The Covid 19 pandemic has changed the educational and work practices and norms for all of us. With the advent of significantly more virtual or remote learning and working, we are all exposed to much more screen time than ever before, as well as figuring out home office configurations. For people with headaches and migraines (and even those who do not), this can certainly increase headache pain.
Light sensitivity is a hallmark of migraine and chronic headaches. Increased light exposure will often lead to a higher level of headache pain and can be a trigger for migraine. Exposure to blue light emitted from screens is just one of the issues. Also problematic are those things that cause eye strain, such as increased light/dark contrast, flickering fluorescent lights and screens. In addition, postural issues, such as forward-flexed posture, can lead to neck and upper back strain, and contribute to all types of headaches.
There are a number of pro-active strategies that can decrease the impact of increased screen time for everyone. I have contributed to a few sites with this information, and thought I should put it out on the blog as well. We all need help in managing our remote lifestyle.
Decreasing blue light exposure:
Exposure to blue light, which is emitted from your many screened devices (phone, tablet, and monitor) is well known to interfere with normal Circadian rhythms, disrupt sleep and trigger migraine. Putting away the devices an hour before bed is part of good sleep hygiene. During these times, more actions need to be taken to decrease exposure.
Use a screen filter to decrease your blue light exposure, by using free software (f.lux), using a physical screen filter, or accessing software included in your device (night light on Windows devices or night shift on MacOS/iPhones). This will reduce the blue light exposure and reduce contrast within your surroundings.
Wear blue light-blocking glasses to reduce exposure. There are numerous brands at different price points. Start with a reasonably priced pair and assess how they work and if your child will actually wear them.
Many people with headaches and migraine use a combination of these strategies to reduce their exposure to blue light.
Decreasing eye strain:
Balancing the screen brightness with your surroundings: Too much contrast between the screen and the room light can cause significant eye strain, which can give anyone a headache. Keep your room well lit to balance the light on the screen. Do not work in a dark room with the only light coming from the screen.
Increase the font size: Small font size makes your eyes work too hard, leading to eye strain. Change your default font size to 14 or higher.
Change the font style: Fonts that are called sans-serif (without tails) makes the writing clearer and easier to read. Change your font style from a default Times New Roman to another font, such as Arial or Calibri, without all the little tails on the letters (sans serif).
Clean/dust your screens: Dust and marks on the screen decrease sharpness, causing your eyes to work too hard. Keep your screens and glasses clean.
Decreasing postural issues: We are all struggling to figure out how and where to work from home. For many teenagers, it is common for them to spend most of their day on the bed, bent over their screen/laptop/tablet. This is not ideal: prolonged hunching leads to neck and upper back strain and muscle tension, and then migraine or increased level of chronic headache and neck pain; lighting is generally less than ideal; typing in this position can lead to wrist strain.
What to do: Sitting at a desk or table, feet on the floor, back/spine straight and comfortable, head upright and looking forward with the screen at eye level, about 20-30 inches away. You might have to lower the chair or raise the screen to be at eye level. You might want to have several chairs to rotate, or try one of those stability ball chairs (strengthens your core and back while sitting).
General strategies: Being on screen without a significant break is exhausting, for school or work. Getting up and moving, going to the bathroom, doing a few jumping jacks, running up and down the stairs, and doing 3 deep breaths, are quick ways to break away from the screen. This is beneficial for your head, body and your mood. Remember, during school and work, we were all moving – in between every class, getting up to visit the break or rest room. The breaks were built-in.
Hydration is crucial for anyone with headaches, and needs to be considered when you off your usual school or work schedule. Keep a water bottle at your desk. Set ‘water goals’, such as finishing a full bottle by 11a and a second one by 3p. Drinking a lot also creates incentive to move and take a break.
It has now been a year since a pandemic was declared, and it feels like the end is in sight. We have all been living through this difficult time as best we can, with challenges, physically and emotionally. We must all be kind and supportive with each other, help where we can, and recognize that we are all in this together.