SHADES OF SUMMER: Managing Migraines During the Warmer Months


The beach. Amusement parks. Vacations. Barbecues. Fireworks. Camping. These are just a few of the activities that many people associate with summertime. Unfortunately, each of these also has the potential to trigger a migraine. In honor of my 12 year migraine-iversary, I’ve compiled a list of tips to help you beat the heat and make the most out of your summer. (Hint: you can go out and have some fun, too!)

  1. Invest in a quality pair of sunglasses. The life of a migraineur can be quite expensive but eyewear is not the place to pinch pennies. I found this out the hard way, after years of wearing cheap sunglasses. My parents kindly splurged and bought me a pair of AxonOptics outdoor sunglasses and I was shocked at the difference they made in my life. I have always been extremely photophobic, even between migraine attacks. Suddenly, I was able to go outside and really see what was going on around me. What’s more, my vision wasn’t distorted in the way that I associate with typical sunglasses. The colors appeared crisper and more vivid, as though the light that hurt my eyes had been filtered out but nothing else had been darkened. Needless to say, these glasses accompany me everywhere and are useful both outside and indoors (during a migraine attack.)
  2. When spending time outside, wear a light-colored hat with a brim, such as a baseball cap or a fisherman’s hat. These kinds of hats have dual purposes. First, the brim shields your eyes from the glare of the sun. Additionally, the light color of the hat reflects the sunlight, keeping your head cooler and protected from the sun. (Darker colors absorb sunlight, so try to avoid darker colored hats.) On a related note, as someone who parts her hair in the middle of the top of her head, I have gotten sunburned there and it is quite painful. Wearing a hat eliminates this possibility.
  3. Use icepacks preventatively. Many of us use icepacks during a migraine attack but, during the summer, I like to carry around a few of the instant ice packs in my purse in case I start to overheat. Because I also sweat a lot, this puts me at risk for dehydration. An icepack behind my neck and on my chest cool me down significantly and quickly.
  4. Drink, drink, drink! No matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, make sure that you have access to water. Don’t depend on amusement parks, campgrounds, barbecues, or anyone else for your hydration supply. Keeping enough water in your body is of utmost importance when it is hot and sunny. Alcoholic beverages as well as caffeinated beverages can be dehydrating, as well as triggering, so you may want to skip those in favor of good old-fashioned ice water. Add fresh fruit or mint for a little extra flavor or get your fizzy fix by drinking soda water with a bit of juice. That being said, if you have a daily caffeine intake, it’s probably wise to keep it as consistent as possible to avoid caffeine-withdrawal headaches.
  5. Always bring your own dish to a picnic or barbecue. Make enough to share with everyone. This way, you can be sure that there will be at least one migraine-safe food for you to eat. Don’t be shy about asking your host what ingredients are in a particular dish. If that feels like an uncomfortable conversation, you can disguise your questions as a compliment “This looks/smells delicious! I’d love to make it for my brother and sister-in-law when they come to visit next week. What’s in it?” Another option for potlucks is to ask everyone to write the ingredients of their dish on a notecard that accompanies their food. This is becoming more and more commonplace as increasing numbers of people have food sensitivities/allergies.
  6. Be prepared. You should have your abortive and rescue meds with you at all times, as well as comfort measures. For instance, in addition to my sunglasses, I never go anywhere without ear plugs, my eye mask, instant ice packs with their own covers, instant heat pads, my iPhone and earbuds, peppermint hard candy, my medical card information, pretzels/crackers, and Coke/Dr. Pepper/Ginger Ale/Water. All fit easily into my purse and help me gain as much control over my environment as possible in the event that I am caught out and about with a migraine. I find that these items are usually enough to at least take the edge off until I am able to get into a cool, dark room where I can lay down.
  7. Make plans. I know that making plans goes against everything our experiences with chronic illness and chronic pain have taught us. However, I find that having things to look forward to gives me hope during those times that I am flat on my back in the dark. I know that there isn’t a cure for migraines but I do believe that they can be managed and I am working hard with my migraine specialist, my primary care physician, my psychiatrist, my therapist, and my loved ones to build a life worth living in spite of chronic migraine. I’ve had to make some adjustments when making plans. Knowing your limits, acknowledging them, and sticking to them is non-negotiable. For instance, I recently went to a concert in Boston. Of course I had my trusty sunglasses, but I also had earplugs at the ready in case the music was too loud. I made sure to wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes since I knew we’d be traveling by foot a substantial amount. I made sure to eat and drink before, during, and after the concert and afterwards, I honored the fact that my body was tired and took an Uber home to go to sleep instead of trekking around the city. (I also acknowledged that taking the T stresses me out, making Uber a more reasonable option for me.) Because I was prepared, this outing was successful and my boyfriend and I had a wonderful time.

Summer can be a challenging time for migraineurs and it can be particularly difficult to watch our social media fill up with pictures of our friends and family engaging in summer fun that we feel is out of reach for us as migraineurs. My hope is that, after reading this article, you will be inspired to find your own summer fun. It’s out there and you deserve it! Stay cool.

Michelle L. Tracy
U.S. Pain Foundation Ambassador
Twitter: @CheDeco