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9 Tips for Dealing With a Migraine at Work

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You can’t plan a convenient time for a migraine to hit. And if you could, we’re guessing work is not the time or place you’d choose to get one, especially with the noises, lights, pressures and deadlines that will only make a migraine worse.

Despite hoping against a migraine at work, sometimes you just can’t avoid it. When this happens, migraneurs are faced with a choice — to stay and fight through the migraine or head home. If your symptoms are mild or bearable with a few remedies like medication or a cold pack, you might be able to muscle through the rest of your day. But at a certain point, you may need to prioritize your health and head for the door to avoid an even worse migraine.

It isn’t easy to ignore migraine symptoms, especially because so much of work requires your ability to think and see clearly. To get some tips on ways you may be able to get through your work day with a migraine, we asked our Mighty community for their help. They let us know what helps them best — and how they know when it’s time to call it a day.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. Use Sunglasses and Cool Air

“Sunglasses at work are my best friend. I also offer to work the chiller or freezer as keeping cool helps with the nausea. If I’m feeling dizzy I have a fan blowing on me and sit on a stool behind the till. Migraine tablets help to an extent as well as drinking lots of water, but it’s time to go home when I start vomiting.” — Charlette A.

2. Always Keep Medication on Hand

“I always carry Excedrin migraine and try to tough it out. At past jobs I’ve kept ice packs in the cooler for my head and neck, as well. My migraines are predominately vestibular in nature, so my tipping point is when I’m too dizzy and nauseous to walk. At that point I have to start taking the heavier duty meds which are going to give me brain fog I can’t work through, so I know it’s time to go. Take the meds, get myself home, and get that hard reset sleep.” — Lauren M.

3. Go Easy on the Social Time

“When I get a migraine I stay as far away as people as I can [because] I almost never get headaches but when I do I’m about to die.” — Michelle L.

4. Know Your Limits

“I’m a writer, so thankfully I work from home. I have a really hard time calling it quits for the day, I’m a very ‘push through it’ kind of girl (with the help of lots of meds). My husband or kids will tell me when to stop because my eye is drooping. Sometimes I go blind in that eye and I know to put things away, but that doesn’t happen very often.” — Shayla F.W.

5. Have Migraine Survival Supplies at the Ready

“Unless I’m at least an 8 out of 10 for pain or unable to walk or talk without almost passing out then I will usually just work through as best as I can. When I don’t feel like I can leave I will use Zofran, Maxalt, heating pads, ice packs, and Biofreeze. I can’t use sunglasses in my job and ear plugs, no matter how attractive won’t work since I work as a medical office receptionist and I have to be able to hear. I know I have to absolutely go home when I get the migraines that cause my face and mouth to go numb or when my aura changes to not just blocking out a certain percentage of my vision to almost all of it. Or when the sunlight/office lights hurt so much they cause my eyes to water causing my vision to go even blurrier.” — Tabitha H.

6. Rely on Social Support

“I can somewhat work through low grade migraine (moderate pain with slight dizziness) but once the light and sound start to get to me I have to go so that I can make it home safely. My biggest help is my parents, boyfriend and friends who understand what it’s like for me. They know that when the word migraine leaves my mouth that its serious and they do anything they can to help, even if it’s just getting me to bed or letting my service dog do what he knows to do, even when they desperately want to help more.” — @kelsey761248

7. Ask Your Employer for What You Need

“When I stopped working full-time because of my chronic migraine, I realized that I needed to do a much better job at communicating to my next employer what my migraine looked like, what I needed when an attack hit, and how that might transfer to the workplace (e.g. I would need to leave or sign off immediately and sometimes without much warning). When looking for a new position, I was upfront about what my needs were and it has allowed me to have a better balance of flexibility and productivity, while still managing my persistent head pain.” — Kat H.

8. Pay Attention to Your Symptoms

“I can usually work through ocular migraines because the pain isn’t that severe, mostly just a burning feeling all over my head. I had one yesterday morning and the scariest part was trying to get to town when it started up halfway there; giving me blind spots all over my vision. I know it’s one I can’t work through when it feels like someone threw a knife through my forehead and I can’t shake the [nausea]. I’m still so thankful I don’t have to deal with it as much as I used to, but it can sneak up on me pretty unexpectedly some days too.” — Alicia W.

9. Use a Work Rating Scale

“I evaluate my migraines and whether I can work on a 10 point scale similar to the standard pain scale. Once I get to five on my scale, I know it’s time to modify my work — whether that means finishing up early or taking breaks from my screen. Migraines above a 7 are typically those where I’m throwing up or having a hard time speaking, so I know when I have an 8, I’m not working that day. Being able to triage my migraines makes it easier for me to determine what I can work through and when it’s time to call it quits.” — Jordan D.

If you’re having a hard time managing your migraine symptoms, especially while at work, know you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask your co-workers or boss for accommodations or support if you feel comfortable. And trust yourself: You know what you need best.

Want to know more about migraine? Here are some related Mighty articles others have found helpful:

Originally published: October 1, 2019
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