April Showers Bring… April Misery?

A recent article in the Inquirer brought our attention back to a subject that is near and dear to our hearts: what effect does the weather have on people’s health? 

As laypeople, many of us may have heard a friend or family member (or ourselves!) complain that their symptoms – joint pain, migraine, sinus problems, chronic fatigue, to name a few – get worse during stormy weather. But the link has remained hard to prove and mysterious for scientists and doctors.

For one thing, something about it does not make sense: our bodies are subjected to more atmospheric pressure change when we drive up and down a hill or ride in a big elevator, so why would the barometer shift of only 1% matter? Similarly, we get more humidity changes when we walk in and out of the bank on a humid day. We get more mold exposure when we take a walk in the woods in fine fall weather than during a February snow shower. What is it, then, about stormy weather that could possibly bother us? 

Truthfully, doctors and scientists have yet to discovery the mechanism by which so many people notice weather change in their bodies. Many theories exist, including that arthritis may sensitize nerve endings to feel the swelling of some tissues in response to external pressure changes.

Indeed, barometric pressure shifts are generally agreed upon to be the most likely culprit for the effect of weather on the human body.  But no tissue studies have been able to demonstrate any pressure sensors or any swelling.  Even the data gathered in clinical trials seem to support varying conclusions. The fact that both explanation and proof are elusive has caused many, logically, to doubt the existence of such a link. 

Anyone who has taken care of patients with chronic conditions that seem to respond to weather is less likely to be skeptical. When I look at the variation in the clinical data, I reach the conclusion that the link exists, but is quite complicated and is different in different people. Are you someone who’s symptoms respond to weather? Would you like to know for sure? 

About 9 years ago, a family member of mine—who is not a doctor, but instead a computer nerd—decided to investigate this link for his own migraine headaches. His initial blog post correlating the daily barometer shifts with his own symptoms became the basis of an entire online community of migraineurs and helped many people with managing their headaches. The blog posted a map of the world containing areas where barometric shifts are the least common. Many reported that the map helped them to choose one location over another when relocating, and that they now have far fewer headaches!

Though it seems extreme to make life decisions based on someone else’s blog post, understanding the triggers for certain chronic symptoms can potentially help patients make real differences in their quality of life. The good thing is, you no longer need be a computer nerd like my family member to figure out what your own individual body responds to. Enter tools like Journal My Health. 

Journal My Health is a free symptom-tracking smartphone app that can be customized for use by anyone to track any symptom (like headache or joint pain).  It encourages you to take less than a minute every day to rate the severity of your symptom(s). You can also, if you wish, choose to track other factors that you think may influence your health, like stress, sleep, or your menstrual period. By automatically importing weather data, the program shows you if factors like barometer correlate with changes in your symptoms. Voila! 

Give it a try and let us know how it works for you!