Migraines and Safety

Migraines and Safety

I have suffered from migraines since I was a teenager. The pain from one of these headaches can be intense, the symptoms can affect how I act and react to the world around me. Last week, I was on my way to a job site when I was hit by the worst migraine I have had for years. The next day, I thought about the effect that a worker suffering from a migraine could have to the safety of his/herself and the safety of others on the job site. So this week I want to talk about the connection between migraines and safety

What are the Symptoms of a Migraine?

The Mayo Clinic website lists the following symptoms as a tingling or numbness in your arm or leg and an aura. These will indicate that a migraine is coming. The aura can be especially dangerous as a symptom because it negatively affects your vision by creating flashes of light and blind spots making it hard to see. Auras can also affect the sense of touch, movement and speech. Although it is not as common, limb weakness can also result from an aura.

With these as symptoms, and not even the migraine itself, you can see how a migraine can cause a safety issue. A worker may not be able to see well or at all as they are moving around the jobsite. If they are operating equipment, they could also cause a major accident. If a worker’s limbs go weak (honestly, this is not a symptom I am familiar with), it could lead to dropping tools or materials and possibly even a fall from height.

The Migraine Attack

A migraine attack can last from four to seventy-two hours. Again, blurred vision is a problem, as well as nausea, sensitivity to light and sounds (which can be intense if the sufferer is at or near a construction site), throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head and light-headedness. Light-headedness from a migraine may also cause the sufferer to faint.

There are ways to treat the migraine. I usually rely on extra strength ibuprofen liquid capsules, but last week these did not work. Others use Tylenol with codeine. Sometimes the only way to treat a migraine is to lie down in a quiet dark room and try to sleep it off.

Even after a migraine has passed, the worker may not be back to normal for a while. They will still feel rundown and their mind may not be working as well as it normally does. This final phase is known as postdrome. The best description I have heard is that it feels like you have a hangover and treating this phase like a hangover the best way to treat it.

Managing Migraines

Migraines have triggers which can cause them. Types of food, stress, caffeine, sensory stimulation such as bright lights, changes is sleep-wake pattern (shift work); changes in the weather (I joke that I’m like a human barometer), medications, and alcohol can lead to migraines. I know caffeine is one of the triggers for me so I avoid coffee and cola pops. I only drink decaf coffee. Some people avoid food with MSG because it is a trigger for them. Strong chemical smells, such as paint and gasoline can also be a trigger for some people. Whatever the trigger for your migraines, be aware and let people know so as to avoid them.

For an employer or supervisor and a worker comes to you and says they are having a migraine the best thing  is to let them leave the site, either long enough to pop a pill, or if their migraines are more severe, let them leave and go home or to the doctor. They may not be able to drive themselves, so offer to call them a cab or arrange for a drive.


Migraines can be severe. The symptoms that a worker has from one of these headaches will affect how they can react to the world around them. It is better for the safety of all on the work site that the sufferer is allowed to get the treatment they need before a severe accident can occur. Managing the connection between migraines and safety should be talked about more often. I hope this post can at least start the conversation.



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