I have a foster colleague who works in the hospital kindergarten. She loves taking care of the babies and their mothers, but going to work literally made her sick. This is because she has migraines and the fluorescent lights in the nursery trigger her headache. Before she was diagnosed and found a treatment program that worked for her, she had to wear sunglasses to get her job done.
My friend is one of countless men and women who go to work every day and silently suffer from the debilitating pain of migraines. In many cases, the person may not even know that they have a migraine. They just think they are getting a bad headache. But migraines are much more than just a bad headache.
A migraine headache can make a person nauseous, dizzy, extremely sensitive to light and noise, and affect the ears, eyes, nose, mouth, face, and brain – in addition to the severe, throbbing headache that can last for hours or days. The pain can be so severe that it prevents the person from doing daily activities. This results in employees missing their work or going to work and suffering from the symptoms.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation:
- Almost one in four US households has someone with migraines
- 12% of the population – including children – suffer from migraines
- 85% of people with chronic migraines are women
HealthyWomen is working to raise awareness of this condition and to advocate for workplace guidelines that support people with migraines and set them up for success.
A few months ago, Dr. Rashmi Halker Singh on her experience with migraines at HealthyWomen. Dr. Singh told how she had to walk past a coffee cart every day during her stay in the hospital and how the smell of coffee caused a migraine attack every day. Looking back, she said the pain was debilitating and that it was difficult for her to function.
Imagine how different this year would be for Dr. Singh would have been if the coffee cart had simply been moved to another location.
Many things can trigger a migraine, the fluorescent lights of a hospital kindergarten, or certain smells. In the workplace, we need to understand what these triggers are and make sure people are conscientious. For example, we are not allowed to wear perfume or any type of perfumed body lotion in nursing.
Research has found a link between hormones and headaches, including migraines. The hormones estrogen and progesterone, which regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy, are thought to affect headache-related chemicals in the brain. So if estrogen levels drop before menstruation, a woman may be more likely to get a migraine. Conversely, women who have consistently high estrogen levels, such as during pregnancy, can experience relief from their migraine headaches.
Because of the link between hormone fluctuations and migraines, it is common for girls to experience migraines when their periods start. Women may also notice an increase in the frequency or intensity of migraines during perimenopause, and then calm down once they enter menopause.
Discrimination in the workplace
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, “the US health care and productivity loss associated with migraines is estimated at up to $ 36 billion a year”. Of course, the costs to the mental health of those affected are incalculable. This is especially true for women who not only suffer disproportionately from migraines, but are likely to face discrimination in the workplace because they wrongly assume that migraines are just headaches.
Employers can support women (and men) suffering from migraines by offering flexible working hours and remote working options (even after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided) and temporary absences.
The good news is that there are many organizations out there working to raise awareness about migraines and many more treatment options than there were a few years ago.
If you have a headache that doesn’t go away with over-the-counter medications, see your doctor. At HealthyWomen, we want you to know that you are not alone and do not have to suffer in silence.
This resource was created with support from the Allergan Foundation and the Bausch Foundation.
Migraine Research Foundation
Association of Migraine Disorders
National Headache Foundation
American Migraine Foundation