Meteoropathy: why does the föhn give us a headache?

 Wetterfühligkeit: Warum plagt uns bei Föhn das Kopfweh?

Anyone who reacts sensitively to the weather is often ridiculed as a hypochondriac. But the fact is: it’s particularly when the weather changes that we feel an effect on our bodies. And for some people this is a real problem.

Every second person feels impacted by the weather

“Not the föhn again”, the office colleague sighs, her brow furrowed. When the warm wind from the Alps blows, she’s thin-skinned and irritable – and has such a monstrous headache that not even painkillers can help. “All I want to do is lie down in a darkened bedroom, put a cool cloth on my forehead and wait until the fuss is over,” she continues. But her boss is hardly likely to sanction that.

No medical studies available yet

Some of her friends also wonder: can it really be that the föhn affects someone so much? Or is she holding the storm responsible for symptoms that could have other causes? There are no clear findings. According to various surveys, up to 50% of people feel that their health is affected by the weather. This is especially true in Central Europe, where there are frequent changes: between high and low pressure, and between cold and warm fronts. However, no medical studies exist to date that prove a direct connection between weather and well-being.

It has been proven, however, that certain complaints occur more frequently in certain weather conditions.
Andreas Matzarakis, medical meteorologist at the German Meteorological Service

Most symptoms occur during a warm front

Föhn conditions are indeed tricky. Many people are agitated and lack concentration, and accidents rise. “We record the most symptoms when a warm front moves in,” says Andreas Matzarakis, medical meteorologist at the German Meteorological Service in Freiburg im Breisgau.

Most common symptoms of meteoropathy

  • depressive mood
  • migraine
  • sleep disorders
  • phantom pain

The body is constantly adapting to the weather

The fact that the body reacts to the weather is actually nothing special. It’s constantly having to adapt to changing conditions – cold, heat, sun, rain. Normally, this happens unnoticed as the body can easily cope with temperature fluctuations or changes in air pressure. At most, the effects are felt in our mood. Stable high-pressure conditions in spring and autumn are most likely to lift many people’s moods.

According to surveys, up to 50% of people feel that their health is affected by the weather.

Meteoropathy is not a medical condition

Little is known about why some people are badly afflicted and others are not. Our medical history may play a role. Meteoropathy itself is not a medical condition, but more of an impaired ability to deal with nature’s fluctuations. The body’s autonomic nervous system is challenged. This can result in a number of non-specific symptoms, including exhaustion and fatigue, or circulatory problems, especially if the person’s blood pressure is low anyway.

Chronically ill people can also suffer from the weather

Weather-sensitive people who are basically healthy differ from weather-sensitive people who suffer from a chronic illness. The latter find their symptoms increase in certain weather conditions, but these are easier to explain.

  • Joint diseases such as rheumatism can be particularly painful when it gets wetter and cooler outside.
  • Asthma sufferers report aggravated breathing problems.

Patients are best advised to discuss remedial measures with their doctor.

A strong immune system helps combat meteoropathy

However, there’s a simple method to help weather-sensitive people: they can prevent symptoms by toughening up, i.e. strengthening their immune system. Andreas Matzarakis recommends Kneipp baths, alternating showers or saunas. It's also good to get out in the fresh air and do some moderate stamina training. “Face up to the weather!” The office worker so badly affected by the föhn is determined to do so. “But only when that headache-inducing storm isn’t raging.”

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