The Importance of a Migraine-Friendly Work Environment
As migraine warriors, we often have to juggle the rigors of a family, a job, and migraine attacks (on top of other responsibilities that life throws at us). These three facets are not independent of each other and it’s important to remember that you should not be sacrificing one at the expense of another, especially if you wish to thrive in your career.
Your environment and migraine
Did you know that the kind of environment a migraine warrior lives and works in can affect the frequency of migraine attacks? There are many triggers for migraine attacks which vary from person to person. This means that what may trigger a migraine attack in some may not trigger the attack in another person.
We can also observe the same phenomenon with symptoms of migraine. People experience different symptoms and the environment you’re in can directly influence these triggers and symptoms.
Common Workplace Triggers
Stress: although people typically have different triggers, one trigger that seems to be universal is stress, and this is something that cannot be avoided in any type of workplace. In fact, stress is the top trigger recorded in over 3.9 million attack entries within Migraine Buddy. Stressful times indeed!
Light from computer monitors and television screens: excessive blue light emitted from our devices is not only directly implicated in migraine attacks, but can also affect our sleep quality [1, 2]. As a result, we end up struggling with nights of poor sleep which then increases the risk for a migraine attack.
Bright environmental lights: in many offices, fluorescent lights are used to keep the environment bright and optimal for productivity. Unfortunately, this is not the most ideal setup for many of us with migraine and even has the opposite effect of decreasing productivity. In Migraine Buddy, more than 60,000 users have reported “bright lights” as one of their migraine triggers!
Loud sounds: in dynamic working environments where loud chatter is necessary or if the nature of your job requires close contact with noisy machines, prolonged exposure to loud sounds may be a cause for concern—especially if you are particularly sensitive to sounds.
Pungent smells: this is atypical in office environments, but more applicable for those who are working in places like laboratories, hospitals, manufacturing, or engineering industries where strong chemical smells inevitably come together as a package with the job.
Poor sitting posture: for many of us who are still telecommuting, you may be seated all day long in a chair that is not ergonomic enough. Over a period of time, this results in a poor sitting posture and you may even develop sore neck muscles.
Physical exhaustion: the nature of some jobs requires one to be always on their feet and some jobs are more physically demanding than others. Long working hours without sufficient rest can lead to physical exhaustion and even burnout, a sight which is becoming, unfortunately, very common in our fast-paced world. Over 70,000 attack records in Migraine Buddy have indicated some form of exhaustion or tiredness as a trigger!
The environment may also play a direct role in worsening the symptoms of a migraine attack. One symptom that seems to be experienced by many during an attack is the increased sensitivity to light and sound.
With heightened sensitivity to bright lights and loud sounds, everything feels 10 times more painful than usual. Fluorescent overhead lights can feel like a torch is burning your eye socket, and the sounds of keyboard typing can feel like there’s a rock concert going on in the eardrums.
The challenges faced by the migraine community in a workplace are inherently different and employers play an important role in addressing the needs of this community, otherwise, the “business could be losing a staggering $2,000 per employee, per year,” as shared by Dr. David Dodick, chair of the IHS-GPAC .
In addition, presenteeism (working with reduced productivity) could have a heavier impact than absenteeism (missing work)—this was described in a narrative review of the burden of migraine: “[…] on an annual basis, patients lost on average 4.4 workdays, but worked with reduced productivity for further 11.4 days” [4, 5].
Over the years of navigating these challenges, migraine warriors have found various ways to manage the triggers and symptoms of migraine while at work. This could mean removing or adjusting the physical parameters that are on your list of triggers.
With that said, we should of course seek to build a work environment that is as migraine-friendly as possible for better productivity. However, this may be more difficult if you’re working in more dynamic environments that are not desk-bound or have regular office hours. This sentiment is echoed in some studies on the effects of shift work on migraine, for example in healthcare professionals [6 – 9].
In our next article, we will be sharing some of the ways that you can migraine-proof your work environment, and hopefully help to reduce the chances of a migraine occurring at work. Stay tuned!