Lightning Can Trigger Migraines and Other Headaches: Study

Yahoo Contributor Network

Ohio researchers have published results of a study suggesting that lightning can trigger migraines and other headaches. The scientists hope their findings will help chronic sufferers anticipate an event and start treatment right away to prevent it.

University of Cincinnati (UC) health professor and headache expert Vincent Martin, M.D., and his son, Geoffrey Martin, a UC medical student, led the study and published the results in the online journal Cephalalgia, according to Medical News Today. Cephalalgia says the study included 90 subjects, 91 percent of whom were women. The mean age of participants was 44.

Conclusions from many studies about how weather factors like humidity and barometric pressure affect the start of headaches have contradicted each other. The UC study is the first to actually link lightning to headaches.

The researchers recruited subjects from locales in Missouri and Ohio. They determined that on days when lightning struck within 25 miles of a subject's home, the individual had a 31 percent increased risk of developing a headache. For migraines, the increased risk was 28 percent.

MedlinePlus reports that around 12 percent of U.S. residents get migraines. These headaches come with severe, throbbing pain and are three times more common in females than in males. Visual disturbances, nausea, auras, and sensitivity to sound are common.

The International Headache Society considers a headache a migraine according to established criteria such as pain, number of attacks, and common visual and auditory symptoms, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Around a third of patients can predict the approach of a migraine by the appearance of an aura.

Migraine patients tend to suffer from recurring attacks linked to various triggers like food, lights, hormonal changes, and stress. However, since the pathophysiology of these headaches isn't fully understood, there is no accepted cure for migraines.

Subjects in the UC study met the International Headache Society migraine criteria. They recorded all headache activity each day for three to six months. Mathematical modeling to account for any influence of other weather factors suggested that lightning has a unique affect on headaches.

The researchers hope in future studies to investigate the precise mechanisms by which lightning or associated factors trigger headaches. However, they speculate that potential triggers include electromagnetic waves lightning emits. Lightning also causes jumps in ozone and other air pollutant levels and can cause the release of fungal spores that could trigger migraines.

I have experienced three headaches diagnosed as atypical migraines. Doctors were unable to find a trigger for any of them but suspected mold or fungus in an old building and an anesthesia reaction. While reading the UC study findings, I recalled that when I left my room for surgery, I could see lightning and hear thunder outside the hospital window. A coincidence? Maybe not, if lightning can trigger migraines and other headaches.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

View Comments