Sinus Headaches

Why Do I Get a Sinus Headache When It Rains?

February 4, 2020

7 minutes

Reviewed by Michael Kaplan, MD

Many treat the idea of getting a sinus headache when it rains as though it is an old wives’ tale. But if you’ve ever suffered from weather-related headaches, you can rest assured that the connection between your headache and the rain is not just “all in your head.” 

However, it’s not actually the precipitation that causes your sinus headache when it rains; rather, it’s a change in barometric pressure that contributes to both the rain and your headache. Discover the science behind why changes in barometric pressure can cause sinus headaches, and learn about your possible treatment options.   

Why do I get a headache when it rains? Understanding barometric pressure. 

To understand why you get a headache when it rains, we must first understand the concept of barometric pressure. 

Barometric pressure and the “column of air” illustration

Barometric pressure is the measure of the weight of the atmosphere. The handiest way we’ve heard this concept described goes like this: Imagine that there is a column of the atmosphere extending straight up from the top of your head to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere. 

The higher up you go on the earth’s surface—like when you go hiking in the mountains—the shorter (and thus less heavy) the column of the atmosphere gets. There are fewer molecules in the atmosphere the further you get from ground level, so the column is also less dense. In short, there is less atmospheric pressure at higher elevations.

Meanwhile, the further down you below surface level—like when you go scuba diving—the longer, heavier, and denser the column becomes. (Note: Underwater pressure is measured by adding atmospheric pressure to hydrostatic pressure). Therefore, there is higher pressure at lower elevations.

How barometric pressure affects your body 

With all that pressure around us, why aren’t our bodies being crushed? Because, although we are not aware of it, our bodies are actually “pushing back” against the pressure in the air. And as our bodies move up and down along the column, the pressure in our bodies must also adjust to match. If our bodies move quickly up and down the column, we often feel the effects of those changes.

For example, imagine driving through the mountains, or flying in an airplane. During these actions, our bodies are moving from a (relatively) high-pressure area to a (relatively) low-pressure area. Outside our bodies, the air pressure has decreased, but inside our bodies, the air pressure hasn’t had time to adjust and is still “pushing out” with a force that matches the previous, higher air pressure. 

The build-up and release of this extra pressure are what causes our ears to pop! After our ears pop, the difference forces pushing out from the body and pushing in towards the body become closer to being equal in pressure.

This phenomenon exemplifies only one way that changes in barometric pressure can affect the body. Changes in barometric pressure have also been linked to changes in the frequency of migraines, the severity of joint pain, and the level of blood pressure.

Barometric pressure, the weather, and your sinuses 

A change in altitude isn’t the only thing that can affect atmospheric pressure. As air moves, it can bring with it changes in temperature, moisture, and density. These factors can also be affected by outside forces, including geographic elements (a high mountain changing the movement of wind, trees capturing moisture, etc.). 

All of these components interact and combine to create the barometric pressure of a particular area, which in turn affects the weather. But for our purposes, what’s most important to know about these changes is this: When air pressure lowers, the air is given the freedom to rise. Once at a high altitude, this air is able to condense and, ultimately, it falls as rain.

Meanwhile, the lower air pressure is also affecting your body. Namely, any part of your body that has air pockets—including your sinuses—will be at odds with the current air pressure in the atmosphere. This difference in pressure can cause pain in your sinuses, especially if you are congested or are dealing with other sinus issues.

So, while it isn’t rain that causes your sinus headaches, a forecast of rain is as good an indicator as any that the barometric pressure is about to drop, and that you should consider preparing for a sinus headache. For many of the same reasons, many people experience a sinus headache when it snows, along with other cold-weather sinus pain

What does a barometric pressure headache feel like?

Barometric pressure headache symptoms are the same as those of a typical headache, with the possible additions of face and neck numbness, increased sensitivity to light, nausea, and vomiting. Patients may experience pain on one side or both sides of the head. 

Not sure if you’re having a sinus headache when it rains or another kind of headache? Check your symptoms against other types of headaches as you read or article: How do you know if you have a sinus headache?

Check your understanding: What barometric pressure level causes headaches?

Trick question. It’s not a specific barometric pressure level that causes a sinus headache when it rains. Rather, it’s the change from a higher barometric pressure level to a lower one that leads to sinus pain. 

A better question would be “How much does the barometric pressure need to change in order to increase the likelihood of a headache?”

While the exact answer has yet to be pinpointed, we can already say with confidence that the answer is “not much.” In fact, a recent study performed by Vincent Martin, MD of the Headache and Facial Pain Center shows that a “drop in the mean daily barometric pressure of 0.05 mm Hg or less from one day to the next” significantly increases the likelihood of headaches and migraines. 

How do you get rid of a sinus headache? Balloon sinuplasty may help.

Patients who get a sinus headache when it rains often feel at a loss as to what to do to treat their headaches. It’s not like we can change the weather at will! But fortunately, there are weather-related sinus headache treatments that can provide these patients with relief.

For those who only occasionally experience a sinus headache when it rains, simple preventative actions might help reduce or eliminate symptoms. For more information on these solutions, read our article on How to Prevent Sinus Headaches.

Many patients who suffer from a sinus headache when it rains on a regular basis, however, seek a more long-term solution. One of these solutions is a relatively new treatment called balloon sinuplasty. 

Balloon sinuplasty is an in-office, minimally invasive procedure that can provide long-lasting sinus pain relief in less than 20 minutes. During the procedure, your ENT in Houston places inflates a tiny, endoscopic balloon within your sinuses, expanding them and thus restoring proper drainage. Balloon sinuplasty requires minimal recovery time (often less than 24 hours) and has been widely successful. 

Tired of getting a sinus headache when it rains? Visit Kaplan Sinus Relief.

If you frequently get a sinus headache when it rains, living in humid Houston can be a very, very trying experience. Luckily, Houston is also home to one of the best providers of balloon sinuplasty in the nation: Dr. Kaplan. 

Dr. Michael Kaplan has been a pioneer of the balloon sinuplasty, helping thousands of Houstonians breathe easier again, and teaching doctors everywhere how to perform the procedure. At Kaplan sinus relief, he has made it possible for patients to use the latest and safest technology during balloon sinuplasty, including TGS navigation and IV sedation.

You don’t have to live with a sinus headache that won’t go away. To see if you are a candidate for the balloon sinuplasty procedure, call Kaplan Sinus Relief at 713-766-1818 or contact us online today.

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