Taking pain medication, avoiding triggers, and having a solid support system can help a person get rid of a migraine episode at work — or at least reduce their migraine symptoms.
Migraine is a neurological condition that can cause moderate-to-severe pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light or sound.
Sometimes, people can stop the progression of a migraine episode and continue working. However, there may be some days when it is necessary to go home.
Read on to learn more about stopping the progression of a migraine episode at work and to get some tips for coping with and preventing episodes.
One of the main symptoms of migraine is a headache, and this can be the most debilitating symptom when trying to work. For many people, the first line of defense against the pain is medication.
People can try the following options.
Over-the-counter pain medications
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may be able to stop the progression of a migraine episode for some people.
Examples of NSAIDs include:
To get the best results:
- Choose an NSAID that has worked well in the past. Alternatively, a person may want to choose one that works quickly.
- Take the NSAID as soon as migraine symptoms start to appear, even if they are mild. For example, if a person experiences migraine with aura, they can take the NSAID when the aura begins.
- Do not take more than one NSAID at a time, and follow the instructions on the box, unless a doctor instructs otherwise.
Some people should not take NSAIDs. Additionally, frequent NSAID use may be associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure and peptic ulcers. For this reason, a person should check with a doctor that it is OK for them to take NSAIDs before use.
Triptans, or serotonin receptor agonists, are a type of prescription medication that help relieves migraine pain. They increase serotonin in the brain, which helps reverse the inflammation of nerves and blood vessels.
Triptons are available as oral tablets to swallow, oral tablets that dissolve, nasal sprays, and injections.
Some common triptans include:
- almotriptan (Axert)
- eletriptan (Relpax)
- frovatriptan (Frova)
- naratriptan (Amerge)
- rizatriptan (Maxalt)
- sumatriptan (Imitrex)
- sumatriptan/naproxen sodium (Treximet)
- zolmitriptan (Zomig)
Triptans are not preventive medications. They can help relieve pain when someone experiences a sudden migraine headache. People should use them as a doctor directs.
If a person does not have pain medication, there are other things that they can try to reduce discomfort. These options may not stop the migraine headache, but they may make the pain and light sensitivity less intense.
For example, a person can try:
- moving to a quiet, dark room
- applying a cold compress to the head, eyes, or neck
- taking a brief nap
For some people, migraine episodes also cause nausea and occasionally vomiting. There are several ways to relieve these symptoms.
People can try the following options.
Doctors can prescribe medications for people who often experience nausea or vomiting when they have migraine episodes. In some people, these medications can help with other migraine symptoms, too.
Some antinausea medications are suitable to take along with pain medications or triptans. As with pain medications, it is best to take them as soon as early migraine symptoms appear, as a doctor directs.
Some people find natural remedies useful for relieving nausea. However, it is worth noting that some of these have strong smells or flavors, which can be unpleasant during a migraine episode.
People may wish to try:
- consuming ginger tea or candies
- drinking peppermint tea
- deep breathing
- staying hydrated with small sips of water
Sometimes, it is not possible to get rid of migraine symptoms at work. In fact, according to the Migraine Research Foundation, more than 90% of people with migraine are unable to work during a migraine headache. So, if medications and other remedies do not help, it may be necessary to go home.
In these situations, it can help to have an advocate in the workplace. This is someone who can recognize when symptoms are becoming unmanageable and speak up for a person’s needs when they are unwell.
An advocate could:
- notify a supervisor about the situation
- make sure that the person gets transport home
- handle any tasks or responsibilities left behind
- tidy and shut down the person’s workspace
- check in with them once they get home
Ask someone who is trustworthy and reliable and who understands migraine if they would be willing to do this.
Migraine is a chronic condition that can impact someone’s career over their lifetime. The United States alone loses approximately 157 million workdays per year because of it.
So, it makes sense to have a plan and support system in place at work to help minimize the disruption that migraine may cause.
First, a person can consider letting others in the workplace know about their condition, if they feel comfortable doing so.
For example, they may want to disclose it to their:
- immediate supervisor
- human resources (HR) representative
- coworkers in the same office or team
It is important that these people understand what it means to have migraine. Migraine is not just a “bad headache.” Getting a doctor’s note explaining the condition might help.
Then, the person can develop a plan for when migraine symptoms occur. This plan may include:
- dimming the lights and computer screens
- reducing office noise, such as from music, talking, or ringing phones
- reducing strong smells, such as heavy perfume, cleaning products, or food
- delegating tasks to others
- taking a break in another room
Yes, the symptoms of migraine can cause some degree of disability. The amount of impairment it causes can vary from person to person based on how severe or frequent the symptoms are.
Legally, a person in the U.S. is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act if their condition “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” This includes work.
This means that a person who frequently has difficulty working due to migraine may be entitled to workplace accommodations. Some may also be able to access disability benefits.
Not everyone with migraine benefits from workplace accommodations, but making some small changes can make a big difference to symptoms.
For example, an HR representative may be able to arrange:
- cubicle doors or shields
- noise canceling headphones or headsets
- carpets or other materials to reduce noise
- lighting that is less harsh or bright or that reduces glare
- a flexible work schedule
- the ability to work from home
- counseling to help with stress management
In the U.S., there are several types of disability benefits: short-term disability, long-term disability, and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI).
Generally, short-term and long-term disability benefits are available through a person’s health insurance. Employers often offer these benefits, but sometimes, people purchase separate short-term or long-term disability insurance plans. A person with migraine can check with their employer for details.
SSDI, on the other hand, is managed by the Social Security Administration. Because SSDI is a federally funded program, most people are only eligible if they have worked long enough and recently enough and paid taxes into the Social Security system.
With medical care, it can be possible to reduce the frequency of migraine episodes. A doctor or neurologist can put together a plan for migraine prevention, which may involve avoiding triggers and taking preventive medication.
Not everyone can identify specific migraine triggers, but some common examples include a lack of sleep, stress and anxiety, bright lights, strong odors, and certain foods and beverages.
Some medications that may help reduce episodes include:
- calcitonin gene-related peptide antagonists, such as erenumab and eptinezumab
- antihypertensives, such as beta-blockers
- certain anticonvulsants
- certain antidepressants, such as amitriptyline or venlafaxine
Migraine rarely requires emergency medical attention. However, it is important to call 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department if someone develops any of the following:
- a sudden, severe headache
- weakness, tingling, or paralysis
- vision loss or double vision
- dizziness and confusion
- severe vomiting
- neck pain and stiffness
Additionally, pain medications can sometimes cause serious side effects. Seek immediate help if any new or concerning symptoms develop after taking OTC or prescription drugs.
A person may be able to get rid of migraine symptoms at work by using OTC or prescription migraine medications. Using them as early as possible is important because it gives them the best chance of working effectively.
In addition to pain medications, antinausea medications and nausea remedies may help. Finding somewhere quiet and dark to take a break can also relieve the intensity of some of the symptoms.
Employers and coworkers need to understand migraine and how it affects a person’s work, as it is a very common chronic condition in the U.S. and frequently makes it difficult to work during episodes.
When symptoms improve, consider looking into workplace accommodations and creating a migraine plan to reduce its impact.