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Does air pollution or weather trigger headaches?

A new study shows that higher temperatures and lower barometric air pressure may lead to a higher, short-term risk of headaches, but air pollution may not have a significant effect on headache. The research is published in the March 10, 2009, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

For the study, researchers looked at 7,054 people who were diagnosed with headache in a Boston emergency department over seven years. Scientists then compared temperature levels, barometric pressure, humidity and other air pollutant or weather factors during one to three days leading up to the hospital visit.

The study found that higher temperatures increased the risk of headache. The risk went up by 7.5 percent for every five degree Celsius increase in temperature. Lower barometric air pressure within the two or three days leading up to a person's hospital visit also increased the risk of non-migraine headaches. Air pollution levels had no affect on the risk of headache in the study.

"Air temperature and pressure have been widely cited as a possible trigger for headaches, particularly migraines, but the potential connection hasn't been well-documented," says study author Kenneth Mukamal, MD, with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

"There is growing interest in exploring whether there is any link between air pollution and headaches. While our study did not find an association, other studies have shown that air pollution has possible links to other health problems like heart disease and stroke," said Mukamal.

It is estimated that costs associated with migraines total 17 billion dollars in the United States.

Jenine Anderson | EurekAlert!
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