Recurring headaches are one of the most common nervous system disorders, with an estimated 45 million, or one in six, Americans complaining of headaches each year. People who experience headaches or migraines regularly are probably familiar with different triggers for their headaches—such as consuming alcohol, increased stress, or changes in sleep quality. But what people suffering from headaches might not realize is that climate change can have effects on headaches.
How Can Climate Change Cause Headaches?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, rising global average temperature continue to impact widespread changes in weather patterns, and extreme weather events—such as heat waves and hurricanes—are likely to become more frequent or more intense. Experts suggest that the stress of these events can trigger headaches.
“Not only can experiencing an extreme storm itself be stressful, but the aftermath, where we have to deal with injuries, destruction to our homes or other property, and the loss of our possessions can add to that stress said Marilyn Howarth, MD, an adjunct associate professor of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine “This stress can cause people who are already susceptible to headaches to experience them more frequently or more acutely.”
With the increase of weather events that cause flooding, like hurricanes and other intense downpours, there is also an increased likelihood that storage facilities for chemicals and other hazardous materials may be disturbed, which could cause spills and leaks that can contaminate the soil, water, and air.
“A number of common chemicals, like solvents, are known to cause irritation in the nose and throat, and headaches, and if a high enough concentration of these chemicals makes it into the soil around our homes, or into our drinking water, exposure can cause headaches in some individuals,” Howarth noted. “Individuals may also come into contact with contaminated water while attempting to access their homes or evacuate the affected area, which could trigger headaches.”
Research also suggests that rising temperatures associated with climate change have an impact on changing foliage and pollen in some areas.
“These changes can lead to an increase in pollen that already exists in an area, or the introduction of a new kind of pollen in an area that has never seen it before,” Howarth elaborated. “People with existing allergies may see them get worse, and people who never experienced allergies in the past might develop them.”
Read the full article on the Penn Medicine Blog. By Kelsey Geesler