Why we suffer from headaches before a thunderstorm, as Storm Ciaran brings low pressure

Woman looks out window during thunderstorm, but are thunderstorm headaches a real thing?
Why do some people get headaches in a thunderstorm? (Getty Images)

Been suffering from headaches recently? The weather could be to blame.

Storm Ciaran is set to batter the UK from Wednesday 1 November to Thursday 2 November, with thunderstorms, very strong winds and heavy rain expected.

It is also expected to bring the lowest sea level pressure in 200 years as it heads towards the UK from North America. Storm Ciaran has been described as a "weather bomb", which involves a low-pressure system where the central pressure falls 24 millibars (MB) in 24 hours.

Lower air pressure means stronger winds, particularly on the southern edge of the storm system. But it may also lead to some of us struggling with headaches and migraines.

"Alright so I get pressure headaches when certain storms roll in, this is the most pressure I've felt with storm brain before," one person wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Another added: "This weather triggered a sinus pressure migraine. Putting the phone down for a bit, logging off work and taking a nap. Video screens just make the headaches worse."

What causes thunder headaches? [Photo: Getty]
What causes thunder headaches? (Getty Images)

Do thunderstorms really cause headaches?

Several studies have found evidence that changes in pressure and temperature increase the likelihood of headaches occurring.

A 2017 study indicated a positive link between the atmospheric pressure and the amount of migraine pain a person experiences. An earlier study analysed more than 7,000 patients diagnosed with headaches over a seven-year period.

Researchers also scoured national weather data to monitor fluctuations in temperature, humidity and barometric pressure within 72 hours of each patient's headache.

As well as finding that an increase in temperature increased chances of getting a headache, they also discovered that headache risk increased by an average of 6% with every five millimetre drop in barometric pressure that occurred.

What's the link between lightning and headaches?

"The association between headaches and migraines being more frequent when there are lightening strikes or thunderstorms relates to a study back in 2013," explains The Living Well GP, Dr Sonal Shah, GP and Lifestyle medicine expert.

Dr Shah explains that a research team looked at 90 people in Ohio and Missouri and found that that on days with lightning compared with non-lightning days, the overall frequency of headache in their study was increased by 31% and that of migraine by 28%.

"It's not clear how lightning or its associated meteorologic factors might trigger headaches. However, according to the authors, possible mechanisms could relate to sferics, the low-frequency electromagnetic waves that emanate from electrical storms; positive air ionisation from electrical storms; or the production of irritable aerosols, such as nitrogen oxides and ozone, and allergenic fungal spores," she says.

Dr Shah points out that the study was very small and had a number of limitations, therefore, it is difficult to draw meaningful conclusions, but according to the NHS those of us who are prone to getting headaches could find that grey skies, high humidity, rising temperatures and storms can all bring on head pain.

"Pressure changes that cause weather changes are thought to trigger chemical and electrical changes in the brain. This irritates nerves, leading to a headache," the site explains.

Read more on headaches

The recent weather in the UK could lead to some suffering from headaches. (Getty Images)
The recent weather in the UK could lead to some suffering from headaches. (Getty Images)

If you’re a thunder headache sufferer, what's the cure?

While there’s not much you can do to change the weather, aside from praying to the weather Gods, the NHS suggests checking the forecast so you can predict when you might suffer and take a preventative painkiller a day or two in advance.

For those already in the midst of a thunder headache, Dr Shah recommends:

  • Going for a walk

  • Getting fresh air

  • Stretching your head and neck

  • Or seeing if gentle exercise may help to relieve it

"Simple analgesics that can be bought over the counter such as paracetamol and ibuprofen may also be helpful," she continues.

When are headaches something to worry about?

Dr Shah always recommends that migraine suffers keep a headache diary to monitor their symptoms to see if they can self-identify triggers causing their symptoms (stormy weather may be one of them).

"By showing these to your GP or nurse practitioner they may prescribe you suitable medication to take at the time of your headache or even tablets to prevent them occurring in the first place," she adds.

"When headaches are becoming frequent or begin to interfere with daily life, this is when you should consult your doctor.

Any headache that is sudden in onset, severe, associated with vomiting, drowsiness, confusion or a rash should be reviewed immediately by a doctor, she stresses.

Watch: Storm Ciaran: Red warning in Channel Islands, 85mph gusts and ferries cancelled as wet weather sweeps towards UK