The old saying about lightning never striking the same place twice apparently isn’t true when it comes to migraine sufferers. Lightning can trigger one to three extra migraines a month, according researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
In their study, 90 migraine sufferers in the Cincinnati, Ohio and St. Louis, Missouri areas were asked to keep daily diaries about their headaches for three to six months. Researchers then looked at how the headaches and other migraine symptoms corresponded to weather reports.
They found that participants were 28 percent more likely to experience migraines and 31 percent more likely to have headaches on days when lightning struck within 25 miles of their home.
“This study demonstrates that lightning is associated with an increased risk for headache and migraine in migraineurs,” wrote senior author Dr. Vincent Martin from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
“In addition, lightning appears to have a unique effect on headache that is unexplained by other meteorologic factors. The exact mechanisms through which lightning and/or its associated meteorologic factors trigger headache is unknown, but could relate to sferics, positive air ionization, or production of aerosols and allergenic fungal spores.”
Sferics are electromagnetic impulses caused by lightning.
Previous studies have suggested a link between migraines and weather conditions such as barometric pressure, temperature and humidity. This was the first study of its kind to rely on actual meteorological data, as opposed to an individual’s observations about the weather. The study was published in the peer-reviewed Cephalagia,, the journal of the International Headache Society.
“The weather has long been known to affect well-being and provoke the emergence of various symptoms in humans. Headache was reported to be one of the most frequent symptoms associated with altered weather conditions, “ wrote Dr. Hayrunnisa Bolay of Gazi University in Ankara, Turkey in an accompanying editorial.
But Bolay cautions that the study does not prove a cause and effect relationship between lightning and migraines. She says atmospheric conditions associated with lightning, such as dust, spores and nitrogen oxide (NO), may be more responsible for the headaches.
“The molecules and mechanisms generating headache during lightning and accompanying atmospheric conditions remain unclear. However, it is highly probable that inhalation is the major route for airborne atmospheric factors to trigger headache. NO and its pivotal role in migraine pathogenesis are well known,” she wrote.
Bolay says high levels of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere during thunderstorms may trigger an “inflammatory cascade” that causes a headache.