A familiar patient recently returned to my office after an absence of several months.
''How have you been?'' I asked.
"Until the temperature hit the 100s and stayed there I was doing great," she replied. "For the last month I have had a constant headache."
As I reviewed her history I recalled that she had originally come to see me about chronic headaches that had been variously diagnosed as migraines, sinus related or tension, depending upon which doctor she was seeing at the time.
I had arrived at the opinion that she had a mixed form of headache pattern.
Some of her head pain occurrences had the classical migraine-type presentation while others tended to be more related to sinus pressure. Muscle tension played a role in her condition as well.
As a result of her varying types of pain, she had received several prescriptions for medications, some of which caused significant side effects that were difficult for her to tolerate.
Eventually she had received a series of acupuncture treatments at my office that had resulted in a very favorable response. For the most part, her headaches had been resolved for several months. She reported that only occasionally had headaches during that time and those were mild.
However, once the summer heat had set in her headache pain had returned.
This is not uncommon. Climate changes can have a dramatic effect on our health in many ways.
During summer months the heat, humidity, and conditions such as increased dustiness can greatly affect patients with chronic headaches. In some cases, certain pollen varieties that increase in the summer months can trigger more headaches.
Changes brought on by dehydration can be a headache trigger. Dehydration can occur during all types of weather, but when temperatures are soaring, it can become a serious problem in a short time.
Barometric pressure changes can precipitate head pain from migraines, sinus congestion and increased muscle tension.
It is not unheard of for a patient to present with headaches that are sinus related and yet tell me that they don't feel congested. Since they can breathe easily through their nose they assume their sinuses are clear.
However it is often possible for a patient to have congestion in the sinus passages that can cause headache and not have blockage of the nasal passages. This patient may breathe easily and still have sinus headache problems.
Whether the headaches of summer are caused by heat, dust or pollen levels, barometric changes or other factors, it is important to seek treatment that will help.
Many patients have grown weary of prescription and over-the-counter drugs that can have side effects that range from bothersome to serious.
One patient told me, "I'm really tired of the medication merry-go-round. It seems like all I hear is, "Try this pill," or "Let's see how these shots work." I want something that works that won't make me drowsy at work or make me feel disoriented all day."
In the case referred to above, acupuncture had provided that solution. Acupuncture can be an important tool for many headache patients.
Not everyone will respond as well to acupuncture as this patient did. Some patients have great results, essentially eliminating their headaches altogether. Others have moderate improvements; reporting fewer headaches of less severity and requiring less medication. Some patients do not respond to acupuncture at all, although this is a small percentage.
As you might expect, it often requires a series of acupuncture treatments to obtain optimum results, similar to receiving a series of allergy shots or ongoing physical therapy to recover from an injury.
Although acupuncture was once dismissed widely by medical professionals, it is now featured prominently at such iconic medical facilities as the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic.
Although it is fortunate that treatments such as acupuncture can be helpful for headaches, it is preferable to avoid them. To minimize your risk of summer headaches, take steps to avoid overheating, stay hydrated, avoid dust and pollen exposure or wear a mask, and take frequent breaks to reduce overexertion.
DR. KESTNER: Summer Headaches Are A Serious Matter
July 23, 2012