How to handle and prevent migraines at work

According to The Migraine Trust, every day in the UK there are an estimated 190,000 migraine attacks. Anyone who has experienced a migraine will know these attacks obey no schedule and do not make maintaining day-to-day routines any easier. So, while a migraine at home – which typically lasts between 4 and 72 hours – can be painful, disorientating and disruptive, a migraine at work can be catastrophic.

What to do if you get a migraine at work

If you do get a migraine while at work, experts recommend taking medication as soon as the pain starts, to prevent the symptoms from getting out of control. So it is a good idea to keep a stash of your usual anti-inflammatory migraine medication at your workplace, should symptoms start to come on. Avoid taking any sedating medications at work though, such as narcotic pain relievers or some anti-sickness drugs.

Of course, the best treatment is prevention, so here are a few tips on how to avoid getting migraines during work hours.

Avoid migraine triggers in your workplace

The first rule of migraine management is to try to figure out what triggers your migraines. For instance, do certain foods, stress, strong smells, or bright lights bring on migraines?  If you’re not sure what your triggers are, try keeping a log of your headaches and see if any patterns emerge. If you know what factors increase your chance of a migraine then you can take steps to avoid them.

Doctors recommend drinking more water if you get migraines, as dehydration is a common trigger. Limiting caffeine intake and avoiding salty foods can also be helpful with avoiding dehydration. Some people get migraines when they are hungry, so don’t miss lunch, even if you’re on an all-important deadline and the pressure is on! Snacks at your desk are a good idea, but avoid anything too sugary – stick to nuts, protein bars or fruit.

If you’re a woman and you get migraines, you might find that the drop in oestrogen just before your period contributes to attacks. If you have migraines throughout your menstrual cycle then your doctor may recommend taking preventive medications on a daily basis.

Migraines are also sometimes associated with a visual-perceptual problem variously known as visual stress, Meares-Irlen, or scotopic sensitivity syndrome. As well as getting headaches and migraines, people with this condition report experiencing words and letters ‘jumping’ off the page, difficulty looking at computer screens and unusual sensitivity to fluorescent lighting. You can find more information on visual stress from Crossbow Education.

Computer tips for migraine sufferers

Jobs that involve heavy use of a computer are often difficult for people who get migraines. This is because computer monitors put the eyes under stress and the glare from the monitors can trigger an attack. An anti-glare screen might help – or special eyewear called ‘computer glasses’ that reduce glare and increase contrast. But there a few other tips and tricks that desk-bound migraine sufferers may find useful.

For instance, try checking your monitor’s refresh rate. It might not be the first thing that springs to mind when it comes to averting a killer migraine, but when refresh rates are set too low they can cause an imperceptible flicker that will strain your eyes. Set the refresh rate as high as it will go to reduce eyestrain and potentially save yourself a few migraines.

Also, be aware of the brightness level of your monitor. If there is a big discrepancy between your screen and the brightness of your environment – say, a dark room and a very bright screen, then you will strain your eyes.

Ensuring that your monitor, desk and seat have been properly set up will make your working life much easier and lower the likelihood of a migraine. Your monitor should be directly in front of your face in line with your eyebrows and arm’s length. Distances that are longer or shorter than this can – again – cause eyestrain. Adjust your chair so that your monitor is at eye level. If your monitor isn’t at eye level then you may end up slouching, which can produce tension and increase the risk of a migraine.

Practice good posture – sit up straight with shoulders back and chin up. This may feel weird at first if you’re not used to sitting like this, but it will lower potentially migraine-inducing bodily tension. And take frequent breaks! Stand up now and again, stretch your back, shoulders and neck. Let your eyes rest from the glare of your monitor.

Because stress is a known trigger of migraines – and sadly, a common feature of many jobs – you should take steps to curb work-related stress. Try scheduling tasks one at a time, so that you don’t end up doing everything at once, and make sure you book holidays as downtime to recover from any particularly stressful work periods.

As you can tell from this blogpost, migraine sufferers in the modern working environment face myriad problems, but we hope this guide has given you a few tips on how to manage this troublesome condition. Remember that if you feel like your boss may not be sympathetic to your condition, it is a good idea to ask your doctor for a note explaining your condition and listing what migraine triggers you might encounter in the workplace.

Additional resources

This guide from The Migraine Trust is an excellent resource for those struggling to work with migraines.

How to cope with migraine at work

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