Weather sensitivity: sick due to weather change?
Joint pain, headache, fatigue or circulatory problems – some people seem to be particularly sensitive to changes in the weather. What is it about so-called weather sensitivity?

People are exposed to many influences in their everyday lives – including the weather. In order to maintain the functions of the body, it reacts to external influences. If temperature and weather change, the body perceives this and begins to adjust the autonomic nervous system accordingly. For example, different hormonal interactions can also occur.

The weather changes, the body reacts

Many people rarely or never notice such adjustments to the weather. However, others feel more complaints or think that they see a connection to the weather. If there are disorders of well-being in the context of such weather adjustments, one speaks of weather sensitivity – also called biotropy or meteoropathy.

Whether the cause of the complaints is really the weather is quite likely, but not proven with certainty. Because most studies on the topic consist primarily of surveys, i.e. are based primarily on self-assessment. What is certain, however, is that many people attribute some of their complaints to the weather. And if you compare the information with weather maps, a connection is obvious.

Frequently described symptoms of weather sensitivity:

  • a headache
  • migraine
  • fatigue
  • Exhaustion
  • Joint pain
  • sleep disorders

Some people seem to feel the weather changes even two to three days in advance. It is possible that special sensory cells are responsible for this, which are located in the vessel walls of the carotid artery in particular: so-called baroreceptors. They can sense pressure – and maybe changes in air pressure. However, this has not been proven.

When does weather sensitivity occur?

Whether a change in the weather noticeably affects how you feel depends on various factors:

  • How well can your own body adapt to the weather? Possible influence by:
    • individual physical requirements
    • general health
    • lack of sleep
    • Stress level
  • What type of weather is it (e.g. high pressure or low pressure area, heat or cold)?
  • How strong is the weather change?

Basic illnesses favor weather sensitivity

Such weather changes do not actually make you sick. Nevertheless, in people who are sensitive to the weather, the symptoms can be quite severe and represent a health burden. This is especially the case when the body fails to regulate itself as required. For example because there are illnesses and / or some body systems are not regulated according to norms (such as with high blood pressure or low blood pressure ).

In general, women seem to be more sensitive to the weather than men and older people more often than young people. Many people who consider themselves sensitive to the weather also have long-term previous illnesses (such as chronic pain or respiratory diseases).

With whom, with which diseases, sensitivity to weather is particularly noticeable:

  • When the temperature rises, people with hay fever or cardiovascular diseases in particular react sensitively to the weather.
  • When the temperature drops, people with vascular diseases, rheumatism, chronic pain, respiratory diseases or asthma are particularly affected.

For some weather-related complaints, it is easy to understand how they can arise. In the cold, for example, the airways and blood vessels contract. This can be a problem for people who have asthma, for example. People with high blood pressure may observe an additional rise in blood pressure when it is cold and feel corresponding symptoms. When it is warm, the blood vessels in the legs and arms widen. In particular, those who already have circulatory problems, for example low blood pressure, can now suffer from problems due to falling blood pressure. Weather conditions that lead to more dust in the air (such as thunderstorms or storms) can burden people with breathing problems.

Above all, rapid, frequent or severe weather changes are stressful for the body. Because with the latter, several weather factors change at once, such as temperature, humidity, air movement, degree of cloudiness, light conditions and air pressure.

Examples of severe weather changes:

  • Change from withdrawing or weakening high pressure area to approaching low
  • Passage of a warm and cold front
  • Back of a peeling low

People seem to feel least stressed by the weather when they are in the center of a high pressure area.

What helps if you are sensitive to the weather?

Some doctors and meteorologists believe that sensitivity to the weather is in part a problem of civilization: While people used to spend more time outdoors, most people nowadays mainly sit in rooms where temperature and light can be controlled. The body may have “forgotten” how to optimally adapt to changes in the weather. If you want to improve your sensitivity to the weather, it can therefore help you to spend more time outside – preferably every day and in any weather.

Going to the sauna or alternating hot showers can also help to train the blood vessels and thus have a positive effect on the circulation. Since factors such as stress or lack of sleep can also increase sensitivity to the weather, some experts also recommend relaxation exercises and adequate sleep.

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Weather sensitivity: what’s behind it? Online information from the Second German Television: www.zdf.de (as of April 13, 2017)

General information on weather sensitivity. Online information from the German Weather Service: www.dwd.de (as of September 2015)

Weather sensitivity. Online information from DasErste: www.daserste.de (as of September 17, 2015)

Influence of climate change on the biotropy of the weather and the health and productivity of the population in Germany. Online information from the Federal Environment Agency: www.umweltbundesamt.de (as of June 2015)

Representative survey on weather sensitivity in Germany. Online information from the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety: www.bmu.de (as of June 2013)