By Emily –
Migraine management often starts with trigger avoidance. There are a myriad of triggers that can spark an attack for a migraineur. These triggers are unique to each person and can range from dietary to sensory to emotional in nature. Additionally, they are often cumulative, meaning the likelihood of an attack increases with the number of triggers one is exposed to.
Some triggers are easier to avoid than others. Weather triggers are some of the most difficult to avoid for the simple and pretty obvious reason that the weather is out of our control. When weather triggers are part of the equation the typical approach is to limit other triggers in an attempt to lessen the cumulative exposure and ultimately decrease migraine likelihood. Your ease and success using this approach will be determinant upon the severity of which weather triggers affect you.
It should be noted that not all migraineurs are triggered by weather patterns. According to the American Migraine Foundation over one third of people with migraine cite weather as a triggering factor. However, just like dietary triggers, one migraineur’s list of weather-related triggers may not be the same as another’s.
The most common weather triggers reported are temperature changes, high humidity, high winds, stormy weather, extremely dry conditions, bright lights and sun glare, and barometric pressure changes. A study by the University of Cincinnati found that even lightning could play a role for some.
This brings me to what I really want to discuss today: Moving to a more suitable climate for migraine management.
Let’s address the most obvious objection right out of the gate: Certainly, uprooting a life and moving an undetermined distance for the possibility of easier migraine management is not realistic for everyone. It may not even be beneficial enough for many to make a move like this. If someone is only mildly affected by the weather and has a slew of other difficult triggers that would be present in any location, this may not be the right course of action.
On the flip side, for someone greatly affected by the weather, it might be an idea worth entertaining. For those people, reducing such an inevitable and unpredictable trigger could have a very positive impact on their quality of life.
I myself am not currently in a situation where making a big move is an option for me in the near future. I would love for this nuisance of a trigger to be tamed but that is not my current reality. I manage my other triggers to the best of my ability to cope. However, moving to a location more conducive to the successful management of my illness is definitely a part of my long-term plan.
The weather triggers that affect me the most are barometric pressure change, cold temperatures, temperature fluctuation, and stormy weather. Other weather triggers do have an impact on me, but not nearly as much as the four above. Because of this I have not tracked other triggers as closely as these three. However I will be sure to do so before making a final decision on my desired future location.
If moving to a better climate is something that is intriguing to you, be sure to know exactly how every possible weather trigger may affect you. There is no location that is one size fits all. Each person’s unique combination of triggers will determine what climate and location will be best suited for their individual needs.
Keep in mind, along with migraine, I also have fibromyalgia. They are common bedfellows and go hand-in-hand when it comes to managing my triggers. This is why I am not affected by heat the way many migraineurs are. Fibromyalgia wants to be in the warmth and hates the cold. I still do not spend excessive amounts of time in heat, and very hot days will affect me negatively, but I have not gotten a migraine solely from high temperatures as far as I am aware.
Where To Go
Changes in barometric pressure are my biggest struggle. When first learning about how barometric pressure change can trigger migraines I stumbled upon a fantastic resource: a list of US locations and their yearly amounts of barometric pressure change. The author gets his date from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). You can find a link to his raw data and additional global data here.
Notice the areas with the least amount of annual change? Miami, FL, Honolulu, HI, and San Diego, CA are among the lowest. As you probably know, these areas are highly coveted and it’s no accident.
Migraineurs are often called human barometers, and if your migraines are affected by the weather you can probably relate. However, everyone, regardless of their level of health, is affected by barometric pressure. People want to live in these places because they feel better. They may not realize it consciously and, if they do, they more than likely do not know why. Barometric pressure impacts everyone’s health and wellbeing. It is only the degree to which it affects a migraineur that sets us apart.
Of course, as a result, to live in these locations is often very expensive. That’s not to say that all the places that could be better for managing migraine will be expensive, or that these places would be the right places for every migraineur. But it is certainly something to be aware of.
Last September my husband and I traveled to Myrtle Beach, SC to celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary. The summer season is easier on me. This was one of my first clues that weather was one of my triggers. Through research I learned that it wasn’t only the warmer weather that benefited my health but the summer months tend to bring steadier barometric pressure patterns. However, while mid-September is still officially summer we were moving into a dreaded season change.
In the weeks leading up to our trip I was feeling apprehensive. At home in PA, I could feel Autumn setting in. Barometric pressure was starting to fluctuate more and I could already feel the changes throughout my body. I was worried that my illness was going to affect the enjoyment of our highly anticipated vacation.
Much to my surprise, I felt notably well all week long! At first I thought it was just a fluke but my intuition said otherwise. I remembered that a good friend of mine, who also has fibromyalgia and migraines, had recently moved about an hour outside of Orlando, FL. The area she now lives in experiences very little barometric pressure change. It has the same rating as San Diego on the source I mentioned. She had been telling me how much better she felt since moving to Florida from Pennsylvania. The difference was night and day. It’s been over a year since she’s moved and she feels markedly better on a regular basis. Conversely, whenever she visits home she flares.
Immediately upon returning, I started to feel worse once again and I decided to consult the list. Lo and behold, the Myrtle Beach area of has lower annual rating than my hometown. I then checked the site I use to track barometric pressure and it turned out that the week we were visiting the barometric pressure was quite steady; back home, not so much.
This may seem completely inconsequential. Of course I noticed a difference just as I would comparing a good and bad week back home. Additionally, the amount of annual barometric pressure change in my area only differs from South Carolina by a few points. Overall that’s not a huge change. However, I started to realize if I lived in that area and experienced just a few more weeks of summer weather, that could really make a difference for me. Could you imagine if I were living somewhere where the weather was substantially better for my health?
Up until that point, the idea of moving to a better climate was very much a pipe dream. This trip shifted my perspective and turned my pipe dream into a concrete goal.
My area falls pretty much in the middle of the pack as far as barometric pressure change is concerned. It’s definitely not the worst place I could be living. However, being that I live in a valley, we are liable to experience a lot of unpredictable weather. We experience all four seasons here so I do end up spending a significant amount of the year in cold weather. It also gets quite humid here and allergens are inordinately high compared to the rest of the country. It is definitely not my best fit climate.
The Hardest Part
Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live. I have lived here my entire life and have always said I would live in this area forever–not in the way people may stay in their hometown indefinitely out of comfort and security or fear, but because it is actually a great place to live.
I am 10 to 30 minutes from three really cool cities. I have lived most of my life in suburbs of those cities and within 10 minutes of a great mall and all the other conveniences you can think of. I’m also less than 15 minutes from some very rural areas in any direction. We have an incredibly high quality arts scene in the area, great schools and universities, and really awesome minor league sports teams. I’m an hour and a half from both Philly and NYC and we experience all four seasons without any great extremes. Additionally, my region is not subject to many natural disasters and isn’t home to many nefarious species of animal or insect.
As a kid I didn’t realize how awesome and diverse my home was but I certainly appreciate it as an adult.
I took the time to tell you all this so you understand I truly love where I live. Leaving this area I love so much will be quite difficult. I doubt I will find another with so many of the qualities I’ve grown accustomed. However, in the future, I want to be able to worry less about something I can’t control. I want a more secure handle on my life and my health. I can be a bit of a perfectionist and I feel I have come so far in managing my triggers that the fact that I can’t stop the weather from having an affect on me drives me a little crazy.
I know that no matter where I end up it will not be a day at the beach everyday. Unless I move to the beach of course! But having fewer days that something completely out of my power will affect me negatively will be worth it. I will always have migraine and fibromyalgia but I will do everything I can every day to keep them from interfering with my life as much as possible.