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Can My Work Environment Trigger Migraines?

Posted by Migraine Relief Center on Jul 22, 2015 7:00:00 AM

We sit too long, use computers for hours, work in unhealthy buildings, and get too little fresh air. If everything else in health and life is equal, we cope even though those things are bad for everyone.

For migraine sufferers, conditions at work can escalate an already hard-to-manage condition. The good news is there are some things you can do at work that will help and, if those fail it’s possible co-workers or bosses can step in and make necessary changes.

It’s vital you understand your migraine triggers and figure out what in your work environment provokes an attack. Triggers could include:

Toxic Air

Often associated with ‘sick building syndrome’, constantly breathing recycled air is enough to make otherwise healthy people feel ill. Pollutants such as bacteria and mold can live in poorly maintained air conditioning units and find their way into the air you breathe all day. Get out into the fresh air outdoors if possible by taking a short walk during lunch, open a window a little if you can, or arm yourself with a portable air filter.

Computer Screens

The artificial glare from computer screens can cause eyestrain and tension, a common migraine trigger. Further, overly bright screens can disrupt your internal body clock since the body reacts the same as it does to darkness. Sleeplessness can follow, causing fatigue, another migraine trigger. Solutions could involve simply turning down the brightness of the screen, looking away as often as possible or investing in glasses with precision ophthalmic tints.


Depression has strong links with migraine, and it’s been shown that motivational meetings at work can actually have the reverse effect to the one intended. Instead of firing up enthusiasm in employees, they can, instead, cause employees to focus on all that’s wrong, leading to a sense of depression. You probably can’t avoid these meetings, but you can control your inner reaction to them. Focus instead on the good parts of the meeting or company policy, and don’t allow the overall tone to drag down your emotions.

General Working Conditions

In a busy office environment, there are many possible migraine triggers; things that people without migraine wouldn’t think twice about. Some of those diverse triggers could include:

  • Fumes from printers or copiers
  • Co-Workers perfumes
  • Overhead fluorescent lights
  • Loud noises or bright desk lights

Even your eating habits or the clothes you wear can affect migraines at work. For instance, not eating breakfast can lead to snacking on potential trigger foods later, or wearing uncomfortable shoes can discourage you from getting up and moving around. Sometimes taking care of the little things can bring big rewards.

Deadline Stress

If you’re constantly working against tight deadlines that create a build-up of stress, the very thought of going to work could be enough to trigger the start of a migraine. There are a couple of ways to handle this situation:

  • Speak to co-workers. If their procrastination is limiting your available time on a project and straining the deadline, maybe you could create artificial deadlines so work is completed sooner.
  • Involve the chain of command. Speak to those above you if that’s where the time issues come from. It’s better to bring problems into the open so they can be addressed. No one can help if they don’t realize help is needed.

Deadline stress is counter-productive, actually slowing down working processes so the project takes even longer which causes more stress and so triggers a migraine attack. If possible, don’t let yourself get into that vicious cycle.

Muscle Strain and Posture

Sitting for too long is bad for us anyway, but for migraine sufferers, the resulting muscle aches and strains can cause tension headaches that quickly escalate into migraines.

If you can’t avoid sitting, build regular breaks into your routine. Stand up, walk around the office, stretch your back and neck to ease out kinks. You could also adjust the height of your chair to improve your posture, use a lumbar support, and place a footrest under your desk to elevate your feet.

How to Resolve Difficulties

You’ll feel more confident about asking employers to help you create a healthy work environment if you know your rights.

Depending on the severity of your migraines, you may be classified as disabled. The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against you. Not all realize what your rights are, however, so it’s important you educate yourself. Most employers will try to resolve issues, but they can’t help if you don’t speak to them and explain. A letter from your physician can help them understand the difficulties you face every day.

Holding down a job and managing migraine attacks can be challenging. Do whatever is necessary to make your working life easier.

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Topics: Causes

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