Q&A: Migraine at work

By: Steph Weatherley, Information and Support Services Advisor, The Migraine Trust

27th April 2022

In this blog, we answer common questions we get asked about migraine and work via The Migraine Trust helpline.

How can I avoid migraine triggers in an office?

Migraine is triggered by many different things, if you are aware of some of your triggers it can be useful to avoid these as much as possible. Ensure that your desk is the correct height, and positioned away from the window to avoid glare and direct sunlight. Overhead artificial lighting can also cause glare, it can be useful to not sit directly under lights, a desk nearer to natural light which can be controlled by blinds or curtains may be best. Ensure you have a suitable chair which allows for the correct posture as a stiff back or neck can trigger migraine.

IT equipment also needs to be adequate, screens need to be the correct height and many find a separate large screen, keyboard and mouse is best. Using a tablet or laptop with smaller screens can trigger migraine.

If you are triggered by noise, you can ask for your employer to consider moving your desk to a quieter location. Ensure you also have access to water to keep hydrated and are able to take a break when needed.

Are there special filters or computer screens I can use?

There are some programs that adjust the light on the screen to be like indoor lighting. They can be free and seem to help some people. Otherwise, a lot of people buy anti-glare/low-blue-light screen protectors, which may be helpful. Some computer monitors have a blue light filter built in and you may be able to select this in the screen settings. It can help to use dark mode and night mode on the computer as well, these can be found in the display settings.

Other things that may help include:

  • Taking regular breaks. The 20-20-20 rule can be helpful – every 20 minutes you should focus on something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds to give yourself a break from the screen.
  • If you wear glasses, speak to your optician about changes to glasses that may help (such as anti-glare lenses).
  • Make sure the screens are clean – smudges and smears can cause problems.
  • Make sure the lighting is good, and use as much natural light as possible. Desk lamps providing an even distribution are often better than overhead lighting which can increase glare.
  • Extend the distance between you and the screen – generally at least two feet is recommended.
  • Sit comfortably – muscle tension can be a problem when you sit in front of a screen for a long time and that can trigger a migraine in some people.

How can my employer help me?

If your migraine is impacting on you at work, you can ask your employer to make reasonable adjustments to support you. Migraine is usually triggered by a combination of many factors so it may be helpful to consider a range of options that will minimise the impact of your migraine. Examples of reasonable adjustments include flexi-time, redeployment, reduced workload, frequent breaks, disregarding sickness absence, time off for hospital appointments, changing roles etc. A letter from your doctor, specialist or an occupational health assessment can provide information about your migraine and recommend suitable adjustments for you.

What is the equality act and how can it help me?

Those with migraine are covered under the Equality Act 2010 if they are considered disabled. Disability is having a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities. This will apply to people with migraine depending on how frequent their migraine attacks are and how they impact on the individual. Your doctor, specialist or occupational health practitioner can write about the impact of your migraine condition on your day to day activities and express their opinion on whether you are likely to be covered under the Act, and recommend suitable adjustments for you.

The Equality Act 2010 puts the duty on the employer to be flexible and provide reasonable adjustments to people who have disability at work. For example, time off taken by a disabled person due to their disability can be recorded and considered separately from other sickness absence. If an employer records and treats disability-related sickness in the same way as an employee who is not disabled, this may amount to discrimination. You can make a request to your employer for them to disregard disability-related sickness absence from their absence management policy. The adjustment can be applied retrospectively to ensure an employee is not put at a disadvantage e.g. unreasonable disciplinary action due to disability-related sickness absence.

Where can I get support with issues at work?

You can contact The Migraine Trust to discuss issues at work, we can provide support and recommendations which may be useful.

Further resources also include:

ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides general information about employment legislation, advice and provides assistance to employers and employees.

The Citizens Advice Bureau provides information on legal issues.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides expert information, advice and support on discrimination and human rights issues and the Equality Act 2010.

Access to work provides advice and support to help people with disability overcome work related problems.

We have further information available on our website. More information about migraine at work, recommendations and further resources can also be found in our ‘Migraine: help at work’ toolkit.

If you have further questions about your migraine or are in need of support, you can speak to us via our free helpline on 0808 802 0066 or via our online contact form.

Read Zoe’s story about the realities of living with chronic migraine while working here