Is Your Office Guilty of These Top Headache Triggers?

If you find yourself suffering from headaches at the office, you are not alone. Over half of all Americans have missed work due to migraines and other types of headaches. And results of a study by Excedrin show that 63% of headache sufferers have suffered through headache pain at the office. As researchers dive further into these painful statistics, they are discovering that some of these headaches might develop as a result of office-based triggers. Below is a look at some of the different types of headaches that tend to plague office workers and some of the surprising triggers that may lie behind headaches.

What are some of the top types of headaches that affect office workers?

Pain is the common denominator among office workers who suffer from headaches. But aside from the presence of pain, no two headaches are exactly alike. However, there are three general types of headaches that tend to plague office workers. Each type is marked by a specific set of symptoms and pain location. Here is a summary of the three most common types of headaches affecting office workers:

1) Tension Headaches

As the most common type of headache affecting Americans, a tension headache develops slowly. Symptoms typically include a moderate level of pain on both sides of the head, though pain is sometimes localized in the neck or back of the head. Cedars-Sinai staff note that stress, muscle tension, and environmental factors are all considered by many to be key tension headache triggers.

2) Migraine Headaches

According to the American Migraine Research Foundation, migraine headaches affect 12% of the population and are most common among 18-44 year-old men and women – many of whom spend their days working in an office setting. 90% of migraine sufferers who work report that they are not able to work normally when a migraine strikes.

3) Cluster Headaches

While cluster headaches are not as common as tension headaches or migraines, they tend to be more severe than other types of headaches. The hallmark feature of a cluster headache is severe pain that suddenly develops behind one eye. They typically last up to three hours and may recur several times throughout the course of a single day.

What are some common headache triggers in offices?

Many business owners are surprised to learn that the office environment they have worked hard to build for their employees is filled with headache triggers. From fluorescent lights to computer screens to desk chairs, the typical office place is filled with furnishings, lighting, and stressors that can cause headaches to develop. Five of the most common headache triggers are as follows:


1) Overexposure to Fluorescent Lighting

Continued exposure to harsh fluorescent lighting is a top migraine trigger in the office. According to the National Headache Foundation, fluorescent lighting is associated with migraines and a condition called Photophobia, in which headache symptoms are exacerbated by lighting that is overly bright or harsh. Powerful LED light bulbs and bright computer screens can also cause headaches.

2) Prolonged Computer Use

“Focusing your eyes at the same distance point for long periods of time causes fatigue…Although there is no evidence that eye fatigue damages your eyesight, computer users may get symptoms such as blurred vision, temporary inability to focus on faraway objects and headaches.” – Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia

The average office worker will spend an eye-popping 1,700 hours a year in front of their computer screen. Research commissioned by Acuvue highlighted some of the negative effects of staring at your computer screen for extended periods of time. Some of the most common symptoms include eye fatigue, headaches, and eye dryness.

In another study, Ilaria Montagni, PhD and her team of researchers studied the effects of computer screen time exposure on nearly 5,000 adult students in France. Results of the study showed that students reporting very high screen time exposure were more likely to report migraines and other types of headaches. Other studies have produced similar findings, supporting the notion that prolonged computer use is a headache trigger.

3) Remaining Seated for Long Periods of Time

Sitting at a desk for long periods of time can cause back and neck tension which can ultimately cause pressure to build up in your head. The end result is chronic headaches. And if you have poor posture or work long hours, your risk of headaches will intensify.

4) Exposure to Glare

“Bright lights and glare, especially if flickering, can induce migraines. This is because bright and flickering lights boost the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, which then activate the migraine centre.” – National Health Service (NHS) 

Repeated exposure to bright glare can trigger migraines by activating certain chemicals in your brain. Fluorescent lighting, sunlight, and bright computer screens can all produce glare, which can prove to be especially troubling if your lights or devices are flickering.

5) Odors Emitted by Office Equipment

According to the National Headache Institute, headaches can be triggered by the smell of office copier chemicals. The effects can be more pronounced if your office is small or you sit within close proximity to your printer or copy machine. Other workplace odors may also set off a headache. For instance, employees who are regularly exposed to manufacturing paint odors or cleaning solutions may also be at increased risk for headaches.

What are some steps you can take to address these triggers?

Whether you are a business owner or a newly hired employee, it is important to do your part to create a healthy work environment. You can kick off this process by making some simple work space changes to address the headache triggers outlined above. Below are some simple, cost-effective steps you can take to prevent glare, eye fatigue, and overexposure to fluorescent lighting from interfering with your productivity.

1) Install Natural Light Filters

NaturaLuxfluorescent light covers can help prevent fluorescent lighting from triggering migraines and other types of headaches. They are lightweight, easy for one person to install, and are compatible with most types of fluorescent and LED lights. And with prices starting under $30.00 per filter, you do not have to break the bank to experience the difference NaturaLux™ light covers can have on your health in the work place.

2) Follow the 20-20-20 Rule

“The American Optometric Association is working to educate both employers and employees about how to avoid digital eye strain in the workplace. To help alleviate digital eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule; take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.” – American Optometric Association

The 20-20-20 rule is recommended by the American Optometric Association to help prevent eye strain and headaches that can result from prolonged computer use. The rule is simple and only requires a watch or timer.

In a nutshell, employees are encouraged to take their eyes off their computer screens every 20 minutes for a total of 20 seconds. During that 20 seconds, the employee should turn their gaze to an object that is 20 feet away. Following this rule is especially important for employees who work 12-hour shifts or who have jobs that center exclusively around the use of a computer.

3) Adjust Your Computer Monitor

Adjusting the brightness on your computer monitor is a simple way to help reduce glare. You can also try relocating your monitor to a different area of your desk or work station that receives less direct light. If these measures do not significantly reduce glare, you can try covering your monitor with an anti-glare filter.

4) Invest in New Office Furniture

Switching to a standing desk or adjustable desk allow workers to alternate between sitting and standing. If you prefer to remain seated, you can help reduce tension by switching to an adjustable office chair that features lumbar support. Finally, you can further alleviate tension and strain by investing in an ergonomic foot rest that can promote blood circulation.

5) Take Steps to Minimize Stressors at Work

In addition to making the changes above, you can create a healthier work environment by taking some steps to minimize stressors. For instance, carve out some time each day to remove yourself from your work and take a brisk walk. Another way to minimize stress is to clear off your desk before you leave for the day so you are not facing a disorganized desk as soon as you walk through your door.

Most importantly, if you feel that work stressors are beginning to take over your life and regularly interfere with your health, then ask your H.R. department if you are eligible for free services provided through an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP).

The Bottom Line

Headaches are a productivity killer in the workplace. Unfortunately, many offices are filled with triggers that can increase your risk of headaches and cause existing headaches to worsen. From overexposure to fluorescent lights and glare to headache pain caused by prolonged computer use, it can sometimes seem as if headache triggers are all around you.

By following the tips outlined above, you can help keep headaches at bay and maximize your productivity at your office. For more tips on creating a healthy, pleasant work environment, contact us at Make Great Light. As the nation’s premier provider of natural light filters, we have a proven track record of success in the workplace. We look forward to helping you enjoy more headache-free workdays!

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