What to do if you get Migraines at Work?
It is Migraine Awareness Week and we are looking at the impact this illness can have at work and what you should do if you find yourself suffering
Many of us will have described a bad headache as a migraine, often to excuse ourselves from an activity. But there is a difference between the two, and genuine migraines can cause serious and long-lasting problems for people in their personal lives and at work.
So, what is the difference between a headache and a migraine? Firstly, a migraine is not just a really severe headache, it also brings with it other symptoms such as nausea, impaired vision, poor concentration, sweating, stomach upsets and an increased sensitivity to light, smells and sound. It can also last much longer – anywhere between four hours and three days, with a sense of tiredness descending for up to three additional days after an episode has ended.
For those who suffer from migraines regularly, the attacks can often be triggered by stress, anxiety, tiredness or overexertion, as well as dehydration, lack of food or too much coffee or alcohol. Environmental factors can also initiate a migraine, including bright lights, loud noises, strong smells and smoky environments.
With such a huge array of triggers, it can be hard to know when you might suffer from an episode, which can make this illness unpredictable and hard to manage. This is especially true at work. As genuine migraines are so debilitating, suffers cannot simply pop some paracetamol and work through it. As such, it has been estimated by the Migraine Trust that this illness is responsible for a quarter of a million days of missed school and work each year, equating to a £2.25 billion loss in absenteeism.
Though you can’t control when you might get a migraine, there are ways to improve your situation at work. The first step is to make your employer aware of your health condition. This will make it easier to seek help and take time off when a migraine strikes. It might be helpful to ask your doctor to write a note explaining the severity of your condition and show this to your employer. Keep a paper trail of any interactions you have with your boss or HR about your condition.
Consider your work environment. If you work at a desk and know that long periods staring at a bright screen can be a trigger, for example, can you do something to alter this, such as dimming the brightness levels of your screen or wearing anti-glare lenses? This is not just your responsibility but your employers’, as laid out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, so seek official help with a risk assessment. Your IT department might already have some equipment you could use.
You should also consider reducing the amount of video conferencing you do on platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, as many people suffering from migraines have found this to be trigger. If you must take part, turn off the video function to reduce your exposure to moving images. Also, ask participants to mute themselves when not speaking so that you are not overloaded with sound.
Finally, and it is easier said than done, try to avoid stress. This is known to be a key trigger, so take yourself out of any potentially stressful situations at work and ensure that you build in regular breaks to your daily routine. Also, stick to reasonable working hours as tiredness can also cause a migraine.
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