Does Lightning Cause Headaches?

A new study finds a link between lightning and migraines.
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Some people say they can feel storms coming. New research indicates chronic headache suffers might be able to sense lightning.

In a study online today in the journal Cephalalgia, University of Cincinnati researchers say that there’s a increased chance of headaches when lightning is nearby.

Participants recruited based on the criteria for International Headache Society-defined migraines were instructed to record their headaches in a diary every day for three to six months. For chronic headache sufferers, the study found that the risk of headache increased 31 percent when lightning struck within 25 miles of participants’ homes, and the risk of migraine increased 28 percent.

The way weather affects headaches isn’t precisely known. The study’s authors used mathematical models to account for other factors that could be contributing to an increase in the frequency of headaches. Yet even taking into account related effects like barometric pressure and humidity, their results showed a 19 percent increased risk for headaches on lightning days. Greater instances of negatively charged lightning currents also led to a higher chance of headache.

Vincent Martin, one of the study’s lead authors, is a University of Cincinnati professor who studies migraines. He explains a few different ways that lightning might trigger headaches.

“Electromagnetic waves emitted from lightning could trigger headaches,” he says. “In addition, lightning produces increases in air pollutants like ozone and can cause release of fungal spores that might lead to migraine.”

However, they say further research is needed to determine the exact tie between a pounding head and meteorological factors.