How to Avoid Migraine Triggers at Work

  • To do list
    Take migraines off your to-do list.
    Some 38 million Americans get migraines, most of them women. Migraines cost American businesses an estimated $29 billion every year due to lost productivity, such as people taking sick days or working impaired. How can you keep from getting a migraine on the job or having to take time off? The key is in knowing your migraine triggers--and avoiding them. Here are six strategies to consider.

  • woman having conversation with colleague in office
    Tell your boss.
    You may feel uncomfortable disclosing to your boss that you get migraines. But migraine can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, depending on how severely your migraines impact your work life. Your employer may be legally required to make reasonable accommodations for you. Even if you don’t qualify for ADA, your boss needs to know how to help so you can avoid your migraine triggers--and stay productive.

  • Modern office space with fluorescent lamps
    Go to the light–and fix it.
    Fluorescent lights are a common trigger. If you work in an office with these and they bother you, see if your boss will add fluorescent light filters or change the lighting to something more natural. Another option: letting you work in an area where you can adjust your lighting. Flickering computer screens are another visual trigger. Seek an anti-glare filter or a newer display with better refresh rate.

  • Music keeps her creativity at it's peak
    Shut down the noise.
    Loud and repetitive sounds, such as from ringing phones or clunking copiers, can often be an issue for migraine sufferers. Solutions include having your employer provide you with an environmental sound machine to create a “white noise” barrier or installing sound absorption panels. Or, if your job allows it, wear a noise-cancelling headset.

  • Air Ionizer and Purifier for Allergies
    Sniff out overpowering smells.
    Working in close quarters with someone wearing a strongly scented perfume or enjoying reheated leftovers for lunch? If you are migraine-prone, this isn’t just nasal torture but something that can quickly lead to stabbing head pain and nausea. Talk to your employer about set a fragrance policy limiting the use of colognes, perfumes and other scents. Adding an air purifier is another option. If possible, move your workspace to a place where fragrances aren’t a problem; this includes being away for kitchen areas where the smells of different foods can also be an issue.

  • Close-Up Of Water Pouring In Glass
    Drink and eat wisely.
    Don’t rush out the door without breakfast or work through lunch. Skipping meals can bring on migraines–as can hunger-induced binging on junk food, which often is loaded with migraine triggers: nitrates in processed meats, MSG, tyramine (found in some cheeses), chocolate and other no-nos. Also stay hydrated, but choose water and other trigger-free beverages; avoid excess caffeine, colas and artificial sweeteners.

  • Pain Killer Pills or Tablets
    Don’t forget your meds.
    Always have your rescue meds on hand just in case trigger avoidance doesn’t work and you feel those unmistakable signs of a migraine on its nasty way. See if your employer can accommodate you with access to a quiet, dark room where you can rest until your meds take effect, or else have an escape plan in place—a spot where you know you can go until you feel better.

How to Avoid Migraine Triggers at Work

About The Author

Lorna Collier has been reporting on health topics—especially mental health and women’s health—as well as technology and education for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News, CNN.com, the APA’s Monitor on Psychology, and many others. She’s a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
  1. American Business Has a Big Stake in Conquering Migraine. American Migraine Foundation. http://www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/support-the-foundation/american-business/
  2. Migraine Triggers. The Migraine Trust. http://www.migrainetrust.org/factsheet-migraine-triggers-10505
  3. Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees With Migraine Headaches. Job Accommodation Network. http://askjan.org/media/Migraine.html
  4. Avoid Migraine Triggers. Association of Migraine Disorders. http://www.migrainedisorders.org/treatments/avoid-migraine-triggers/
  5. 10 Ways Your Office Job is Causing a Headache at Work. Migraine Again. http://migraineagain.com/10-ways-office-job-causing-headache-work/ 
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Last Review Date: 2019 Dec 15
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