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Tips for Balancing a Career and Frequent Migraines

Nothing can ruin a workday quite like a migraine. You may barely be able to get anything done, and you may end up having to go home or call out completely before the day gets started. About 76% of people who have migraines say that their condition has a detrimental impact on their ability to be reliable due to missed days of work and poor attendance records. Another 27% say that having migraines has a bad impact on their career as a whole.

To make matters worse, people who don't have migraines have no idea how horrendous the pain can be. Wrong assumptions that you're slacking on job or unreliable because of "just a headache" can damage your professional reputation and career as a whole. Managing work and migraines may be tough, but it is often doable with a bit of guidance. Here's a look at some tips to help you balance your career and frequent migraines.

Prevention, when possible, is ever-important.

Most people who struggle with frequent migraines have certain migraine triggers. It can be difficult to pinpoint your triggers in an uncontrolled environment. However, if you keep a headache journal to document migraine days, you may be able to uncover your own triggers while at work. It could be something as simple as the lighting, the noise in the workplace, certain smells, or even stress. For example, some people who have migraines can't handle bright fluorescent lighting common in offices or constant changes in light levels.

Preparation can make all the difference.

Being prepared is one of the simplest yet most impactful measures you can take if you are prone to migraines at work. Some migraine sufferers can avoid a full-blown attack if they have access to their medications when they start feeling symptoms. And some medications work better early in the headache, so try taking them right at the beginning, not waiting until the pain is at its worst. Make sure you have medications on hand that you can take while at work that don't make you drowsy. Beyond medications, many migraine sufferers have other ways to cope with serious headache pain. Consider creating a migraine survival kit to keep in an accessible place at work such as your desk drawer. Even if it is a dose of your meds, a ginger ale for nausea, and some earplugs, these little things can help you get through.

Disclose what you must with people in charge and co-workers.

Some people prefer to keep their migraine issues a secret. This choice may be partly due to the misconceptions many people have about the issue. However, it may be necessary to speak up, especially if migraines affect the quality of your work and your attendance. You will have to determine whether disclosing your migraines is right in your workplace. But disclosing the the issue may be necessary so your employer or supervisor understands what's taking place rather than to leave them to speculate and come up with their own conclusions.

If you have a good doctor, first, let them know there are specific issues with your migraine treatments at work. For example, tell your doctor if you can’t take your as needed medications during the day because they make you too sleepy, and ask if there are alternatives you can take. Second, consider having them document your condition for you. Keep in mind that disclosure doesn't have to be in-depth. For instance, you don't have to disclose every symptom you have or how often your migraines make you vomit; simply stating that you occasionally experience debilitating migraines should suffice.

Consider environmental accommodations that may help and talk to HR.

It can be helpful to talk to the human resources department if there are certain accommodations that can be made at work to help you avoid getting a migraine. A few examples of things some migraine sufferers may ask for include:

  • Wearing sunglasses in areas with bright light or certain types of light
  • Keeping a bottle of cold water at a workstation to stay hydrated
  • Wearing earplugs or relocating to a quieter location

In most cases, HR can work with you to make certain accommodations and clear certain accommodations through whatever powers may be. In addition, taking this step can mean your employer understands that there may be certain things you have to do on the job that are out of the ordinary.

Get familiar with your rights as an employee.

Many migraine sufferers have no idea that migraines can be considered an actual disability because they are physically limiting. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), no employer with more than 15 employees can discriminate against an individual that has such physical limitations. If you have discussed your medical issue with your employer, and they have demoted you, lowered your pay, or otherwise treated you unfairly, you may consider seeking the advice of an attorney.

Part of the requirements set forth by the ADA also state that the employer must also provide "reasonable accommodations" for an individual with a disability. For example, if you are asking to wear earplugs because noise is a migraine trigger for you or something similar, an employer may not be legally allowed to tell you that you can't.

Migraines Don't Have to Control Your Life

You should never have to choose between living a normal life with a job you enjoy and forfeiting a career because of your migraines. Get familiar with your migraine triggers and how to avoid them, stay prepared, and disclose your issue to your employer while being mindful of your rights as an employee. At The Will Erwin Headache Research Foundation, we work hard to fund migraine and headache research and to spread awareness about the prevalence of the issue. If you would like to get involved, check out our story and consider becoming a supporter.