The atmosphere is all around us, and so is the atmospheric pressure; however, most people tend to underestimate the impact barometric pressure has on us. Sometimes during a weather report, all we look out for is the rain/sun report, and when it gets to the barometric forecast, we either flip the channel or pay no attention to what the presenter is saying. Well, the purpose of this article is to highlight what atmospheric pressure is and its impact on humans.
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What Does Barometric Pressure Mean?
Barometric pressure can be defined as the amount of force per area exerted by air in the atmosphere against humans and other objects on earth. So, let’s explain:
As stated either: air is all around us, and as such, it exerts a certain force on humans and objects on earth. This happens because any object that has mass is affected by gravity, and due to air having mass it is being pulled toward the center of the earth, which is why it exerts pressure on humans and other objects on earth.
Factors Affecting Barometric Pressure:
We can all agree that gravity is constant across the earth’s surface; however, the barometric pressure varies from one point to the next. This shows that certain factors affect the intensity of the barometric pressure in a given environment. Three main factors determine whether an area has high barometric pressure or low barometric pressure, and these include:
As we know, the air is made up of molecules, as such, when the temperature of a community or a city rises, what happens is that the air molecules get heated up, they get excited and then they tend to be less compact, or less dense. When this happens, the air pressure decreases. This is why objects like hot air balloons can float because they have hot air in them, which rises and causes the balloon to rise as well.
Similarly, when temperatures are low, the air molecules become compact, and as such, they become denser, which causes atmospheric pressure to increase.
Therefore, given that all factors are equal, someone in a colder climate will experience a high barometric pressure than someone in a hotter climate.
The humidity of a given area can affect the air pressure as well. Humidity refers to the volume of water vapor present in the air. And the relationship between humidity and barometric pressure is inversely proportional; this means, the higher the amount of water vapor present in the air, the lighter the air; hence, the less dense it will be. Let me explain:
Air is made up of 5 elements; however, 2 out of the 5 are the most prominent, which are: Nitrogen (78%) and Oxygen( 21%). Water, on the other hand, is made up of 2 elements: hydrogen and water. And since hydrogen is the lightest element on earth, it makes water vapor less dense than air. Therefore, when water vapor gets into the air, it makes the air less dense; this is because the water vapor displaces some of the nitrogen atoms, which makes the air less heavy and causes the atmospheric pressure to decrease. Conversely, when there is less water vapor in the air, atmospheric pressure gets increased.
Therefore, areas with drier air will experience high barometric pressure than areas with moist air.
The last factor is the elevation or the altitude of a landscape. Generally, the higher your elevation, the less air pressure is exerted on your body; conversely, the closer you are to the sea level, the more atmospheric pressure is exerted. This is because, as we go higher, the air becomes less dense as a result of the less availability of gas molecules.
Another way to look at this is packing boxes on each other, we can all agree that let’s say if you pack 5 boxes on each other, the box at the bottom will have the most pressure, followed by the box on it, and so on; however, the box on top will have the least pressure since nothing is on it. Well, this same idea can be applied to that how air pressure varies with altitude. Because the person at a higher altitude has less air “to carry” compared to the person at a “lower altitude.”
How Barometric Pressure Affects The Human Body:
Barometric pressure is a very crucial environmental factor to consider; this is because it affects the body in so many ways, and in this section, we will take a look at the various ways in which Barometric pressure affects the human body.
1. Barometric Pressure and Joint Pain/Arthritis:
Patients with osteoarthritis often have increased joint pain when the weather changes concerning barometric pressure. Often, you will realize that whenever the weather is to change, your grandmom or grandad can predict it first; this is because a change in barometric pressure affects their joints and causes pain. So, how does it happen?
Well, barometric pressure causes arthritic joints or soft to either contract or relax. When your joints are worn out, they tend to be exposed to the joints, and as a result, they become susceptible to any changes in pressure within the body.
When there is a drastic increase in barometric pressure, the muscles in your arthritic joint or the soft tissues tend to contract. This is because denser air pushes against the body and muscles; hence causing the muscles to contract, which leads to pain. Conversely, when there is a drastic decrease in barometric pressure, there is less push against the body, and as a result, the muscles tend to over-relax, causing pain as well.
Therefore, a drastic increase or decrease in barometric pressure causes soft tissues to relax and contract, and when those soft tissues are around any arthritic joint, it leads to pain.
Is High Or Low-Pressure Better for Arthritis?
Even though drastic changes in weather cause arthritis, it is important to note that high pressure caused by low temperatures might cause more pain than low barometric pressure caused by high temperatures. This is because of the synovial fluid in the body; this fluid is a crucial fluid responsible for lubricating joints and muscles for easy movement. However, when temperatures are low, the synovial fluid becomes denser or thicker, hence, it isn’t able to move efficiently across the joints to lubricate it properly. This leads to more friction among joints and causes more pain during high barometric pressure and low-temperature situations.
Therefore, most joint pain caused by barometric pressure will be caused by high atmospheric pressure coupled with low temperature.
How To Relieve Arthritic Pain:
There are various ways you can relieve arthritic pain caused by barometric pressure:
- Consult your doctor: If you notice any joint pain during a drastic change in barometric pressure, the first step to take is to consult your doctor. They will recommend the best over-the-counter drug for you to use.
- Wear warm clothes during cold weather (high barometric pressure) situations to keep your body at room temperature and prevent the synovial fluid from becoming denser.
- Exercise: You mustn’t relax when there is a change in barometric pressure. You must keep your muscles engaged with some exercises for arthritic patients to keep the muscles, joints, and tendons, functioning properly, and prevent stiffness.
- Warm baths can help decrease body temperature and soothe joint pains by relaxing muscles.
2. Barometric Pressure and Headache
Another way barometric pressure affects us is by causing pain for patients with migraines. So, how does this happen?
When rain or a storm is coming through, people with migraines tend to feel headaches; this is because storms are associated with low barometric pressure. When there is low barometric pressure, there will be an expansion of the joints around the neck. When this happens, all the joints around the neck are forced to expand, upon expansion, these joints tend to touch the neck joint capsules which send pain signals to the brain. These pain signals will most often move from your neck and head to the brain, as a result, you are most likely to experience pain in those areas, triggering the migraine, which in turn causes pain.
Is High Or Low-Pressure Better for Migraines?
Unlike joint pain, low barometric pressure is the cause of pain for patients with migraines. A study conducted on 34 patients with migraine showed that 31 patients had a migraine attack when barometric pressure dropped.
This means, unlike joint pains where you are most likely going to experience pain when pressure increases, with migraine you are most likely to experience a migraine attack when pressure decreases. When this happens, you will feel numbness in your face, nausea, and vomiting. Therefore, a high pressured environment will be better for patients with migraines.
How To Alleviate Barometric Headache Problems:
- Take your medications. Whenever your migraine is exacerbated due to a change in barometric pressure, ensure to take any medications recommended by your doctor. Alternatively, over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen have been proven effective.
- Drinking loads of water can help with that.
- Engage in some relaxation techniques that help with migraines.
3. Barometric Pressure and Sinuses
Similar to migraines, changes in barometric pressure can exacerbate the pain of patients with sinusitis. So, how does it happen:
Our sinuses are mostly filled with air and sinus fluid. which are kept at equilibrium during normal temperatures or normal barometric temperatures. When there is an increase or decrease in barometric pressure, this can cause the sinus liquid together with the air to be imbalanced leading to pain.
During winter, you will notice that flu, sinuses, and allergies become rampant; this is often because of increased atmospheric temperature due to the drop in temperature. As people with sinusitis get triggered. This happens because the pressure causes the nasal tissues to constrict, which can cause nasal congestion, and when this happens the heart has to pump more blood through the nasal tissue. When nasal vessels are constricted for a while, it can lead to an infection or inflammation of the nasal tissue, leading to exacerbated sinus pressure, and pain.
Also, increased atmospheric pressure can cause the mucus produced in the sinus and nasal passages to thicken, blocking proper air and blood flow around the head, which can lead to sinus headaches. Similarly, during extremely low-pressure cases, the nasals tissues expand, and as a result, it gets irritated, which leads to pain and discomfort.
Is High Or Low-Pressure Better for Sinusitis?
With this, there is no right or wrong answer; however, a change in barometric pressure (whether an increase or decrease) can exacerbate the case of patients with sinusitis. However, most people experience increase sinusitis pain during periods of low temperature or high atmospheric pressure.
How To Alleviate Barometric Pressure Sinusitis Problems:
- Drinking loads of fluids will help improve the movement of the mucus around the sinus, and also thin the mucus for an easy flow.
- If it worsens, contact your doctor for prescribed medication.
- Sleep on an extra layer of a pillow to help recuperate the pain that comes along with sinusitis.
How To Measure Barometric Pressure Mean?
There are various ways to measure the barometric pressure of your environment to help you prepare earlier to avert any of the problems listed above: you can either use a stand-alone barometer or a home weather station. Home weather stations use a sensor chip to help you measure the barometric pressure and then present it in an easy-to-understand form. We have a comprehensive article on the top 10 home weather stations so do well to check it out.
But before we dive into that, we will like to point out that there are two types of stand-alone barometers:
- Mercury Barometers
- Aneroid Barometers
The most common type of barometer you will find is the aneroid barometer due to how simple it works, and how easy it is to read. So in this section, we will take a look at how the aneroid sensor works, as well as, how the barometric pressure sensor works. Mercury barometers aren’t used because mercury can be poisonous or even lethal to humans, as such aneroids as mostly used.
Also, it is important to note that barometer pressure sensors are a type of aneroid barometer; however, these sensors are often part of a home weather station, as opposed to being used as a stand-alone.
How A Barometer Pressure Sensor Works:
The sensor of the barometer your home station will have will consist of two main components:
- A circuit
- And the actual sensor
The purpose of the circuit is to take readings from the sensor and then process it into a form that can be interpreted by humans. The sensor, on the other hand, has a pressure-sensitive membrane that is placed on top of the body of the sensor. The pressure-sensitive membrane is susceptible to the slightest pressure changes, and its form gets deformed as the atmospheric pressure changes. Whenever the shape changes, the pressure-sensitive membrane generates an electrical voltage that is proportional to the change of shape of the membrane.
This generated voltage is transmitted to the circuit, and it is translated into a form we can read and understand. It is important to note that the membrane can generate a voltage due to the presence of a Wheaton bridge integrated into the membrane.
How The Aneroid Barometer Works:
The second type of barometer–which is a stand-alone barometer– you will find in most homes is the aneroid barometer. This type of barometer uses delicate and thin metals to detect atmospheric pressure changes.
The main component is known as an aneroid cell, the top of this aneroid cell is furnished with a diaphragm, which expands and contracts per the incoming atmospheric pressure. The expansion and contraction of the diaphragm are transmitted to the dial via a series of levers, namely, the central lever, the spring, and the spindle lever.
The central lever holds the diaphragm in place whiles the spring allows the diaphragm to expand and contract per the atmospheric pressure readings. The spindle lever, on the other hand, registers the movement of the diaphragm to the spindle to allow the dial to move across the circular scale.
These systems of levers ensure that the movement of the diaphragm is amplified for easy reading.
Frequently Asked Questions About Barometer Pressure:
Yes, changes in barometric pressure, especially low barometric pressure can cause fatigue. This is because, during low atmospheric pressure cases, there tends to be less available air in the atmosphere; this causes people to struggle to breathe, leading to fatigue or even drowsiness.
Yes, this is one aspect of barometric pressure most people are ignorant about; however, in an actual sense, barometric pressure does affect the feeding habits of fish. The ocean or water bodies are at a low altitude, and as a result, they will be naturally high-pressure environments; therefore, fishes are used to living in a high-pressure environment. Well, fishes can detect changes in atmospheric pressure using their bladder, and fun fact: they can feel it much quicker than we humans do.
Barometric pressure is measured either in millibars (mb) or inches of mercury (Hg). Readings below 29.80 Hg are often considered as low barometric pressure, whiles readings above 30.20 Hg are considered high; readings within the range of 29.9 Hg to 30.2 Hg are considered normal. Therefore, if you realize your home weather station’s reading is exceeding the normal readings, then you need to brace yourself for some changes in your body if you have any of the abovementioned health issues.
A decrease in barometric pressure is a sign that a storm might be approaching. As stated earlier, low pressure means the air particles are far away from each other, as a result, the air tends to rise, and when it rises, it gets condensed and produces clouds when clouds are formed, rain and storms follow to release the built-up condensed air. It is important to note that when the pressure drops drastically, it means a storm will follow the rain; however, when it drops slowly, it means it is only going to rain. On the other hand, when barometric pressure increases, then it means, it is going to be good, clear, and cooler weather.
Atmospheric pressure affects us in different ways; therefore, we need to look beyond just temperature changes during weather reports. Having a fair knowledge of how the atmospheric pressure will change can be an indicator of various circumstances such as our health and extreme weather conditions. This is why we recommend that you have a high-quality home weather station to help you forecast the change in barometric pressure.