For most of us, April is an exciting month, because it typically signifies the beginning of sunny, carefree days ahead. But for some people who are living with migraine—about one in six adults in the U.S.1—the warmer seasons are riddled with triggers that overshadow the promises of spring.
People with migraine tend to experience severe throbbing or stabbing pain in their head during an attack, potentially in addition to other difficult-to-deal-with symptoms, like nausea, sensitivity to light, and vomiting, which is why migraine is not “just a bad headache.” Understandably, all of this can make even stepping outside feel nearly impossible during a migraine attack.
There is no single cause that drives the complex neurological disease, but anecdotally, some people with migraine say weather-related changes, such as lots of sunlight, heat, or atmospheric pressure fluctuations, can trigger an intense episode. And that’s in addition to the numerous other migraine triggers that may set off an attack, like stress or dehydration. It’s no surprise then, that spring and summer aren’t always full of carefree days for those who have migraine looming in the back of their minds.
To illustrate how this can impact a person’s life, SELF spoke to people living with migraine who expect worsened symptoms during spring and summer. Here’s how they deal during this time of year—and the words of hope they have for others going through the same pain.
1. “I come into spring and summer knowing that they’re going to be harder seasons, but I try to manage them better because I don’t want to miss out on life.”
“My biggest trigger is precipitation. This is unfortunate because as a ‘control freak’ I like to control a lot of things—and the weather is one thing I can’t change. Spring and summer are crummy seasons to deal with this as a trigger because it tends to rain a lot during the warmer months, especially where I live in Washington, D.C.
My goal for this year is to be kinder to myself, and part of that includes doing everything in my power to work around my migraine triggers as much as possible. I come into spring and summer knowing that they’re going to be harder seasons, but I try to manage them better because I don’t want to miss out on life. It’s one thing to be stuck in bed when it’s 22 degrees outside and sleeting, but it’s a different story when it’s 75 degrees and sunny. I want to take advantage of the sun and the fresh air!
I use a migraine tracking app, so I’m hopefully able to manage the migraine more than the migraine manages me. For me, tracking my symptoms makes migraine feel like less of a mysterious, unpredictable neurological condition because I can see patterns behind my episodes.
For example, I use timestamps when it starts raining. On March 5, I had a headache that started at 7:20 a.m., and I woke up at 4:09 a.m. on March 6 and saw that it was raining. Through tracking, I was able to figure out that my headaches start about 24 hours before it rains and that within four to eight hours after the rain starts, I am usually in a much better place symptom-wise. I actually give a little cheer when I see the rain—it means relief will come soon. Of course, it’s not a down-to-the-minute science. But it helps me know when to rest and when I can make plans to sip a seltzer outside with friends on a Saturday afternoon in spring.” — Savannah H., 27
2. “For me, going for a run without sunglasses is the equivalent of going to the gym without headphones.”
“During college, I noticed that I got more migraines in the summer. After keeping a migraine journal, I figured out they happen when my eyes are exposed to direct sunlight for too long. About 30 minutes in the sun is an iffy period for me because I can start to feel the migraine forming behind my eyes. Then, it creeps backward until it encompasses my whole head. It’s not a cramping feeling. It’s just straight-up pain.