Discovery News reports that researchers at the University of Cincinnati have found a potential link between lightning and headaches. The paper, published in the January 24, 2013, online edition of the Cephalagia journal is the first to find a tie between lightning and headaches, specifically severe headaches, or migraines, that threaten more than 28 million Americans. Other researchers have previously also linked high barometric pressure, high temperatures and high humidity with the onset of migraines. The findings could help chronic sufferers better predict and manage the onset of a headache.
Migraines, which are recurrent moderate to severe headaches, affect more than 28 million Americans. The Journal of the American Medical Association puts the figure as high as 15% of the population or more than 40 million Americans.
Professor of internal medicine and headache expert, Vincent Martin, together with his son and fourth year medical student, Geoffrey Martin used the results of two previous studies, which asked 90 migraine sufferers to keep headache logs over a three to six month period. The study population was aged between 18 and 65, and had an average age of 44. The Martins then compared the headache logs with weather data, collected from three sensors that track lightning in the Cincinnati, Ohio region, and five sensors in St. Louis, Missouri.
The results indicated that migraine sufferers were 31% more likely to suffer from a headache if lightning struck , and 28% more likely to suffer from a more severe migraine headache if lightning struck within 25 miles of the person’s house. This could lead to an extra one to three migraines per month, although Martin added that it depended on the individual and the weather.
Martin theorized that the lightning could trigger electromagnetic waves and create ozone, which could trigger a migraine. An alternative theory is that thunderstorms could create more allergy spores in the environment, which would then lead to a headache.
However, the researchers have not found definitive evidence linking lightning to migraines, even after using a computer model to account for other meteorological changes in the environment that occur during a thunderstorm.
The results are still preliminary and Dr. Hayrunnisa Bolay from the Gazi University in Turkey cautions that the study has many limitations. For example, the study fails to take into account the participants’ individual risk factors.
In other research, migraines are also thought to cause brain lesions, particularly in women.