By Dr. Vishal Chafle
A migraine attack at work can be disabling, can impact productivity, and as a result negatively affect their career and professional lives. Employers or colleagues may not be entirely aware of it and may be under the misconception of it is just being a headache.
But migraine is a neurological disorder that can cause pulsing or throbbing pain in one area or both sides of the head. A migraine attack can last from hours to days. Even after the attack goes away, it might continue to lay you low with symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and trouble focusing.
Though migraine causes aren’t fully understood, migraine attacks at workplaces can be triggered by stress, anxiety, and environmental factors such as bright lights, noise, and air conditioners. There is no absolute cure for migraine but there are ways to avoid and mitigate migraine at work which can start with having a conversation with the human resources representative or your boss about your condition. To mitigate the specific factors that prompt episodes, a letter from your doctor that describes your migraine diagnosis and health needs can help you make your office environment a conducive place to work.
If stress is a known trigger for your migraine episodes, your doctor may recommend taking the medication only during times of high stress, such as leading up to a stressful work week or event. Incorporate relaxation exercises into your daily routine. Use an empty room in the office to recover from migraine symptoms.
If you tend to get migraine attacks during office hours, consider asking for a flexible work schedule. Start work later in the day to ease a headache or a migraine attack you woke up with. If your migraine is triggered by light, avoid bright or fluorescent light spaces or put glare-dimming filters over them. Avoid sitting under harsh lights and use a desk lamp. Put a filter over your computer screen if the glare from it hurts your head or eyes. If you’re sensitive to sound, use noise-reducing headphones. Select a desk in a quieter part of the office where there’s less chatter or other noise.
Strong odours can trigger migraine in some people. If a colleague uses strong-smelling perfume that triggers your symptoms, consider having a polite conversation with them. Air conditioners can also trigger your migraine. Cold air stimulates the trigeminal nerve causing the blood vessels to contract which consequentially can cause a headache. As air conditioners not only cool the air but also lower the humidity, make sure to keep yourself well hydrated. Try to avoid abrupt temperature/humidity changes. For emergencies, keep a kit handy at work such as healthy snacks, migraine medication, and a bottle of water.
At the organizational level, migraine education programs can be implemented that provide education, raise awareness, and break the stigma around migraines being passed off as “just a headache”. While a cultural shift is underway, without organization-wide ant-stigma efforts in all employees, there is a significant burden on people with migraine to do the “migraine talk” and educate them about the disorder and risk discrimination and other negative consequences.
One way of mitigating the stigma against migraine is by changing the perspective of people via widespread public education, non-judgmental language, and advocacy. Studies have shown that migraine education and management programs in the workplace improve productivity by cutting absences in half, and increasing productivity at work during migraine attacks between 36% and 59%.
(Dr. Vishal Chafle is the Consultant, Interventional Neurology at Apollo Hospitals)