Managing migraine in the summer

By: Andrea Quinn, Senior Communications Officer, The Migraine Trust

11th June 2024

Summertime is here (allegedly!), and with it comes ice cream, trips to the seaside and, unfortunately for many of us, migraine attacks.

Let’s take a look at some of the common triggers and tips suited for this time of year.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows!

Strong, bright sunshine can be difficult for people living with migraine, particularly anyone who experiences light sensitivity. Around 80% of people report light sensitivity during an attack, and many others feel that light triggers their attacks (though it may be the case that light sensitivity is more noticeable to people in the run-up to an attack).

If you struggle with light sensitivity during the summer months, you might benefit from seeking out shaded areas, wearing good quality sunglasses and investing in a suitable sun hat to protect your eyes from the sun.

Migraine glasses?

There are various types of glasses advertised to help with migraine and protect your eyes from certain types of light. At the moment, there is not enough high-quality scientific evidence for us to know whether these glasses help people with migraine or not, so we cannot recommend them routinely. However,  like many other approaches to migraine care, some people report finding migraine glasses helpful while others don’t report any benefit.

Allergies & histamine

Summertime also often brings an increase in seasonal allergies, for those who experience them. Higher pollen counts can wreak havoc for anyone who experiences hay fever. While allergies do not cause migraine attacks, some of the symptoms, particularly sinus pain and congestion, can occur in both migraine and allergies. In fact, people often mistake the facial and head pain experienced in migraine as a sinus infection. It may be the case that worsening of allergy symptoms in the spring and summer months may have a knock-on effect on migraine symptoms, making them more noticeable.

Jetting off

As much as we might look forward to a summer holiday, many people struggle with the potential triggers they encounter when travelling, particularly with long journeys. Check out our blog on migraine and travel for more tips on managing during any upcoming trips.

You can also check out our upcoming Instagram Live at 12 noon on 19th June 2024 where we’ll be talking all things migraine and travel and answering your questions! Follow us @migrainetrust for more details.

School’s out for summer!

If you are a parent with migraine, you may feel apprehensive about the upcoming summer season, and the school holidays. Navigating life with migraine is difficult, and the added challenges of parenting with migraine can feel overwhelming.

Children being off school can mean a disruption to your usual routines, which can be a migraine trigger for many. Not to mention the difficulty of coping with childcare while experiencing a migraine attack.

Helpline Advisor Oscar suggests,

“trying to maintain the aspects of your routine that you’re able to during the school holidays, such as sleep and mealtimes, can be helpful. Consider making up an emergency migraine kit with your acute treatments and anything else that might bring relief should an attack start when out and about. Building in time for self-care where you can is also important, as is reaching out for support when you need it. Our helpline is available weekdays 10 am to 4pm on 0808 802 0066, or you can contact us online.”

Weather changes

Lots of people report weather changes as a migraine trigger and, in the summer, this can prove particularly challenging with the temperamental nature of UK weather!

Temperature changes (particularly increased temperatures) can lead to mild dehydration and even difficulty sleeping during warm nights. This can in turn trigger an attack in some people.

Similarly, changes to barometric pressure (changes to the air pressure in the atmosphere) are often felt by people with migraine. It is understood that decreases in barometric pressure, as often occur before a storm for example, triggers a process of dilation and constriction of blood vessels, and so triggering a migraine attack. Research indicates that the sympathetic nervous system of patients with migraine is more sensitive to barometric changes.

Managing triggers during the summer

Of course, we unfortunately cannot control the weather but there are certain things we can do during the summer months to prepare:

  • Keeping an eye on the forecast: this may help with planning ahead, particularly for outdoor activities.
  • Having acute migraine treatments available when needed: If you notice weather-related triggers or symptoms, carrying acute medication with you can enable you to treat an oncoming attack before symptoms progress.
  • Staying hydrated: making sure to keep well hydrated and compensate for fluid lost on hotter days is important. Carrying a water bottle with you can be a helpful reminder when out and about.
  • There are various types of pressure-filtering earplugs which claim to help migraine attacks triggered by changes in barometric pressure: As with migraine glasses, we don’t have enough scientific evidence as yet to know if these work, and so cannot recommend them but some people who have tried them have reported benefits.
  • Stay cool: where possible, stick to more shaded, cooler areas if heat in particular is a trigger for you. Avoiding the window of time when the sun is strongest (usually between 11am and 3pm in the UK) may also be helpful.
  • If strong smells are a trigger, you could consider opting for fragrance-free suncreams.

Check out our blog on migraine and weather for more on how to manage weather-related migraine triggers.

Being aware of, and recording, triggers can be a helpful way to help plan ahead during the summer months. Not all triggers can be avoided, but minimising exposure to the ones you can avoid will reduce the likelihood of a migraine attack, particularly if combinations of triggers often lead to an attack. You can use our headache diary template to help with keeping a note of triggers.

Putting together a migraine emergency kit, with your treatments and anything else that might bring relief should an attack start when out and about, can be helpful.

If you would like more information on managing migraine triggers in the summer, or need support, our helpline is here for you.