Office Lighting Can Cause Migraines

What You Can Do About This On-the-Job Trigger

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If you find that you have more migraines when you spend time at work in an indoor setting like an office, the lighting may be to blame. People who are prone to migraines tend to be highly sensitive to light, including bright light, flickering light, high-wavelength light (red), and low-wavelength light (blue). Three main types of office light are common migraine triggers: The glow of a computer screen, the glare from overhead incandescent lighting, and the flicker from fluorescent lighting.

Separately or (worse) combined, these office lighting issues can trigger and worsen migraines. Ironically, you may end up staying at the office longer as you try to catch up for low productivity due to your migraines.

Office lighting that may trigger or worsen migraines
Verywell / Cindy Chung

Computer Screens

Computer screens can trigger migraine episodes. Spending a long time in front of a computer screen is specifically associated with migraines and, interestingly, not with other types of headaches. The lighting on the computer screen is one of the factors that can precipitate migraines.

Solutions include taking breaks from looking at the computer and changing the screen frequency from 60 to 75 Hz. You can do this by adjusting the settings on your computer.

While lighting is a factor in computer-triggered migraines, other computer-related issues—sitting or bending your neck to look at the screen for a prolonged period of time—can contribute to migraines as well. Consider:

  • Getting a standing desk
  • Adjusting the height of your computer
  • Varying your position from time to time when you are working at a computer for a long duration
  • Consider blue light blocking glasses

Overhead Incandescent Lighting

While incandescent light bulbs are generally considered more friendly to migraine sufferers than fluorescent bulbs, overhead lighting in your workplace can present just as much of a problem as glare on your computer screen regardless of bulb type. This may be even more problematic because the overhead lighting can affect you whether you are working at a computer, walking around, talking on the phone, or in a meeting.

This problem can be handled with several strategies:

  • Reposition yourself to sit at a different angle from the light to reduce the effects of the glare.
  • If you can, cover any bare incandescent bulbs with a glass shade. Frosted or opaque shades will help more than clear one.
  • Turn off the lights over your work area or have the bulbs removed from the light fixtures, if possible.

Fluorescent Lights

Fluorescent lighting can also pose a problem. Although it is generally imperceptible to the human eye, fluorescent lighting has a flicker, and the flicker itself is actually a migraine trigger.

This means that it doesn't matter what kind of fixture houses the tubes since people who are sensitive to that flicker will have a problem with it even when it's covered with frosted shades. The best solution is to remove any fluorescent lights from your immediate work area. This, of course, is not always reasonable. But if it is, it can have a tremendous impact on how you feel.

Some solutions include:

  • Use burned out light bulbs: If whoever is in charge of maintenance has a problem with leaving a fixture empty, suggest that they simply replace the tubes in your work area with burned out tubes.
  • Use a small desk lamp: Instead of using fluorescent lighting, use a desktop lamp for working on your computer or on papers. In fact, a desktop light is better for working in a small area.

Fluorescent lighting is not only a potential migraine trigger, but it provides very poor task lighting and can cause eye strain, which can also trigger headaches.

A Word From Verywell

If you can't figure out an obvious pattern to your migraines, keeping a headache diary can alert you to trends. While headaches triggered at work can be the result of things like stress, sleep deprivation, using headphones, or high caffeine intake, lighting is often one of the causes of work-related headaches.

Adjusting the lighting at your place of work can be a challenging prospect, especially if you are employed in a large company. It may be a good idea to sit down and discuss the problem with your supervisor or another appropriate person in your workplace.

Keep in mind that a combination of factors could be causing your head pain as you try to make your workspace as healthy as possible.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Montagni I, Guichard E, Carpenet C, Tzourio C, Kurth T. Screen time exposure and reporting of headaches in young adults: A cross-sectional study. Cephalalgia. 2016;36(11):1020-1027. doi:10.1177/0333102415620286

  2. Karanovic O, Thabet M, Wilson HR, Wilkinson F. Detection and discrimination of flicker contrast in migraine. Cephalalgia. 2011;31(6):723-36. doi:10.1177/0333102411398401

Additional Reading

By Teri Robert
 Teri Robert is a writer, patient educator, and patient advocate focused on migraine and headaches.