How to avoid headaches at work

Dr Daniel Fenton, clinic director at London Doctors Clinic, shares his top 10 tips for warding off headaches and migraines at work dan-fenton

We have all suffered the discomfort of a headache at some point in our lives, but anyone who’s ever experienced migraines knows all too well the misery and suffering this condition can cause.

According to the Migraine Trust, migraines are the third most common disease in the world, with an estimated global prevalence of one in seven people. It is also one of the most common health complaints we see as GPs, which isn’t surprising considering that over ten million people across the UK suffer with headaches on a regular basis.

These debilitating headaches often lead to people taking time off work. According to a new report by the Work Foundation, it’s estimated that absenteeism and presenteeism due to migraines results in 86 million lost workdays per year, which costs the UK economy a huge £8.8bn per annum.

Migraines are identified by recurrent disabling headaches – they’re much more severe than the average headache and are thought to be caused by temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain. Sufferers often begin having episodes from childhood and these can range from mild to extremely painful with vomiting and even temporary paralysis.

In line with the focus for this year’s Migraine Awareness Week, it’s important for businesses to cultivate a culture of mindfulness around migraines in workplaces, and to:

  1. understand that migraines are a complex neurological condition and that not everyone experiences the same symptoms, and
  2. make reasonable concessions for employees who get migraines, such as offering them flexible working hours and looking at how their physical environment can be adjusted to help avoid elements that may trigger a migraine.

So what steps can we take to prevent migraines at work?

  • Be mindful of stress and anxiety

Prioritise taking steps to reduce your stress or anxiety levels as this will lessen your headaches – be it through relaxation exercises, psychological therapy, a walk in the park or a long bath. A great way to feel calm when you need a quick solution is to take deep breaths from your diaphragm- set aside 10 minutes to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply, and your body should soon relax.

  • Manage the glare

It’s no secret that squinting causes headaches but what few office workers realise it that the glare from their screens can make them squint. Encourage migraine-prone employees to get glasses with glare resistant lenses, and to give their eyes regular breaks from the computer screen by looking away and focusing on an item in the distance for a minute or two.

  • Cut down noise

Noise is a migraine trigger so if you’re prone to migraines and can’t avoid noise at work, wear ear plugs or find a quiet breakaway spot to work in. If necessary, speak to your manager about reducing noise levels in the office.

  • Get more sleep

No surprises here – too little sleep causes headaches as well as grumpiness! Having a consistent sleep routine is vital for keeping migraines at bay. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends. It may sound obvious but be careful with your consumption of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol and don’t over-indulge in exercise or food before bedtime – this could have a negative impact on your sleep and possibly lead to headaches.

  • Get moving!

If you sit, lie or slope about and don’t exercise you will get headaches. An aching head does not inspire us to get active but getting outside in the fresh air can help loosen tight muscles which cause migraines. Make it a priority to move – be that going for a morning run, walking part of your commute to work or pushing back your chair to do desk-er-cises during the day. Exercising will not only transform your life, but considerably reduce your migraines too.

  • Correct your posture

Bad posture gives you headaches so make a point of sitting up right, squaring your shoulders and straightening out whenever possible. Find a way to remind yourself to ‘straighten out’, such as setting an alarm or making a mental note to sit up straight whenever you drink coffee.

  • Eat regularly and check your diet

No matter how busy you are, don’t skip breakfast or lunch. Fluctuations in blood sugar can sometimes cause migraines so always have breakfast and aim to eat at regular intervals. Sugar and processed carbohydrates cause huge fluctuations in blood sugar so be careful of them.

Cheese, chocolate, caffeine and alcohol are known to trigger migraines in some people so if you’re a regular sufferer, cut these foods and beverages out one at a time for 2-4 weeks and assess if that makes a difference. If you can’t function without your daily Caramel Frap, consider switching to decaf or limit your coffee intake to one cup.

  • Drink plenty of water

Not drinking enough water will very often give you a headache and can lead to migraines. The first thing you should always do when you feel a headache coming on is have a good long drink of water! Make a point of keeping a water bottle on your desk and drinking from it regularly.

  • Supplement with vitamin B2

There are several herbal supplements you can take to improve migraines which are loaded with Vitamin B2. Clinical studies show that taking regular doses can reduce some types of migraines or prevent them altogether. Your local health food store or chemist should have a range of products available.

  • Trigger management

If it’s not very obvious what’s causing your migraines, keep a diary. Note when your migraines start, what you were doing at the time, how long they last and what, if anything, provides relief.  This can really help you and the doctor to work out what next.

Finally, if you are still getting migraines you should see a GP. There’s an array of things that can be done, that will make a huge difference to your quality of life.

So in summary you should: relax, give your eyes a break, wear ear plugs to block out noisy colleagues, get some sleep, get moving, SIT UP STRAIGHT, eat some breakfast, have a drink of water and take your vitamins!

For those people who struggle severely migraines, book them a visit or video consultation with a GP.


How the herb Feverfew could help reduce your migraines by up to 40%

According to new research by MigraHerb, more than 11.3 million UK adults say they have experienced a migraine headache at some time.

Of those migraine sufferers, 47% say that it is usually triggered by stress, 38% tiredness and 28% simply don’t know why they suddenly get a migraine attack.

Migraine is globally thought to be as the third most common disorder to affect individuals and the seventh highest cause of disability.


In the EU, it has been estimated that the average annual direct and indirect cost of migraine per person to be €1,222 – and a total annual cost for the €111 billion for adults aged 18 to 65 years. In the US, the annual cost per person is estimated to be $1,757 for episodic migraine and $7,750 for chronic migraine.

But what is a migraine?

“Migraines are more than just a headache and range from being moderate to severe,” says clinical pharmacist Mike Wakeman. “They tend to last longer than a normal headache, with the average time being between two and 72 hours.

“As well as a pounding pain in the head, migraine symptoms include sensitivity to light, a feeling of nausea or actual vomiting, and experiencing ‘flashing lights’ before the eyes. Always unpleasant, bad migraines can be really debilitating.”

What causes a migraine?

“Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer and no reliable diagnostic test to predict if you will become a migraine sufferer or when an attack might strike, says Dr Wakeman.  “Sadly, there is no current cure either.

“Research into the causes however, has identified a number of migraine triggers which can vary from person to person.

“There are several triggers, some more common than others. However, they can be broadly split into the following categories:

  • Environmental factors – “Bright lights or ones that flicker and flash are common triggers, as are loud environments or la lot of noise.  Intense, penetrating smells or smoke-filled rooms are other triggers.  Many sufferers also report that changes in climate or a change in humidity and temperature due to unsettled weather can bring on an attack. This is thought to be due to a sensitivity in sufferers to the change in pressure.”
  • Emotional imbalance/stress – “Migraine sufferers often report getting a migraine in stressful times when they are worried or tense or feeling particularly angry. Conversely, excitement can also lead to a migraine attack.”
  • Foods – “Many migraine sufferers find specific foods can trigger an attack.  The most common foods are cheese, chocolate and coffee. However, there are several others including citrus fruits, onions, seafood and wheat.”
  • Physical stress – “This is most often associated with over-tiredness from late nights, a change in sleeping patterns, or over-exertion. Many sufferers report migraines when travelling which is not surprising as long-haul travel often involves the other symptoms mentioned!”
  • Hormonal matters – “PMS and menstruation increase the risk of an attack in sufferers as do other hormonal changes that occur during puberty, pregnancy and menopause.”

“Other more isolated migraine triggers include toothache, sinusitis and eye strain.”


Are there any self-help measures for migraine?

“The simple answer is yes.  The first thing to do is to keep a diary to find out if there are any recurring triggers.  Note down what you eat, your feelings, how well you are sleeping, the weather, where you are in your menstrual cycle (if relevant), skipped meals, travel, how tired you are and so on.  If the same triggers crop up before each attack you will know what to avoid.  You should also keep stress levels under control, get plenty of sleep and make time for relaxation.

“There is also a natural remedy that may help keep migraine attacks at bay. The herb Feverfew has been used for headaches since at least the 17th Century when the famous herbalist Nicholas Culpepper wrote how ‘it’s is very effectual for all pains in the head’ and it’s said to provide ‘mild and transient’ benefits resulting in fewer migraine headaches per month. Feverfew also appears to block the release of histamine and helps widen blood vessels, helping to reduce the severity of migraine attacks.

“There are now more than 70 studies evaluating the efficacy of Feverfew, with the most recent reporting a 40% reduction rate in migraine frequency each month. This formed part of a recent review that evaluated nearly 600 patients which concluded that the use of feverfew appears to be well tolerated and no major safety issues have been reported. A licensed version of Feverfew is available on the high street in the form of MigraHerb Migraine Relief  – containing 100 mg of Feverfew herb per daily capsule.”