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You probably know someone, a friend, family member, etc, who claims to have some ailment that tips them off to changing weather. In fact you might even have a bum knee or aching elbow you regard as your own built in barometer. I have always been a skeptic of this for a number of reasons. And many doctors are in my corner. Now I’m not a complete doubter, as I do believe it is possible. After all, many animals are hyper-sensitive to changes in air pressure tipping them off to oncoming rain. But new research is starting to show some correlation between certain weather patterns and headaches.
A study published in the medical journal “Neurology” looked at +7,000 people suffering from headaches. A research team from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA found warmer weather to be the triggering factor, especially for those with migraines. They found when the temperature jumps 9° F or more the risk of severe headaches rises 8%. OK, not a huge increase but it is significant.
While I have yet to see the reason(s) a rising thermometer can trigger a pounding headache, I can wager a guess. A day much warmer than the one before may catch a person off guard causing them to sweat more than usual. And dehydration is a trigger that causes headaches. Given the circumstances in the study mentioned, I’m surprised the risk only increased by 8%.
The same study also looked at a drop in air pressure. While a correlation was found, it was not as strong as the rise in temperature correlation. This trigger I am always skeptical about since we go through rapid air pressure drops every day. Air pressure changes when we change elevation or altitude, and you don’t have to climb Rib Mountain to see the difference. In the lower atmosphere an elevation increase of just 26 feet equals a drop of 1 millibar (air pressure at the surface in Milwaukee is a little under 1,000 millibars or mb). If we sit under an area of high pressure one day with a strong storm system arriving 24 hours later, we may see a drop of 20mb. Now we can top this drop much faster by going for a car ride. We start in downtown Milwaukee with an elevation of about 600 ft. An hour later (depending on traffic) we arrive at Holy Hill in Washington County at an elevation just over 1300 ft. That 700 ft. increase in elevation drops air pressure by nearly 27 mb. Or we could have stayed in Downtown Milwaukee and took the elevator to the top of the 601 ft. U.S. Bank Building for a drop of around 23mb. So if you think an approaching storm system causes your knee, elbow, or head to ache, then these scenarios that have a greater pressure drop in minutes vs. a full day should yield the same painful result.