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A front is coming

It is well documented that changes in temperature and weather can have an effect on physiological processes in the body. We have all experienced an increase in perspiration when there is too much heat or shivering when we are too cold. Throughout history the weather has been connected to many health related ailments.

In 400 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates taught about the direct effects of humidity and weather on certain medical conditions including migraines, arthritis and respiratory difficulties. Today, approximately 12% of the population suffers from migraine headaches and over 50% of these migraines are triggered by sensitivity to weather changes.

There are many ways in which the weather can affect physiological processes in the body. For example, when we are hot, sweat evaporates from your skin to help cool you down and when we are cold, shivering causes muscle twitches that help generate heat for the body. In extreme heat conditions, the heart rate rises and blood vessels dilate to allow more blood to reach the skin’s surface (blushing). On the other hand, in extreme cold our bodies constrict blood vessels to keep heat inside. These basic principles can help explain how migraines and arthritic pain can be affected by changes in the weather.

As pressure and temperature rises, blood vessels in the head can either contract or dilate to compensate for alterations in oxygen levels. Expanded blood vessels increase pressure on nerve fibers, triggering migraine pain. Barometric receptors in the brain can also increase vasodilation of blood vessels in the head with pressure changes. In the brain, there are numerous cavities and chambers filled with fluid or air. Pressure differences between trapped air in the sinuses and the air outside can also lead to pain when the nasal cavities are blocked. For example, if the barometric pressure drops, a headache or migraine can be triggered in a person who has a stuffy nose.

Many researchers believe that it is a variety of weather factors and not pressure alone that triggers weather related headaches. For example, bright sunlight, high humidity, dry air and windy or stormy weather can all play a role. The degree of sensitivity can vary with each person, although the most important factor is change in weather, regardless of fluctuations in humidity, temperature or pressure.

Research overwhelmingly supports the sensitivity to weather amongst people with arthritis. An increase in pain is more often reported on cold, damp days that have rapidly falling barometric pressure. Some people, depending on the type of arthritic pain, can sense in advance the upcoming weather. In 1961, J. Hollander M.D., a specialist in arthritis, demonstrated that high humidity combined with low barometric pressure led to an increase in joint pain and stiffness. He theorized that inflamed joints swell as pressure drops, which irritates the nerves around joints and puts pressure on the tissue. Additional theories exist on the mechanisms that result in pain in the body due to weather changes. One theory explains how bones and muscles have different densities and during alterations in temperature or humidity, the inflamed/injured joint and muscle will unequally expand or contract and increase pain.

Cold and dampness appear to be the main factors in the Great Lakes region. From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, these are two environmental factors that play a part in disease. Cold and Dampness are known n TCM as two of 5 Pernicious External Disease Factors (Dry, Heat & Wind are also included). Cold invasion in the body can lead to severe sharp pain, while Dampness causes swelling, heaviness, stiffness and soreness of the joints. These two climatic phenomena are known to externally influence arthritic pain. Interestingly, an “Aches and Pain” forecast for your area can be found by logging onto the Weather Channel’s website ( /achesandpains/).

Considerable research has shown that asthmatic conditions can be affected by many weather situations. Extreme hot or cold temperatures, changes in barometric pressure, humidity, wind, dry and damp air have all been found to affect respiratory function and increase asthmatic symptoms.

It is clear that the daily changes to the weather can influence our overall function and health. Are you affected by the weather? Does cold bother you? Do you get brain freeze easily? Does shopping in the frozen food section in summer bother you? Do you hate the cold? Do you always have cold fingers and toes? Do your symptoms get worse with air conditioning? Does your arthritis get worse on cold damp days? Do your joints swell in damp weather? Does the change in temperature give you headaches or migraines? Do you get tired with weather changes? These are just a few symptoms that are caused by sensitivities to weather and temperature. Treatments for cold, heat, wind, dampness and humidity are all available at Nature Medicine to remove the disease factor.


  7. Kaptchuk, T. The Web That Has No Weaver. Methuen Publications, Agincourt, Ontario. 1983.