Migraines at Work? Check the Lighting.

by Teri Robert Patient Advocate

If you find that you have more headaches and Migraines while at work, it may be the office lighting. Traditional office lighting generally presents three potential headache and Migraine triggers:

  1. Glare on computer screens from any overhead lighting

  2. Glare from overhead incandescent lighting

  3. Flicker from fluorescent lighting

Let's take a look at these three issues:

Glare on a computer screen from overhead lighting may be the easiest to address. There are several approaches you can take:

  • Reposition the monitor so the light hits it more indirectly.

  • Attach a glare screen to your monitor.

  • Put a hood over your monitor to keep light from hitting it from above and from the sides.

  • Depending on which lights are on the various switches, turn off the lights over your work area.

  • If other methods haven't worked, and you can't turn off only the lights in your own work area talk to your supervisor or other appropriate person about having the bulbs or tubes in your work area removed.

Glare from incandescent light bulbs can often be handled in a number of ways:

  • Try repositioning yourself to sit at different angles from the light.

  • Incandescent bulbs should never be left bare, but always covered by a fixture. In most cases, the fixtures will reduce the glare enough to eliminate the problem. If the problem persists, check the fixture. Is it frosted or opaque, or is it clear. If it's clear, replace it or ask your employer to replace it with a frosted or opaque fixture.

  • If these measures don't work, turn off the lights over your work area or ask to have the bulbs removed.

Unfortunately, the problem with fluorescent lighting is different and more difficult to address. Although generally imperceptible to the human eye, fluorescent lighting has a flicker. It's the flicker itself that's actually a Migraine trigger. Thus, it doesn't matter what kind of fixture houses the tubes. People who are sensitive to that flicker will have a problem with it. The best solution is to remove it from your immediate work area. Sit down and discuss the problem with your supervisor or other appropriate person. If whomever is in charge of maintenance has a problem with leaving a fixture empty, suggest that they simply replace the tubes in your work area with burned out tubes.

I asked ophthalmologist Scott Strickler, M.D. to "shed some light" on this subject from the angle of eye strain also. He explained that incandescent lighting is actually better work lighting. Fluorescent lighting is good to wash a large area in light, but provides very poor task lighting. He suggested that workers in offices with fluorescent lighting also need desktop task lighting for working with papers, books, etc. As for problematic fluorescent lighting? "Turn them off or disable the tubes," he told me. "It's so simple that I can't imagine an employer objecting."

Take a good look at your headache and Migraine diary. If you're experiencing more headaches and Migraines at work, take a look at the lighting to see if that could be a trigger. Remember, trigger identification and management is part of good care.

Teri Robert
Meet Our Writer
Teri Robert

Teri Robert is a leading patient educator and advocate and the author of Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches. A co-founder of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy and the American Headache and Migraine Association, she received the National Headache Foundation's Patient Partners Award and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Headache Society.