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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 11/19/2009

Feeling under pressure by air pressure?

By Ann Posegate

Wx in the City

* Rain at times today: Full Forecast *

There is no doubt that weather affects our health and well-being -- think hypothermia, sunburn and that good old "nice day" feeling from a clear, warm spring day. There is an entire field called biometeorology that is dedicated to studying the interactions between the atmosphere and living things. But, do minor changes in air pressure, which we experience on a weekly basis in the form of high and low pressure systems, affect our health?

It's plausible.

Keep reading for more on the effects of air pressure on how you feel. But first, take this poll...

Thousands of miles of air are pressing down upon each of us at this very moment. However, we don't feel this weight because air is also all around us and in our bodies pressing back out, keeping us in equilibrium with the air above. We might take notice of changes to this balance when our ears pop while riding through an underground tunnel on a Metro train, taking off and landing in an airplane or diving underwater.

Air pressure (also known as atmospheric pressure or barometric pressure) is the force exerted by the weight of air, and it differs depending on where you are in the atmosphere. Air pressure is lower, thus fewer air molecules are present, at higher altitudes; you may have felt the effect of fewer oxygen molecules when hiking to the top of a mountain.

Closer to the Earth's surface, the movement of air across a pressure gradient creates wind and fuels the movement of weather systems around the globe. Air moves from areas of high air pressure, where there are more air molecules, to areas of lower air pressure, where there fewer air molecules. (I can't blame it: I feel the same way every time I'm in a crowded room.)

We see areas of high and low pressure on weather maps. In areas of high pressure (represented by 'H'), air is slowly sinking, meaning there are more air molecules exerting a pressure on Earth's surface, or on our heads for that matter. High pressure systems bring sunny, clear skies. On the flip side, in areas of low pressure (represented by 'L'), air is slowly rising and cooling, reducing the number of air molecules exerted on Earth's surface. Low pressure systems bring overcast skies and sometimes storms and precipitation (more information about high and low air pressure).

With all of this air sinking and rising around us, we should be thankful that our bodies are as adapted as they are, rather than turning to mush when high air pressure approaches or blowing up like a balloon (giving new meaning to the term 'air head') when low air pressure arrives (video: how air pressure affects objects).

Very little has been proven as to the effects of air pressure changes on human health, other than low air pressure causing an expansion of some large blood vessels and an increase in the symptoms of those who suffer from joint pain.

Is today's damp weather (and relatively low pressure) affecting you? Do you generally feel differently in high versus low pressure weather?

By Ann Posegate  | November 19, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Education, Health, Posegate, Wx and the City  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: Some showers today, much nicer Friday
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Sinus hell.

Posted by: saracooper | November 19, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Sinus hell.

Posted by: saracooper | November 19, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised the survey doesn't include any positive symptoms. I love low pressure. I find the time just before and during a storm completely revitalizing. I like high pressure sunny days, but if the high persists for more than a few days I start feeling claustrophobic and weighed down.

Posted by: angua1 | November 19, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

@saracooper - I can relate to the sinus pressure.

@angua1 - Thanks for sharing. I have read and heard more about negative symptoms, so your observation is really interesting. Now that you mention it, storms do have a revitalizing quality to them.

Does anyone else feel positive side effects from storms/low pressure?

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | November 19, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Yes I agree with the previous posters about sinus hell. I have discovered that if I have an attack of sinus headaches and problems that if I check the weather report that there is usually a deep low pressure or a severe low front poised to come through the area.

Posted by: dre7861 | November 19, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Generally I tend to feel better under high atmospheric pressure. The low-pressure setup seems to involve various general aches and pains.

Cloudy weather also seems to promote depression, but this is light-deprivation/SAD related, rather than being strictly related to air pressure. Cloudy weather tends to correlate positively with a fall in air pressure due to the lifting & condensation of moisture in humid air.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | November 19, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I love cloudy days, low pressure, and storms. At the risk of sounding like a song lyric or like a Goth-y cliché, I get depressed if there are too many clear sunny days in a row.

Posted by: csdiego | November 19, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Sunny hi pressure days r boring & usually slow fishing days. Give me an approaching low press. anytime, makes waether much more interesting, & sometimes fish bite better right b4 a front.

Posted by: VaTechBob | November 19, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Do changes in atmospheric pressure and/or temperature really cause headaches??

Very unlikely! See

Weather, Creaky Bones and Headaches
(11th page)

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | November 19, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone know if there's evidence of a link between changes in weather and gout-related joint pain?

Posted by: mmurphy70 | November 20, 2009 8:19 AM | Report abuse

@mmurphy70 - I haven't seen studies specific to gout, but there's been mention about people who suffer from arthritis in general experiencing achy joints before an approaching storm.

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | November 20, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

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