Headaches on the job are not an uncommon occurrence for thousands—even millions—of employees around the world. Amazingly, more than half of Americans have experienced headache or migraine episodes that resulted in missing work or school; and signs point to your immediate environment as a key contributor to the problem. Here are 7 aspects of your day job that just may be triggering your head pain.
For some, fragrances and odors may be the cause of a headache or migraine attack. When working in settings with many people, such as in an office, there may be exposure to a variety of scents including: perfumes, colognes, cleaning products and foods. Other times, chemicals and other caustic products may be the culprit. And these types of scents are a frequent trigger of attacks in those who already have migraine, affecting 70% of patients.1
2. Computer Screens
We live in a modern world full of innovative technology. And while this often allows us to work more efficiently, it can be a leading cause of workplace related headaches. For example, it has been reported that during routine eye exams, as many as 10-15% of patients report eyestrain and headaches associated with computer use; however, there is evidence that these numbers should be even higher due to the fact that headache is one of the most prominent complaints of screen exposure.2 And it is likely even worse for a person with migraine too, due to the frequent sensitivity to light that they can experience.
3. Fluorescent Lights
Fluorescent lights are pretty much everywhere, but especially in workplaces all around the world. Whether you work in an office, factory or other type of space, you are likely exposed to fluorescent lighting which can be a big contributor to how you feel at the end of the work day. Sadly, fluorescent lighting has been reported to trigger more than half of women who have a history of migraine.3 Even if you have not been diagnosed with a chronic headache disorder, the use of conventional fluorescent lighting in the office setting nearly doubles headache occurrences when compared with environments that use more natural light.4
Your job can be one of the biggest stressors in your life, and unfortunately that means it can also be a major reason for your headaches. It should not be surprising then that retirement had a positive impact on headache occurrences for people who engaged in high-stress work, cutting the number of attacks nearly in half. And you may be more susceptible to recurring head pain from stress based on your actual job role, such as nursing.5,6 Furthermore, work related emotional exhaustion has been shown to be higher in those with episodic migraine attacks, suggesting that they are less likely to have adapted stress reduction mechanisms.7
Staying properly hydrated is vital for the body to function correctly, maintain balance and in some cases to prevent headaches or migraines. In some cases, headache relief can be achieved within 30 minutes of drinking up to a liter-and-a-half of water.8 It is not always easy to drink enough water while you are at work, but it is imperative to find ways to make sure your body is getting what it needs. (So you may need to cut back on the daily caffeinated drinks)
Finding the right balance in getting a good night sleep can be challenging, especially if you work off shifts, have home commitments that inhibit sleep or otherwise suffer from insomnia. Disruptions in normal sleep patterns, sleeping less than 6 hours/night or even oversleeping have been associated with tension-type headaches, even if you do not normally deal with them. And what is worse is that these painful attacks can last anywhere from an hour to an entire day.9
7. Caffeine and Certain Foods
Your diet can also play a huge role in any headaches and migraines you endure in the workplace, however these can be far more variable. Caffeine, for instance, has been shown to have conflicting effects. In those who do not regularly consume it, it has been shown to reduce headache-related symptoms. But you can have caffeine withdrawal too, which can also bring on nasty head pain.10 Some often reported food triggers include things like chocolate, aged cheeses, cured meats, and artificial sweeteners—although again, these can vary considerably from person to person and are almost certainly not comprehensive. Ultimately, the best approach is to identify your unique sensitivities and adjust your intake accordingly.
1Silva-Néto RP, Peres MF, Valença MM. Odorant substances that trigger headaches in migraine patients. Cephalalgia. 2014 Jan;34(1):14-21. doi: 10.1177/0333102413495969. Epub 2013 Jul 5.
2Eichenbaum JW. Computers and eyestrain. J Ophthalmic Nurs Technol. 1996 Jan-Feb;15(1):23-6.
3Hay KM, Mortimer MJ, Barker DC, Debney LM, Good PA. 1044 women with migraine: the effect of environmental stimuli. Headache. 1994 Mar; 34(3):166-8.
4Wilkins AJ, Nimmo-Smith I, Slater, AI, Bedocs L. Fluorescent lighting, headaches and eyestrain. Lighting Research & Technology. 1989 Feb; 21(1):11-18.
5Sjösten N, Nabi H, Westerlund H, et al. INFLUENCE OF RETIREMENT AND WORK STRESS ON HEADACHE PREVALENCE: A LONGITUDINAL MODELLING STUDY FROM THE GAZEL COHORT. Cephalalgia. 2011;31(6):696-705. doi:10.1177/0333102410394677.
6Lin KC, Huang CC, Wu CC. Association between stress at work and primary headache among nursing staff in Taiwan. Headache. 2007 Apr;47(4):576-84.
7González-Quintanilla V, Toriello-Suárez M, Gutiérrez-González S, Rojo-López A, González-Suárez A, Viadero-Cervera R, Palacio-Portilla EJ, Oterino-Durán A. Stress at work in migraine patients: differences in attack frequency. [Article in English, Spanish] Neurologia. 2015 Mar;30(2):83-9. doi: 10.1016/j.nrl.2013.10.008. Epub 2013 Dec 12.
8Blau JN, Kell CA, Sperling JM. Water-deprivation headache: a new headache with two variants. Headache. 2004 Jan;44(1):79-83.
9Blau JN. Sleep deprivation headache. Cephalalgia. 1990 Aug;10(4):157-60.
10Shapiro RE. Caffeine and headaches. Neurol Sci. 2007 May;28 Suppl 2:S179-83.