Are virtual meetings making your migraines worse?

Prior to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, I might’ve participated in two virtual meetings in my life. The last 10 weeks, however, I’ve been in technology overdrive. In mid-March, my company sent all non-essential employees of its 12,000-plus workforce home to telework. And now, if I’m not on Zoom with 40 people in little boxes, I’m on Microsoft Teams with 10 people in little boxes. Or a co-worker requests a FaceTime connection.

Some days, I can’t tell which of the two laptops, the iPad or the iPhone is chirping, beeping or pinging to alert me to the next virtual meeting. Worse, the extra time I thought I gained by not having a 90-minute commute has turned into me spending more time on screen.

I’m producing a boatload of work, but could all this virtual engagement trigger migraines? Experts say maybe yes, especially if you suffer the kind of migraines exacerbated by bright lights.

Before the novel coronavirus was a thing, a 2018 Nielsen study found adults in this country spent more than 10 hours a day connected to media. Now, because of COVID-19, that number has skyrocketed. With lockdowns and social distancing, screens have become the way we stay connected to the outside world. An April 2020 survey from Global Web Index found 87 percent of us are engaging with even more online media since the pandemic started.


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Though many workplaces across the country are slowly going back to normal, my office will continue to telework for the foreseeable future. That means I can’t stop the virtual meetings. If you’re like me, these are the things you can do to slow your migraine’s roll before the symptoms get too severe:

  • Don’t start your day on a screen. If you reach immediately for your phone or sit at the computer first thing every morning, you’re more likely to get a migraine that day. Instead, eat something healthy, hydrate and maybe get in a short walk first. Then start your workday. Bonus: Establishing a regular morning routine can help you maintain your sanity when you’re stuck inside the rest of the day.
  • Take breaks. Prolonged screen time is likely the most consistent trigger of migraines, headache experts say. Take a 15-minute break every couple of hours if possible. And when you’re stuck in front of the screen, every 20 minutes look away for 20 seconds.
  • Turn down the lights. One benefit to working from home: softer lighting. Fluorescent overhead lights in an office building can join forces with a computer screen to trigger a migraine. Keep the lighting in your home office soft and natural.
  • Recognize early migraine signs. If you know the signs a migraine is about to start (I have the kind with the visual aura), try to prevent the migraine from getting worse. Press pause, take medication if you have it and step away from the screen to minimize eye strain.
  • Try light-filtering glasses. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says there’s no evidence blue-light filtering eyewear works any better at reducing eye strain than lowering your computer screen’s brightness and taking frequent breaks. But even if they don’t help, giving light-filtering glasses a try won’t hurt, either.
  • Minimize lights at night. Keep your sleep environment as dark, quiet and blue-light free as possible. Set your phone to night shift in the evening, or move it, the TV and your digital clock radio to another room. Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only.
  • Limit other triggers. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. If you don’t know your migraine triggers keep a headache diary to track your symptoms and lifestyle factors. That will help clue you in to the patterns that kick off your migraines.

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