According to the World Health Organization, more than 16 % of the population, or 303 million people worldwide, suffer from chronic migraine headaches. Migraines can be caused by a variety of factors, including lack of sleep, hormonal changes, stress, anxiety, alcohol, caffeine, and certain food chemicals. However, recent studies demonstrate that changes in indoor humidity levels also largely contribute to migraine headaches.
Can High Humidity Cause Headaches?
High humidity doesn’t directly cause headaches. Instead, it increases the production of mold, while clumping up microscopic dust particles. That, in turn, causes sinus and allergy troubles, typically resulting in a headache.
This comes from a pressure build up in your sinuses, causing them to strain, giving you a migraine.
How The Weather Can Give You a Migraine
Combine an increase in mold and dust with a humid day outdoors with no rain, and the pollen count jumps as well– meaning high humidity outdoors contributes even more to headaches from allergies.
Sometimes, when the temperature and indoor humidity levels change fast enough, they can cause headaches too. This is due to a change in barometric pressure.
What Is Barometric Pressure?
Barometric Pressure measures how much force is exerted by the air around you. That pressure can be from either outside or in a room–usually referring to the outdoors. Generally, the closer you are to sea level, the higher the barometric pressure. Two main factors cause this:
- the amount of gravitational force pushing the air down around you
- the density of the air, based on the amount of water vapor in the air
Relative humidity is a measure of the temperature and how much water is in the air. So the higher the humidity, the heavier the air is. That’s why when you’re in the desert mountains, the barometric pressure is entirely different than when you’re in a seaside town.
A Change in Barometric Pressure Can Give You a Sinus Headache
When the weather changes outside, the amount of air pressure and humidity inside changes too. You’ll often hear of people getting a headache when a storm comes in; this is because the increase in barometric pressure pushing on their sinuses is giving them a headache.
You can help reduce your headache by lowering the humidity in the room using a dehumidifier. By lowering the moisture, you reduce the amount of water in the air, causing the air to be lighter. While we usually can’t feel the difference with our hands, we typically can in our sinuses.
Some people with arthritis can even feel the air pressure change in their joints. Because of the lack of cartilage, their joints have more air in them, and the change in pressure on their bones is enough to make their muscles throb.
Can Humidifiers Cause Headaches?
If reducing the humidity in your room lowers the air pressure, then a humidifier must make it worse then, right?
Any fast change in air pressure can cause a sinus headache. A brand new humidifier shouldn’t cause you to have a headache. If the humidity is too low– say around 10-18% –then your humidifier can help soften and unclog your sinuses.
Our Sinuses are Sensitive To Moisture
Your sinuses use the air you breathe to help lubricate itself. Too much, and you invite dust, pollen, and mold. Too little, and your sinuses can’t process the mucus keeping itself protected.
But there is another way a humidifier could give you a headache.
Have You Cleaned Your Humidifier Lately?
Humidifiers spray water into the air, pulled from a tank. Usually, you don’t want to let the tank totally empty, or it could damage the pump. Other times, you may turn off the machine without using all of the water in the tank. Either way, this tends to result in still water that doesn’t get thrown out.
Still water is precisely what it sounds like: water that stays still. When water isn’t running out of your faucet or down a stream, it generates more germs, mildew, and mold.
This is generally why it’s not safe to drink or swim in a pond as opposed to the river or the beach. Whereas you can visibly see bacteria and pond scum, you usually won’t be able to see a build-up of bacteria and germs in a humidifier tank.
You Can Get More Than A Headache From a Humidifier
A few studies like this one from the Children’s Hospital of Colorado shows how humidifiers usually carry bacteria with them. There was even a report by Time Magazine about this problem with humidifiers.
Humidifiers can make you sick and give you a headache. The increase in air pressure, if it’s done too fast, can give you a problem also.
How To Prevent Humidifier Headaches
If you need to use a humidifier, use a hygrometer to check the indoor humidity levels. You don’t want to drive the humidity too high, or you’ll increase the mold and bacteria in your room, making it more likely you’ll get sick.
You’ll also want to make sure you regularly clean your humidifier tank with soap and water. Dehumidifier tanks aren’t as much of a priority as they don’t aerosolize that still water back into the air.
Finally, don’t use a humidifier if you’re congested. Talk to your doctor about what medicine you should take, or use a nebulizer instead. A nebulizer is essentially the same thing as a humidifier, but it can also deliver inhalants used for asthma or other respiratory problems.
Using plain water in a nebulizer means you don’t have to increase the entire room’s air pressure and give yourself a headache.
How To Prevent High Indoor Humidity Headaches
Just like humidifiers are meant to raise the relative indoor humidity in the room, you can use a dehumidifier to lower it. A small electric dehumidifier can handle most bedrooms and drop the increased air pressure due to the weather and higher humidity.
There’s no big trick to it– keep an eye out for the weather, turn on your hygrometer and see if you need your dehumidifier close by. If you’re living in a humid climate, we have a few more tips for you.