November. 1 In fact, one small study found that seasonal migraine attacks were more common in adults during the autumn than other seasons. 2

Why? The most obvious reason might be that the weather changes dramatically during the fall. For example, a recent study found that not only were patients with a history of cluster headaches more likely to suffer in autumn, but also that these attacks were related to temperature changes, especially time periods that follow warm weather. 3

To make matters worse, weather changes can mean allergies for some, and some people can suffer from both allergies and migraines. In fact, 50 percent of allergy sufferers in one study also experienced migraines. 4 Migraines can also be misdiagnosed as sinus headaches.

Dropping temperatures and shorter days also lead us to spend more time indoors (perhaps staying warm by a fireplace?), and that lack of sunshine could be another seasonal headache trigger. Our skin produces vitamin D by being exposed to the sun, so our vitamin D levels drop when we aren’t outside as much. Researchers have found that the increased frequency of headaches actually mirrors drops in vitamin D levels, suggesting that vitamin D plays some role in triggering headaches. 3

If you were asked as a kid what’s so headache-inducing about the fall, you might have said going back to school. Turns out, that’s not so far from the truth. The transition from summer days to school days could very well mean less sleep and more stress for kids and parents alike, both of which are headache for some. 6

Fall also brings a load of celebrations for the wine harvest season. But not so fast —  red wine contains a compound called tyramine, which may be a migraine for some. And it may be more prone to triggering headaches in some people, thanks in part to the fact that it contains histamines. 7

And another source of stress is just around the corner — the holidays. Preparing Thanksgiving dinner and fighting off other shoppers to get the door-buster Black Friday specials could understandably produce a headache in some.

But don’t get down about all the potential headache triggers of the season. If you begin recognize your triggers (possibly by starting a headache diary), you may be able to prevent headaches before they start — and hopefully enjoy jumping into leaf piles and sipping hot apple cider with family and friends.

  1. Lee YJ, Chen YT, Ou SM, et al. Temperature variation and the incidence of cluster headache periods: A nationwide population study. Cephalalgia. 2014;
  2. Ozturk A, Degirmenci Y, Tokmak B, Tokmak A. Frequency of migraine in patients with allergic rhinitis. Pak J Med Sci. 2013;29(2):528-31.
  3. Prakash S, Mehta NC, Dabhi AS, Lakhani O, Khilari M, Shah ND. The prevalence of headache may be related with the latitude: a possible role of Vitamin D insufficiency?. J Headache Pain. 2010;11(4):301-7.
  4. Houle TT, Butschek RA, Turner DP, Smitherman TA, Rains JC, Penzien DB. Stress and sleep duration predict headache severity in chronic headache sufferers. Pain. 2012;153(12):2432-40.
  5. Krymchantowski AV, Da cunha jevoux C. Wine and headache. Headache. 2014;54(6):967-75.
  6. Caperell K, Pitetti R. Seasonal variation of presentation for headache in a pediatric emergency department. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2014;30(3):174-6.
  7. Cull RE. Barometric pressure and other factors in migraine. Headache. 1981;21(3):102-4.

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