Weather sensitivity – urban legend or medical condition?

barometric, cold, headache, heat, jointfluid, jointpain, migraine, pressure, weatherchanges, weathersensitivity

In European culture, talking about the weather is among the favourite topics, when we would just like to start or maintain a light conversation. And usually, during these conversations we are going far beyond the mere description of the environmental changes: we eventually start to talk about the weather’s effect on our mental and physical state or in short, often focusing on our individual weather sensitivities. But how immense this effect really is? Strictly based on scientific data, we tried to figure it out.

Since Targenta is working with the internationally accepted ICD medical diagnosis system, first we took a closer look at whether we have one or a group of official medical conditions that would cover this area. Surprisingly we found, that in medical terms, there is no such disease or symptom as weather sensitivity, and we only managed to recruit only some more or less related conditions. The conditions which could be associated were cold-related (1), heat-related (2), barometric change (pressure) related (3) symptoms, and conditions.

Cold related symptoms were like frostbites, hypothermia, snow blindness, while the official heat effects were like heat stroke, heat fatigue, eczema. These latter are a little bit closer to how people describe cold or warm weather sensitivity but these definitions are clearly not for that uneasy cold- front or heat-front feeling that the perceivers suffer. One could think, that official medical pressure change effects are a bit closer to give explanations to that kind of dizziness, but actually, the medical terms are mainly related to serious barometric changes which are usually associated with flying an airplane or climbing seriously high mountains, so these don’t really help to identify weather sensitivity in doctors’ dictionary.

Although the widely discussed (in medical terms) mild cold- heat and atmospheric pressure-related conditions are without an official definition, in some areas, scientists try to gather more and more evidence. For example, some (not all!) neurologists agree, that barometric pressure related headaches and migraines do exist (4), but assumingly diagnose it with other ICD codes permitting broader interpretation. The other area where medical doctors have some kind of agreement on weather-related joint pain (5), where the viscosity-changes in the joint fluids would provide an easily understandable reason for painful joints in certain weather. Another type of scientific examination to address this topic are surveys conducted in different populations. According to these, roughly a striking 60% of people are affected health-wise in the developed countries by weather or weather changes. For example, a huge study (6) showed that 19.2% of the German population thought that weather affected their health “to a strong degree,” 35.3% that weather had “some influence on their health” (sum of both = 54.5% weather sensitive), whereas the remaining 45.5% did not consider that weather had an effect on their health status. In Canada 61% of the respondents considered themselves to be sensitive to the weather. OK, so it’s more than half of the people – so weather sensitivity is a problem, right?

Well, what is the actual problem is that the outcome of this scientific data was extremely biased by the fact that the participants were aware of the purpose of the investigation. In other words: when the participants knew that the study/survey/examination is related to weather sensitivity they tended to be weather-sensitive. Due to this and other statistically relevant problems, the weather sensitivity studies are generally marked as inconsistent, which creates a very complex situation: any pro-weather sensitivity or anti-weather sensitivity person will be able to find scientific studies that support their thesis, but all of these studies will have its limitations.

However, we were thinking about study concepts that are not biased by the knowledge on the purpose of the study and actually found one from japan, which would definitely worth a read (7). In this study, 5000 participants kept health diaries without knowing that scientists will specifically seek for connection points with certain weather conditions. Like this, scientists found that certain health conditions show a significant correlation with certain weather elements, but the magnitude of the weather-effect was an order of magnitude smaller, than in cases where people “knew what to report”. And although these findings are clinically not relevant according to internationally accepted standards, these Japanese scientists advise the medical community to keep an eye on weather sensitivity and encourage further well-built studies.


  1. OSI: ICD-10 Codes for Health Problems Caused by Cold Weather
  2. OSI: ICD-10-CM Coding For Certain Warm Weather Diseases
  3. Exposure to high and low air pressure and changes in air pressure
  4. Maini K et al.: Headache and Barometric Pressure: a Narrative Review.
  5. Erik J Timmermans: Self-perceived weather sensitivity and joint pain in older people with osteoarthritis in six European countries: results from the European Project on OSteoArthritis (EPOSA)
  6. von Mackensen S et al.: Prevalence of weather sensitivity in Germany and Canada.
  7. Mihye Lee et al.: Weather and Health Symptoms

Lilian Zsakai, MSc
Molecular Biologist graduated at Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Science | PhD studies specializing in molecular diagnostics at Semmelweis University | Business studies at Semmelweis Innovations & InCorpora

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