Do you sometimes feel like you’re getting a headache when a thunderstorm is coming on? Turns out, it’s not the thunder – it’s the lightning. That’s according to a new study that has found that lightning might affect the onset of headache and migraines.
The study, published in the January 24, 2013 online edition of the journal Cephalalgia, said there was a 31 percent increased risk of headache and 28 percent increased risk of migraine for chronic headache sufferers on days lighting struck within 25 miles of study participants’ homes.
In addition, new-onset headaches and migraines increased by 24 percent and 23 percent in participants when lightning was nearby.
Geoffrey Martin, fourth-year medical student at University of Connecticut, and his father, headache expert Vincent Martin MD, a professor at University of Connecticut, led the study. Geoffrey Martin said:
Many studies show conflicting findings on how weather, including elements like barometric pressure and humidity, affect the onset of headaches. However, this study very clearly shows a correlation between lightning, associated meteorological factors and headaches.
Vincent Martin said:
We used mathematical models to determine if the lightning itself was the cause of the increased frequency of headaches or whether it could be attributed to other weather factors encountered with thunderstorms. Our results found a 19 percent increased risk for headaches on lightning days, even after accounting for these weather factors. This suggests that lightning has its own unique effect on headache.
So why would lightning trigger a headache? Vincent Martin explained:
Electromagnetic waves emitted from lightning could trigger headaches. In addition, lightning produces increases in air pollutants like ozone and can cause release of fungal spores that might lead to migraine.
The researchers said that his study gives some insight into the tie between headaches or migraines, lightning and other meteorologic factors. However, the exact mechanisms through which lightning and/or its associated meteorologic factors trigger headache are unknown.
Bottom line: A new study, published in the January 24, 2013 online edition of the journal Cephalalgia, is the first tying lightning to headache. The study found there was a 31 percent increased risk of headache and 28 percent increased risk of migraine for chronic headache sufferers on days lighting struck within 25 miles of study participants’ homes.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.