Migraine at Work: Working 9 to 5 — Or Maybe Not!

Are you starting a new job or possibly embarking on a new career? Any beginning can cause anxiety. Remember the first day of high school?

But what if your emotional roller coaster is influenced by migraine disease? You are justifiably anxious about how your migraine episodes will impact your employment. Should you stay mute about your migraine disease or do you start a conversation about the recurrent headache attacks and how you will manage them? The burden is on you to discuss migraine at work. Be prepared for the fallout, whether positive or negative.

Tips for Discussing Migraine at Work

Before beginning the discussion with your immediate supervisor, or preferably with the human resources department, be prepared. More than 40 million individuals in the United States experience migraine disease, so there is a good chance that the person with whom you are conversing, knows someone or may have personal experience with this disorder. However, if he or she is not migraine literate, you may need to provide some educational tools about migraine disorder. Many advocacy organizations, such as National Headache Foundation, Miles for Migraine and Chronic Migraine Awareness, Inc., have educational materials that you can share. Migraine.com and other blogs will also have pertinent information for both you and your employer.

Migraine Rescue Kit

Before the talk, consider how to manage your acute attacks during work hours. Organize a migraine rescue kit with materials that you would need in addition to your medications. The kit could contain an icepack, face mask, earplugs, a list of your medications, and an emergency contact list if you need to have someone drive you home or pick-up your children from school. Let your supervisor as well as your colleagues know where the kit is located.


Consider what accommodations you may need to reduce migraine triggers as well as aid during an acute migraine attack.

  • Sensitivity to light
    Discuss the lighting at your work station and in your department. If removing fluorescent lighting is an impossible task (classrooms, warehouses), filters may be installed that diminish the glare.
  • Screen time
    If too much computer screen time is impacting your migraine attacks, request an anti-glare filter for your screen.
  • Scents
    If certain scents are triggers, ask HR or your supervisor to request that your coworkers refrain from wearing perfumes, and create a fragrance-free environment.
  • Sound
    If you are sensitive to sound, especially during an attack, request sound-reducing headphones.
  • Quiet Area
    Some individuals may need a quiet place for a brief time to relieve the pain and associated symptoms, such as nausea or dizziness. Consider a request for a designated area in order to rest and recover. It may be as simple as placing a couch in a restroom. It would be advantageous to all if the employee returns to work rather than forced to go home, whether due to attack accompaniments or effects of medications.

Be aware of your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Finally, you may want to address work schedules. Flexibility can be the key to success as you may need to start work later in order to relieve the headache that awakened you. If your attacks last 24 to 72 hours, you may need to reduce your weekly work schedule. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the success of working from home and not adhering to a tight time schedule. However, not everyone can work from home, such as our first responders. In a conversation with a nurse, she noted that if she incurred a migraine during her work shift, she would advise one of her colleagues that she was going to the hospital chapel. This chapel was a quiet and dark area, where she could rest and recuperate. And it was a code for her team, that one of them was in the throes of a migraine attack.

There are tools to help you with that conversation and the subsequent continuation of your employment. Visit MigraineAgain.com or the American Migraine Foundation for how to deal with migraine while working. To further educate your employer, the National Headache Foundation has a set of videos, WorkMigraine, to inform the employee, HR department, and upper management about migraine disease and how to manage.

It is your responsibility to inform your employer about your status. Be proactive in advocating for yourself. Be open to discussions with your supervisors and your colleagues. We have, too often, heard of careers being stymied by this disease. Confront it with your best defense: education.

Mary Franklin, migraine at work



Written by:
Mary Franklin
CHAMP Emeritus Member

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