January 24, 2021

3 Health Conditions That Stormy Weather Can Make Worse

A rainy day can spell pain and discomfort for many

woman looking out rainy window

A stormy day often puts a damper on outdoor plans, but for many people, it’s much more serious: Bad weather also can impact your health.

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Weather can affect a number of health conditions, including asthma, allergies and even headaches. Here’s how these three health conditions can be aggravated and affected by weather — and what you can do about it.

1. Asthma

If pollen is a primary trigger for your asthma, some studies suggest what you already may suspect — that thunderstorms may be linked to an increase in symptoms.

The theory is that the thunderstorms’ high winds carry pollen grains at ground level, which then get into the lower part of your airway. That can bring on symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and noisy or fast breathing.

“The pollen becomes airborne and more respirable — meaning easier to inhale— and that can set off someone’s allergic asthma,” allergist Lily Pien, MD, MHPE says.

Changes in the temperature or humidity can be non-allergic triggers for asthma, too. These changes can cause congestion and irritation to the lower and upper respiratory tract, Dr. Pien says.

2. Allergies

Rain can impact allergies, too – in a positive way at first. When rain falls, it pulls the pollen out of the air, which reduces the amount floating around outside. Good news if you’re a seasonal allergy sufferer.

But if a couple of days of sunshine follow the rain, plants start to grow and release pollen, which creates misery for seasonal allergy sufferers. They may experience an uptick in symptoms such as sneezing, stuffiness and even difficulty breathing due to severe nasal congestion.

“The pollen count usually drops with the rain initially,” Dr. Pien says. “But one or two days later the pollen counts may be even higher because the water helps plant growth.”

If this is you, over-the-counter antihistamines can help reduce your symptoms, Dr. Pien says.

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Then again, you may have allergy-like symptoms but test negative for any specific allergies. That means you may have non-allergic rhinitis, which can be brought on by sudden changes in temperature and humidity.

If this is you, Dr. Pien recommends speaking to your doctor. Some measures that can be helpful are nasal irrigation, which is spraying a saline solution in the nose and/or use of a nasal steroid spray, which can help decrease swollen nasal passages.

Molds also tend to get active and thrive after a rain, which can affect you if you have a mold allergy. Molds are parasitic, microscopic fungi with spores that, like pollen, release into the air.

Mold is found in damp areas, such as basements or bathrooms, as well as outdoors in grass, leaf piles, hay, mulch or under mushrooms. Mold spores peak during hot, humid weather.

3. Migraine

If you suffer from migraines, you may feel one coming on when a storm approaches, due to an accompanying change in barometric pressure. Indeed, recent research shows weather changes can influence headaches.

“More than half of migraine sufferers have a weather trigger,” headache specialist Emad Estemalik, MD, says.

The most common headache triggers related to weather include high or low humidity, high or low temperature, barometric pressure changes, or a change in the weather.

It’s unclear why a rising or falling barometer causes migraine. Some researchers think the change might affect the pressure in the brain or the way the brain blocks pain, Dr. Estemalik says.

Dr. Estemalik says if you suffer from migraines and suspect weather is a cause, keep track of when they occur and the weather around that day. After some time passes, you’ll be better able to establish if it’s weather-related or something else. Simply jot a note describing the weather on your calendar or planner on the days you get a migraine and note that you experienced the headache.

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The next step may be to discuss your migraines with your doctor to discuss options that can help you avoid the onset of pain.

Can rainy weather cause shortness of breath?

If you feel like you get winded easier when it rains, it’s not your imagination. Dr. Pien says it’s very possible, especially for people with asthma and COPD.

“Rainy weather can cause shortness of breath. It’s most likely when there are changes in humidity, temperature and pollen. And these changes can affect people with asthma and COPD,” says Dr. Pien.

Do allergies get worse when it rains?

Dr. Pien says yes, allergies can get much worse when it rains. This is due to changes in the amount of pollen in the air. She adds that some studies have even shown that pollen grains can rupture or burst, and then be inhaled by people with allergies and asthma.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, grass and weed pollen is higher when it rains. When raindrops hit the ground and break up clumps of pollen into smaller particles, those particles quickly spread out. This then leads to a sudden increase in allergy and allergic asthma symptoms during rain showers. This occurs frequently during heavy downpours.

And can rain cause sinus pressure?

Dr. Pien says definitely. “Barometric pressure changes can affect inflammation in the nose and sinuses, and then can be experienced by individuals as pressure and/or pain.” So when those skies turn gray and the rain starts to fall, make sure you have your sinus medicine on hand just in case.

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