If you get frequent headaches, including migraines, air pollution may to be blame, at least for some of them. Researchers in Chile recently reported on the results of a study in Santiago Province, an area surrounded by the Coastal and Andes mountains and therefore topographically susceptible to pollution. The investigators found that hospital admissions for migraines, as well as for cluster, tension and other types of headaches were highest when pollution levels were high. They evaluated air pollution levels (ozone, nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter - tiny particles linked to the combustion of gasoline, natural gas and other fossil fuels) at seven monitoring stations between 2001 and 2005. At the same time, they were accumulating data on hospitalizations for headaches. The study showed that headaches were linked to pollution during all seasons of the year, regardless of how old the patients were or whether they were male or female. The study was published in the October 15, 2009, issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. The researchers noted more study is needed in other locales to confirm their findings.
My take? This is a very interesting study, suggesting an environmental cause for headaches. It could help explain why many patients never identify their headache triggers. If further research confirms these findings, the best defense against some headaches may be exploring ways to avoid pollution and supporting efforts to enact public policies that will result in cleaner air.