Can Hot Weather Give You a Heat Headache?

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Headaches are a common nervous system condition, affecting 50%-75% of people every year. Headache and migraine triggers may differ from person to person, but headaches can be a symptom of heat-related disorders, such as heat exhaustion. Although heat itself doesn't cause headaches, its effects on the body can.

This article explains how environmental conditions and lifestyle factors during hot weather can cause headaches, as well as how to treat them.

Women with headache in hot weather

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How Hot Weather Causes Headaches

Dehydration

Many people look forward to the summer months, because they can engage in more activities and sports outside. But not drinking enough fluids in hot weather could leave you with a dehydration headache.

When you are dehydrated, you have fewer fluids in your body tissues and brain. Your brain tissues shrink and pull away from the skull, causing nerve pain. Drinking fluids will replace the lost tissue fluids to a normal level and eliminate the cause of headache pain.

Sun Exposure

In some cases, sun exposure can trigger a headache or migraine.

Photophobia is a term used to describe abnormal discomfort and sensitivity to light. It is a neurological symptom that involves the transmission of information between the eye and brain.

The part of the eye that transmits light to the brain is different than the part of the eye that provides vision. For this reason, even a blind person can develop a photophobia-induced headache.

Barometric Pressure

Barometric pressure is the air pressure level within the atmosphere. Summertime thunderstorms are one common cause of barometric pressure changes.

Research shows that even small decreases in atmospheric pressure can induce a migraine or headache.

Hormonal Changes

Hot flashes are associated with perimenopause and are caused by changes in estrogen levels. Estrogen works with a part of the brain involved in regulating body temperature.

Low estrogen can increase the body's temperature to an uncomfortably hot level, causing hot flashes and night sweats.

Physical Activity

Headaches can be caused by physical activity when the weather is too hot, causing heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body gets too hot and cannot cool itself back down. This happens more commonly during warm and hot summer months, especially when humid.

Other symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

Heat Headache Symptoms

Headache symptoms may include:

  • Mild to moderate pain on both sides of the head
  • Head pain that gets worse with activity
  • Consistent pain that is dull but not throbbing

If your heat headache symptoms come with confusion, slurred speech, weakness, or numbness, call 911.

Heat Exhaustion Symptoms

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Fainting
  • Dizzyness
  • Nausea and vomiting

If you start to experience heat exhaustion symptoms:

  • Sip water
  • Move to a cooler place
  • Take a cool bath or place cool compresses on your body
  • Take off or loosen clothing

Treatment for Heat Headaches

One way to help prevent heat headaches is to drink plenty of water and take breaks from hot weather activity.

Once you realize you are getting a heat headache, take measures to help yourself so that symptoms don't get worse:

  • Find a place to cool down and rest
  • Drink water for hydration
  • Call your healthcare provider if additional help is needed

Many headaches also respond to over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Talk with your healthcare provider before taking any new medicines.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If your symptoms don't improve after about an hour of rest and fluids, call your healthcare provider.

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if:

  • Your symptoms last an hour or longer
  • You develop even more severe headache pain
  • You are vomiting
  • Your symptoms continue to worsen
  • You experience a change in neurological function
  • You become confused or weak

Coping With Excessive Heat

Sweltering weather can be a challenge. But as much as it can be uncomfortable, sometimes high temperatures cannot be avoided entirely.

If you cannot avoid heat, here are a few helpful ways to manage it:

  • Keep a water bottle with you and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Check the forecast to prepare for hot weather.
  • Keep headache medicine on hand.
  • Wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothes.
  • Stay with friends while in high heat in case someone needs help.
  • Wear and reapply sunscreen regularly.
  • Bring a sun umbrella.
  • Sit in a pool or go swimming to cool off.
  • Alter your schedule to avoid the heat.

Summary

Headaches can be a symptom of heat-related disorders, such as heat exhaustion. Although heat itself doesn't cause headaches, it can cause circumstances which may lead to headaches, such as dehydration. Hot weather headaches can also be caused by sun exposure, barometric pressure, and physical activity.

If you have a heat headache, take measures to help yourself so that symptoms don't get worse, like finding a place to cool down and rest, as well as drink water for hydration. You can also take OTC pain medications to relieve your head pain. Call your healthcare provider if additional help is needed.

If you develop extreme headache pain, a change in neurological function, or become confused, call 911 immediately.

A Word From Verywell

Having a heat-related headache can be a pain, but there are many things you can do to prevent and treat them. Experiment with proactive strategies to prevent getting a headache, and ask for support when you need it, especially if you will be out in hot weather for an extended period of time.

If you are prone to headaches, continue to educate yourself about potential triggers and have a management plan in case one arises. You may also want to consider keeping a "headache diary" to help you identify triggers and prevent future headaches from occurring.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the stages of heat illness?

    Heat illnesses are ailments caused by hot and humid weather. People can get a heat-related illness from physical activity in hot weather, or even just by being out in hot weather for too long. Some of the most common types of heat illness include:

    • Heat cramps (muscle spasms)
    • Heat rash (painful and red skin irritation)
    • Heat exhaustion
    • Heatstroke (a life-threatening condition when the body reaches 106 F quickly)
  • Can you throw up from heat exhaustion?

    Nausea and vomiting are two of the main symptoms of heat exhaustion. Other symptoms include:

    • Heavy sweating
    • Cold, clammy skin
    • Tiredness
    • Weakness
    • Headache
    • Fainting
    • Dizziness
  • Does heat make anxiety symptoms worse?

    High heat and humidity can cause anxiety and even make anxiety symptoms worse. Cortisol, a stress hormone, increases during the summer months, leading to increased anxiety in some people.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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