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June 13, 2016

Is Summer Giving You a Headache?

by Amanda MacMillan

Headaches are an unpleasant but unavoidable fact of life. Just about everyone deals with them now and then – and some people suffer with them often. (According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 45 million Americans get frequent headaches.) But headache experts say that being aware of patterns in when and where headaches strike, and talking to your doctor if your symptoms are severe, may help you ward off future attacks.

Some headache triggers are well known, such as stress, lack of sleep, too much alcohol or a bump on the head. Others are more surprising -- including some seasonal changes that are particularly relevant right now. So, in honor of National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, here are four unexpected headache triggers you could face this summer:

The solstice

Nearly 1 million people suffer from cluster headaches, a rare but agonizingly intense form of recurring headache pain. Experts aren’t sure why, but the clusters often occur in spring or fall; for some people, they can erupt around the longest and shortest days of the year. (In case you didn’t know, the summer solstice is coming up on June 20.) Prescription medicines may help cluster-headache sufferers, so tell your doctor if you think you may be affected.

The sun 

For some people, rising temperatures, a drop in barometric pressure (which occurs before it rains) and other weather changes can kick off a headache. Bright sunshine and humidity are also common migraine triggers.

The picnic

Processed and cured meats (like hot dogs, deli meats and ham) can trigger headaches in some people because they contain nitrates and nitrites, preservatives that dilate blood vessels. Some types of cheeses -- especially aged ones, like blue cheese and cheddar -- can also cause pain, thanks to a naturally occurring substance called tyramine.

The vacation

If you’re a migraine sufferer, a regular routine is your friend – missing or delaying a meal or changing up your sleep schedule can trigger a headache. Sadly, that means sleeping in when you're on vacation could cause problems. If you’re a regular coffee-drinker, skipping your normal coffee breaks might also set off a headache. So go ahead and relax! Just wake up and enjoy the coffee, too.