Recent Study Finds Air Pollution & Temperature Are Migraine Triggers
Triggers All Around Us
As any migraineur can tell you, the better triggers are understood, the easier it is to manage migraine. And while these vary from person to person, there are many known culprits, including red wine, chocolate, cured meats, as well as things like lack of proper sleep and stress. Notably, a recent study published in the academic journal, Environment International, found evidence of another one; air pollution—especially during higher temperatures—can also be a trigger. 
Air quality is clearly a health issue as is—it can affect respiration and aggravate allergies—but this study points to yet another problem. Let’s take a closer look at what was found to get a sense of this potentially very significant finding.
A Broad Range of Breathers
Interested in learning more about environmental influences—specifically pollution levels and temperature—on migraine, Dr. Lee Hyewon and a team of colleagues from South Korea, assessed data from 18,921 migraineurs admitted to emergency departments from 2008 to 2014.  They then employed air quality data from 27 monitoring sights within their nation’s capital, Seoul. Specifically, they tracked presence of pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, and carbon monoxide, all of which were recorded hourly. In addition, temperatures were also taken into account.
Dr. Hyewon and the team relied on highly-sophisticated statistical analysis to help them comb through all that data. By comparing what air quality and temperature were like with rates of hospital admission for migraine, the team would be able to get a sense of any effect. Given the duration and extent this data was collected—as well as a very large pool of research subjects—the results would be deemed relatively reliable.
Largely, the team was able to confirm their hypothesis that level of pollutants and temperature would increase rates of migraine. Across the board, when levels of the pollutants were higher, there would be more migraineurs coming into emergency departments with headache and other symptoms.  The strongest predictor of migraine attack according to their analysis was presence of nitrogen dioxide, though all had a distinct effect. These influences were found to be independent of other factors, such as other health conditions and gender.
Interestingly, Dr. Hyewon and the team also found that, while temperature, itself, was not necessarily a risk factor, hotter days that also had higher levels of pollutants were more likely to bring on migraine.  This was illustrated by the fact that they found no significant differences in migraine frequency based on season.
Making Sense of the Data
Essentially, then, the researchers found there was a synergistic effect between air quality and air temperature when it came to incidence of attack. Notably, too, many of the pollutants tracked were those related to exhaust from motor vehicles ; since Seoul is a very big city—with a population of nearly 9.8 million—this is important to consider. As you might imagine, high-density areas like this are especially prone to pollution from cars, trucks, motorcycles, and mopeds.
This kind of research could not really provide conclusive answers as to the actual mechanism behind these effects; however, Dr. Hyewon and the team did have a couple theories. To explain why higher temperatures alongside higher pollutant levels might lead to more migraine, they pointed to the fact that the body natural absorbs more toxic elements when it’s hotter out.  This increases activity in the hypothalamus, a brain region associated with both thermoregulation and onset of attack. In addition, the researches speculated that heat causes people to spend more time outside, increasing exposure to pollutants.
Obviously, more work is needed to more fully investigate the scope and functioning of air quality-related migraine.
The Big Picture
What emerges from research like this, too, are more pathways to preventing attacks. Avoiding poorer air quality—especially in the middle of summer—might help stave off migraine. Furthermore, this work underscores the importance of clean air as a benefit to public health. With global populations on the rise, it’s evermore important to consider impact on the environment. It’s not just about preserving animal species; it’s a matter of human wellness. And if you suffer with migraine, keeping an eye on daily air quality and weather reports might prove to be another way to stay headache-free.
If you suffer from chronic migraine, in which attacks occur 15 or more days a month, the team at Migraine Treatment Centers of America can help. Employing the groundbreaking Omega Procedure, these experts have helped countless patients find effective relief from the condition. Learn more about what they do by calling (855) 300-6822 today!
- Lee, Hyewon, Woojae Myung, Hae-Kwan Cheong, Seung-Muk Yi, Yun-Chul Hong, Sung-Il Cho, and Ho Kim. 2018. “Ambient Air Pollution Exposure And Risk Of Migraine: Synergistic Effect With High Temperature”. Environment International121: 383-391. Elsevier BV. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2018.09.022.