Most people spend the majority of their day at work. Because one in four women and one in sixteen men suffer from migraines, the probability is high that you have employees who are migraineurs — people who get migraines.
Upwards of 113 million workdays are lost to migraines annually, and the total indirect costs associated with migraine is around $19.3 billion, 81% of which can be attributed to absenteeism. However, migraines also impact “presenteeism.” An employee may be at work, but their productivity lags. Over three-quarters of migraineurs report a migraine makes them less productive at work.
As an employer, how can you help?
What Is a Migraine?
A migraine is much more than a simple headache. It is a complex, disabling neurological disease. It carries socioeconomic consequences for both the employer and the employee. Migraines tend to come with a stigma. Many don't believe migraine is a serious disorder, leading sufferers to avoid diagnosis or hide their condition.
Unfortunately, not everyone responds to currently available migraine treatments, but you can help reduce the environmental triggers to lower migraine occurrence and provide an understanding workplace with proper accommodations.
Every accommodation you make for those suffering from migraines also makes the workplace better for everyone, including people who suffer from other disorders.
“Migraineurs often describe environmental triggers of their headaches, such as barometric pressure change, bright sunlight, flickering lights, air quality, and odors. Environmental aspects of indoor spaces and workplaces are also implicated in migraine experiences. Comprehensive migraine treatment programs emphasize awareness and avoidance of trigger factors as part of the therapeutic regimen.” (Friedman and De Ver Dye 2009)
With a change in perspective and thoughtful changes in the work environment, you can reduce the risk of migraine attacks and productivity loss in your company.
Environmentally Triggered Migraine Symptoms and How to Reduce Them
Light, sound, and odors can trigger migraines. They don’t always trigger migraines in every person who suffers from them but are primary environmental elements that are well within an employer’s ability to implement.
Photophobia is a hypersensitivity to light and occurs in 80% of migraine sufferers. Sunlight, artificial light, and bright or flickering lights can trigger a migraine attack. To reduce exposure to light, you can provide adjustable lighting.
- Use shading systems for windows and glass walls so people can adjust the intensity and direction of natural light.
- Use artificial lighting systems that adapt to specific situations, work phases, or temporary user needs.
- Avoid using light fixtures with directly visible light sources.
- Opt for indirect lighting and avoid reflective surfaces.
- Install anti-glare filters on computer monitors and equip workstations with adjustable lighting systems so users can regulate the light's direction, luminance, and temperature.
When you design a new facility or remodel an existing one, keep lighting in mind. All employees will thank you!
Around 70% to 80% of migraine sufferers are hypersensitive to sounds during a migraine attack that they usually could tolerate. Others with hyperacusis, misophonia, tinnitus, or neurodegenerative conditions can also be sensitive to ambient sounds, including music, traffic, dishes, sirens, alarms, and loud conversations
While sound may not trigger a migraine in every case, it can worsen a migraine attack.
Limit noise levels and create a quiet ambient environment whenever possible. Your employees will report reduced stress, too.
If possible, try to:
- Avoid creating an environment that generates echoes and reverberations.
- Avoid bells, ringtones, and loud music.
- Avoid loud alarms, sirens, and voice messages.
- Adopt noise mitigation measures in large, crowded environments using sound-absorbing panels and furnishings.
- Provide noise-canceling headphones or encourage their use.
- Ask everyone to keep their devices on silent mode during work.
- Provide separate private conference rooms for meetings and long discussions.
Consider how you feel when entering a restaurant with blaring music or watching employees when an alarm sounds. If everyone winces, makes a face, or covers their ears, it's probably too loud. A quieter workplace is generally more productive.
Osmophobia is an increased sensitivity to smells and odors.
Scents and smells are subjective and vary widely between individuals, but sometimes strong odors can trigger a migraine or other headache attack. Around 84% of people suffering from migraines with aura and 74% of those suffering migraines without aura report odor sensitivities.
Reduce odors in the work environment by:
- Using odorless cleaners and disinfectants.
- Ensuring a good air exchange with natural ventilation.
- Using air purification systems if needed.
- Encouraging meal prep and eating outside the immediate workplace or provide a designated area away from others for meals.
Though some smells will be out of your control, making minor changes can help mitigate potential problems.
What Else Can You Do to Make Your Workplace Healthier and Happier?
Set aside a dark, quiet space where employees can go if they experience a migraine attack at work. Also, share with employees any decisions you make on specific environmental changes and measures you implement.
Flexible scheduling for migraineurs allows employees to help themselves. Many can still be productive with remote work in an environment they control.
A large portion of the population suffers from migraines, which cost employers lost productivity and other issues. You can create a migraine-friendly workplace and encourage awareness of migraine disease.
Implement indirect and adjustable lighting systems, reduce ambient sounds, and use air purification and natural ventilation to eliminate troublesome odors and control airborne illnesses.
If you have questions, don't hesitate to get in touch with the Migraine Relief Center for more information.