Complaints of headaches and migraines are on the rise, but is mask wearing the cause? All the normal triggers for migraines are still with us, while the added stress of the pandemic can account for much of the rest. Still, there is no evidence that wearing a mask causes headaches or migraines, and there is also no evidence that people suffer from reduced oxygen while wearing a mask.
You can safely follow guidelines for mask-wearing without worrying about increasing the frequency and severity of your migraines. These tips for avoiding migraine triggers are helpful both when wearing a mask and not wearing a mask.
Typical Migraine Triggers
Migraine triggers, which you can identify using a migraine diary, differ from person to person. Stress is a significant factor in many head pain scenarios, including migraines. With the current health, economic, and social issues, there is plenty of stress to go around.
If you can mitigate the stress in your life, you can go a long way towards reducing migraine occurrence. Other notable triggers include:
- Insufficient sleep
- Too much screen time
- Weather changes (hurricanes, anyone?)
- Unhealthy air (smoke from fires)
- Poor diet or specific foods like red wine, chocolate, or aged cheese
Hormonal changes, strong smells, loud noises, and bright, flickering lights add to the potential for developing migraines.
Migraines and COVID-19
Headaches are on the list of potential COVID-19 symptoms. Still, most individuals who become ill show other signs and symptoms in tandem with head pain, such as fever, chills, and fatigue.
Managing Migraines - an Overview
If you haven’t been tracking your migraines, now is a good time to start. Keep a daily diary that tracks the types of food and drink you consume, how much sleep you get, and other details along with your migraines.
A migraine diary helps identify items that may trigger your migraine. For example, you may find that you tend to get a migraine after eating a meal loaded with MSG (monosodium glutamate). You might discover that you haven’t been sleeping well for a few days or that your seasonal allergies are starting to act up.
Triggers can add up. If you are stressed and then eat chocolate, the stress plus the dietary trigger join together to make it more likely you develop a migraine or that it will be more severe.
Most of us could do with a little less screen time. Staring at a computer screen all day can strain anyone’s eyes.
- Give your eyes a break every 20 minutes.
- Look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
- Blink 10 times rapidly to avoid dry eyes.
Try to reduce the time you spend on your tablet, smartphone, or home computer as well. The same steps apply. However, screen time right before bed can cause sleep problems. Try to take a break for a couple of hours before bed and read a book or listen to music. Let your eyes rest.
Managing Migraines While Wearing a Mask
So far, there are no studies confirming that wearing a mask increases your chances of developing a migraine or having more severe or frequent migraines. While there are plenty of anecdotes about healthcare workers with headaches, keep in mind the stressful nature of their job. Also, understand that healthcare workers are often required to wear N95 masks that fit tightly, and that they must wear layers of other protective gear.
Most of us do not wear N95 masks, nor do we wear them for eight to ten hours a day. The most commonly used masks for most individuals are the disposable surgical masks you wear once and discard or masks made of two or three fabric layers.
When selecting a mask to wear, you can make sure it’s comfortable while also keeping you and others safe.
The mask should fit tightly enough to prevent air droplets from escaping while you breathe out. It shouldn’t be squeezing your head. Some masks come with an elastic band joining the ear loops. If you wear these, make sure they fit correctly. Some are very snug, even though they are marked as adult size or large.
Keep the mask comfortably firm against your face, but avoid tightening it too much. It should cover your nose to below your chin with no gaps on the sides. Try different styles of masks to see which gives you the best fit.
Another factor that may contribute to mask discomfort is overheating. Most of us aren’t used to wearing fabric across our faces in the summer. Take the same precautions you would for the heat and make concessions. Avoid enclosed places that are not cooled adequately. Steer clear of areas with people so you can reduce your mask-wearing time.
The act of wearing a mask when you aren't used to it can cause you to change habits. For example, you are less likely to drink enough fluids when you must wear a mask. You need to make a deliberate effort to maintain hydration.
Lack of Caffeine
The same holds true if you are a coffee-drinker or enjoy caffeine-laced drinks. With the mask on, you may not drink as much coffee, tea, or soda. Eventually, you suffer a headache from lack of caffeine.
Avoid Migraine Triggers While Wearing a Mask
Besides dietary triggers, take steps to avoid other types of triggers as well. In other words, do the same thing you would do without a mask.
In at least one instance, mask-wearing may help. If you have allergies to pollen, you may wear a mask to work outside already. It’s possible that wearing a fabric or paper mask can keep some of that pollen at bay the rest of the time you are out and about.
If light or sound triggers your migraines, obviously, a mask won't help. But you can stay away from fluorescent lighting and construction zones. Some sufferers find masks reduce the power of odors that trigger migraines.
Wear a Mask without Worrying About Migraines
To reiterate, there is nothing that shows masks increase migraine frequency or severity. Most migraineurs need to avoid the same triggers they always have.
Mandated mask orders are in place to protect both yourself and others. Be sure to maintain hydration and eat properly. Otherwise, get plenty of sleep, minimize screen time, and find ways to reduce stress.
If you are suffering from frequent migraines and have questions about available migraine treatments available to you, reach out to our team today.