triggers Any number of triggers can bring on a migraine, including such different factors as drinking alcohol, experiencing a change in the weather, and not getting enough sleep. Now one researcher has determined that these common migraine triggers and a host of others can produce oxidative stress in the brain. Such stress is marked by a build-up of damaging molecules called free radicals and can lead to pain. In a study published recently in Headache, Jonathan Borkum, PhD, of the University of Maine’s Department of Psychology, evaluated 2,000 studies about migraine triggers published between 1990 and 2014 and found that nearly all common migraine triggers are capable of generating oxidative stress. Based on those findings, he stated he believes oxidative stress can be a unifying principle behind the types of triggers countless migraineurs experience.

For many years, migraineurs have believed that changes in weather trigger their headaches, yet studies about this subject have been contradictory, with some research seeming to prove them right and other research indicating the opposite. Recently, however, a father-son team of researchers led a study exploring the link between lightning and migraine. They found that when lightning struck within 25 miles of participants’ homes, for those who already experienced headache or migraine, the likelihood of developing a headache increased 31% and the likelihood of a migraine by 28%. Similarly, new-onset headache and migraine increased by nearly 25%.

Many people report that changes in weather trigger a migraine, and much research has been conducted on the migraine-weather connection. A small, recent study has added to the information on this issue and found that weather can, in fact, trigger a migraine, especially for those people who are sensitive to temperature. For the study, 66 people with a history of migraine maintained a headache log for a year, with roughly half the participants noting they were sensitive to temperature. Researchers found, however, that change in weather was responsible for migraine 21% of the time, and that cold weather was more often a problem than warm weather. Typically, the change in weather was associated with mild migraines and was linked to severe migraine in only 5% of the cases.

Tender Head after Migraine

Q. I was diagnosed with migraines three years ago and started taking propranolol to stop the attacks. Since I have been on the medicine, I haven’t had a migraine—until a week ago. I was on my way to pick my children up from school when my eyes started to go funny—seeing zigzag lines—and I knew a migraine was about to start. By the time I got home, my right arm and the right side of my face were numb, and then the pounding headache started. I went straight to bed, and the migraine headache lasted until the next day. This is typical of my headaches except for one thing—my head is still tender and sore to touch, and it feels like my hair hurts. I just want some reassurance that this is normal. Should I be feeling like this a week after having a migraine?

Q. I have suffered from migraines without aura for most of my life. I recently moved from Wisconsin to Arizona and had a substantial increase in migraines during the recent monsoon season. There is an excessive amount of lightning, which strikes the ground repeatedly during storms, and thunder as well. The barometric pressure elevates to as much as 30.28 inches. Has there been any research that would indicate that lightning, thunder and elevated barometric pressure can affect the brain and trigger these migraines? I use Imitrex® to abort my headaches, but take so many in the course of a week, I am concerned it will affect my heart. Is there anything I can do to avoid so many headaches, short of moving?

Spring Although summer is just around the corner, many people continue to experience headaches because of unpredictable spring environmental factors. In fact, it may be possible that headache sufferers can predict undesirable rainy spring weather. According to a 2008 NHF survey, 69% of respondents reported that a change in barometric pressure triggered a headache. And although the relationship between headaches and allergies is still disputed, 33% of respondents reported headaches that were associated with mold allergies.

Q. I was recently told that aspartame is a major migraine headache trigger. I searched the internet and I found that there has been at least one scientific study that showed a somewhat higher connection between aspartame and migraines. However, most of the internet "uproar" about aspartame appeared to be anecdotal. Is there any connection between aspartame and migraine?

Autumn Weather The environmental factors that can provoke a migraine are extremely variable and affect only a small proportion of migraine sufferers. Environmental factors that can trigger a migraine include a change in climate or weather (such as a change in humidity or temperature), a change in altitude or barometric pressure, high winds, traveling, or a change in routine. Other environmental triggers include a bright or flickering light (sunlight reflections, glare, fluorescent lighting, television, or movies), extremes of heat and sound, and intense smells or vapors.