When the weather changes, more changes than the nature of your office’s small talk. We are made of water and air and molecules just like the atmosphere. We feel those changes inside of us just as powerfully as the charged air of the world.
We’re talking about barometric pressure – the weight of the environment outside.
And when it changes – with the seasons, the weather, or anything else – we know it instinctively.
Generally, here’s how it works:
- Atmospheric (barometric) pressure goes down when weather conditions become more severe – thunder clouds rolling in, the sky darkening, wind picking up, etc.
- Atmospheric (barometric) pressure goes up when weather conditions level out – clouds clear, humidity drops, etc.
But other factors, such as altitude, change barometric pressure as well.
As we trudge dutifully on into spring, passing vicious winds and drenching storms on our way, it’s a good time to demystify barometric pressure – how it affects us, and why.
Let’s break down five separate ways that the oxygenation of the air around us makes us feel.
This is the most common complaint doctors receive during periods of barometric fluctuation – like the changing of the seasons.
And the reason is simple: When the oxygen pressure in the air changes, the oxygen pressure in our blood changes.
So here’s what happens…
Your brain’s supply of blood is hyper-sensitive to oxygen changes. If the oxygen pressure in the air dips, the brain prepares to have more oxygen delivered to it. It instructs the body to dilate blood vessels headed to the brain, which increases blood flow…
Thus, you get a barometric pressure headache.
But that’s not all the change in pressure can do…
Blood pressure can be affected by changes in temperature AND changes in atmospheric pressure.
You see, just like your blood vessels constrict in the cold (which raises your blood pressure because your blood has to work harder to get through a narrower avenue), your blood vessels also constrict during changes in humidity, cloud cover, wind, etc.
You’ll often find your blood pressure rising as barometric pressure drops.
Have you ever known a storm was coming because you could feel it in your joints?
That’s because of inflammation, and it’s an oft-reported side effect of barometric pressure changes.
Joint fluid changes as barometric pressure changes. Scientists surmise that this happens when a fall in air pressure lets the muscle tissues and tendons swell, putting pressure on the joints.
When lowered barometric pressure is combined with lowered temperature, the viscosity of joint fluids changes and becomes thicker.
We just learned about the thickening of fluids and blood during the pressure drop of a cold front…
Unsurprisingly, that also affects your blood sugar. Thicker blood lowers blood sugar levels, which contributes to all kinds of other quality of life issues.
Diabetics should be especially dedicated to watching their blood sugar levels during barometric pressure dips.
Anyone who struggles with maintaining their blood sugar levels will recognize that when it’s low, fatigue sets in.
In this case, it happens enough that there’s a term for it: “low barometric pressure fatigue”.
When the weather changes… and the air feels charged… and the sky gets dark and the rain clouds roll through…
We tend to associate that kind of weather with feeling sleepy, right? Naptime weather!
That’s partially thanks to the lowered blood sugar, and partially thanks to a few other factors.
First of all, lowered atmospheric pressure often occurs in conjunction with periods of lowered natural light, which sends a signal to the body to produce more melatonin.
But a little more obviously, reduced oxygen in the air results in drowsiness, because you aren’t getting enough oxygen to stay alert.
Keep all this in mind over the next few weeks – you’re not crazy! You’re just made of the same molecules as the atmosphere and responding in kind to its behavior.