Illnesses or the worsening of chronic conditions caused by the inability of the body to keep up with major changes in the weather is called meteoropathy. Aches and pains that increase due to changing weather conditions are also known as weather pains.
The weather is changing rapidly this year from the cool rainy season to scorching temperatures, along with thunder and lightning and a surge of typhoons. During this time, it is good to be aware of the relationship between the weather and your health.
"Some people expect chronic headaches to worsen when the rainy season comes and visit the clinic only at this time every year to receive medication to prevent or treat it," said Kiyoshi Owada, a specialist in general internal medicine and the director of the Akihabara Eki Clinic in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
A broad range of conditions and symptoms are affected by changes in temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure and other weather factors, he said. These include headaches, back pain, shoulder stiffness, neuralgia, arthritis, rheumatism, asthma, hives, dizziness, nausea, heart attacks, strokes and depression.
In particular, changes in air pressure have a significant effect on health. Just as changes in air pressure when rapidly ascending or descending in an elevator can cause a strange sensation in the ears, the human body is always trying to adjust to atmospheric pressure.
"Headaches can occur when low atmospheric pressure approaches ahead of a deterioration in the weather," Owada said. "This is because blood vessels expand when atmospheric pressure falls, and the pressure on the human body decreases."
Inside the human ear is the inner ear, which maintains the body's sense of balance.
"When the sensor cells in the inner ear are adversely affected by changes in atmospheric pressure, dizziness can occur," said Owada, who also serves as clinical professor at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University Department of Neurology and Neurological Science. "Pain in joints and neuralgia can occur when the membranes and nerves of the joints are stimulated."
Most people possess the fitness to maintain control when a minor disorder occurs. However, those who are less physically robust, or people with particular sensitivity to pain in specific areas, are prone to meteoropathy.
"The number of patients who experience chronic pain increases during the typhoon season," Owada said. "Some patients rush to the clinic because their headaches have become chronic as a typhoon approaches the Japanese archipelago, even though it is still some way off." As the atmospheric pressure, temperature and other environmental factors surrounding the human body change dramatically when a typhoon approaches, people become prone to meteoropathy.
Not only is there an increase in weather pains, there is also a "distinct possibility that chronic asthma or heart disease may worsen. As these conditions are life-threatening, they should not be taken lightly," Owada said.
"When atmospheric pressure drops, the secretion of fluid from sweat glands is hindered, placing a burden on the heart and blood vessels," he said. "In addition, falling temperatures can exacerbate asthma and increase early morning coughing. Some people correctly guess that bad weather is approaching when their asthmatic conditions worsen."
To counter meteoropathy, patients should build up the fitness to adapt to changes in the environment.
"Patients should store energy by maintaining a regular daily routine and engage in light exercise to keep heart functions from weakening," Owada said.
People should prepare themselves by carefully checking weather forecasts to learn of sudden changes in the weather. In addition, motion sickness medication offers unexpected preventive treatment. This medication can prevent not only nausea, but also dizziness and headaches.
"It's important to take medication before bad weather conditions develop, based on detailed forecast and one's own judgement, to prevent symptoms from developing," Owada said.