Summer means strong sunlight and intense heat, which can cause your head to pound. Commonly called “heat headaches,” they are most closely associated with dehydration. Even if you stay hydrated, you can get headaches when outdoors on a bright summer day. There are various causes for summer headaches, some you may not be aware of.
I have lupus, so I’m sensitive to bright light. Summer headaches are a given for me, but anyone can get eye-strain headaches if you don’t protect your eyes. According to my eye doctor, the headaches aren’t really coming from your eyes, they are from the muscles around your eyes. Whether you realize it or not, sunlight makes you squint and squinting for long periods of time makes the muscles around your eyes sore. Just like strained muscles elsewhere on your body burn and ache, so do the muscles around your eyes. Wear sunglasses any time you have to be outdoors in the summer, especially if you’re going to be outside for long periods. Also use sunglasses if you are driving for long periods of time into the direct light of the sun, such as driving east in the morning or west in the afternoon.
We’ve all had headaches caused by a high fever when we’re sick. Being exposed to summer temperatures can also raise your body temperature and cause headaches. In fact, according to a 1998 British study published in the Lancet, elevated body temperature can trigger cluster headaches, a particularly painful type of migraine. If you have been out in the heat for an extended period and feel a headache coming on, go into an air conditioned building, or if one is nearby, into a body of water such as a lake or the ocean. Quickly cooling your body and bringing the temperature down may relieve the headache all together.
Heat- and Light-Sensitivity Headaches
Lupus isn’t the only illness that comes with sensitivity to light and heat that causes associated headaches. Sensitivity to light can be a condition all in and of itself, or a symptom of another condition. Light sensitivity is common in migraine sufferers, and intense sunlight can trigger or worsen migraines. The first sign of a light-sensitivity headache coming on is usually shooting pains behind the eyes. At this point, you need to get out of the sun and block out all light by covering your eyes with a cool, wet cloth. Take your migraine preventative medicine if you have it, otherwise, take aspirin and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) tablets to relieve inflammation and pressure quickly.
You don’t need to lock yourself in the house all summer to avoid heat and light headaches, but you do need to take precautions. If you get a headache, get out of the sun as soon as possible and take any medications you may need. Remember that prevention is worth a pound of cure, so wear those sunglasses and limit your time in the summertime heat to avoid those summer headaches.