Do you notice a change in the way you feel when the weather shifts? If so, you’re not alone, nor are you imagining it. Some people are more sensitive than others to changes in barometric pressure, also known as atmospheric pressure, which typically decreases when weather conditions worsen.
While it can be difficult to identify barometric pressure as the definitive cause of certain issues, it’s worth keeping track of problems or concerns that seem to flare up when the clouds roll in.
San Diego has had more rain this year than usual. And with the fluctuating sunny-then-rainy days come swings in temperature, pressure or humidity that can affect the way we physically feel.
“The most commonly reported result of changes in barometric pressure on our health is associated with headaches and migraines,” says Dr. Joseph Aquilina, a family medicine doctor and chief medical officer of SharpCare Medical Group. “The likelihood of a headache is also increased if there is already any congestion or blockage in the sinuses.”
While much that is written about barometric pressure focuses on the changes we experience when traveling to high altitudes, the effects of weather-inspired changes in atmospheric pressure can be experienced without even leaving home.
How barometric pressure affects the body
Dr. Aquilina says the science behind it helps explain why. Barometric pressure is the main determinant of the partial pressure of oxygen in the air that we breathe. As the barometric pressure changes, there is a direct effect on that partial pressure of oxygen. So just as that pressure of oxygen in our blood decreases when we go to high altitudes, it also decreases when the barometric pressure goes down during a change in the weather.
So why the headache?
“The blood supply to our brains is very sensitive to changes in oxygen,” says Dr. Aquilina. “To increase oxygen delivery to the brain, the body naturally dilates cerebral blood vessels. This increases blood flow to the brain but can trigger a headache.”
There are, however, ways to get ahead of potential issues.
How to manage weather-related health symptoms
“Weather changes are unavoidable, so you should try to mitigate the effect in general by getting plenty of rest, staying well-hydrated, decreasing stress and avoiding excess alcohol.”
If you have prescription medication for headaches or for sinus issues, be sure to take it as prescribed. If headaches are a problem, try taking acute headache medication early, right when the symptoms begin.
In addition to headaches, some people may experience joint pain when barometric pressure decreases (remember the “I can feel it in my bones” weather predictors of days gone by?). It’s helpful to track these incidents, to anticipate any joint pain ahead of a coming weather shift. This way, you can hopefully offset it with a medication you may already take for this issue, or through exercise, stretches or any other remedy you’ve found that eases your pain.
If changes in the weather seem to have an effect on you, you’re likely to experience side effects of high altitudes as well. Dr. Aquilina suggests that anyone living below 5,000 feet should avoid rapid ascent to high altitudes of greater than 9,000 feet, and should check with their doctor to learn more if they are planning a trip of this type.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Aquilina about the connection between weather and health for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.