Have you ever been sitting at your computer screen for an extended period when all of the sudden you notice you have a horrible headache? Thankfully, that’s not my experience. But, I do know plenty of people who suffer this exact experience and they often wonder, “Can computer screens cause migraines?”
Migraines are one of the most painful things a human being can experience. I’ve been lucky enough to only have had one of them in my entire life. I wanted to see if computer screens and other screens could cause migraines and headaches. The answer I found is yes, it’s possible. Let’s take a look into why this happens and how we can avoid it in the future.
What is a Migraine?
Migraines affect about 15% of the people in the globe. They usually begin in early adulthood but they can begin in any phase of your life. Women get migraines more often than men.
A migraine is a headache on one side of the head that brings on an extreme pulsing and throbbing pain. It also comes along with other symptoms such as sensitivity to light and noises, as well as nausea and vomiting. Migraines can last anywhere from one hour all the way up to a few days.
There are many different types of migraines but they all generally go through the following 4 phases:
- Prodrome – This is the first phase. It can last anywhere from a few hours to two days. You may experience changes in your mood, cravings, yawning and tiredness.
- Aura – This phase lasts anywhere from 5 minutes up to 60 minutes. One may experience vision changes that include flashing lights and zigzag lines. It is also possible to begin feeling strange sensations.
- Headache – This phase of the migraine is the actual headache that we think about when we think of a migraine. It can last anywhere from 1 hour to 72 hours. As we discussed above, this phase is accompanied by not only a headache, but also nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, noise, and smells.
- Recovery – The final phase is called the recovery phase. This phase can last anywhere from 1 to 2 days and typically one will experience tiredness and mood changes.
What Causes a Migraine?
In order to better combat a problem such as migraines, it is probably a good idea to understand what causes the problem in the first place. So what actually causes a migraine? Although the cause isn’t fully understood, it is believed to have something to do with your blood vessels, nerves, chemicals in the brain and genetics. Genetics are included here because migraines may run in families.
Migraines can also be triggered by certain stimuli. These triggers are going to be different for each person, but some of these include: stress, sleep deprivation, not eating enough or skipping meals, certain foods and drinks, the weather, hormones, lighting, noises and smells.
Migraine vs. Headache
I’ve often heard the words headache and migraine used to explain what seem to be two different things. So what’s the difference? From my research, a migraine is simply a type of headache. There are different types of headaches you can experience that express different symptoms. There are sinus headaches, tension headaches, screen headaches and migraines, to name a few.
We already discussed the symptoms and causes of a migraine above. Now let’s take a look at some of the other types of headaches:
Where do you think a sinus headache is felt? You guessed it! Your sinuses. Sinus headaches are a result of your sinuses being inflamed due to allergies or other triggers such as infection. A sinus headache can cause a feeling of fullness in your forehead, eyebrows and cheeks. It often becomes worse while lying down or leaning forward.
You may also experience a runny or stuffy nose and tiredness along with the pain and pressure caused by the headache.
Tension headaches are often felt in your forehead as well as the sides and back of your head. You may also feel that your scalp, neck, and shoulders are tender. This is the result of your scalp and neck muscles tensing and contracting. It can be caused by stress, head injury, anxiety or depression.
Tension headaches can be chronic or episodic. Chronic tension headaches can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few days and are almost always there. Episodic tension headaches start gradually (usually in the middle of the day), and occur no more than 1 to 2 times per month.
Screen headaches are very similar to normal headaches, plus a few more symptoms from the screen. They are obviously caused from looking at screens for an extended period of time. Screen headaches are often felt behind the eyes. You may also experience eye strain, blurry vision, tight neck and shoulder muscles, dry eyes and sensitivity to light.
Screen headaches can even trigger migraine episodes.
Why Do Computer Screens Cause Headaches?
In today’s world it is essential for many of us to look at a computer screen or some other form of a screen practically all day long. Whether it’s for work, pleasure, your social life or entertainment we are constantly looking at screens as a society.
Here are the three main reasons that screens cause headaches:
- Eye Strain
- Excess Light
- Bad Posture
Without boring you with the science behind it, looking at a computer screen is not good for our eyes and causes excessive eye strain. When you’re looking at a computer screen your eye is doing a balancing act of sorts to see what is being presented on screen. Our eyes do not have the ability to focus properly on computer screens which leads to eye strain and eye fatigue. Eye strain and eye fatigue can both lead to headaches.
Another cause of headaches when looking at a computer screen is excess light. If you have your computer screen brightness all the way up, this can certainly begin to bother your eyes. Also, if you are in a work environment where the lighting is very bright or very dark this can affect your eyes ability to focus on the screen. As human beings our eyes do not like to stare at bright things. Have you ever tried staring into the sun? How about a flashlight? I don’t recommend it. Not only can the excessive light coming from the monitor affect your eyes, but if there is any glare this too can affect your eyes.
If you’re anything like me, your mom always corrected your posture growing up. Having good posture is incredibly important. Especially when you are sitting at a computer screen for most of the day. Bad posture puts tension on your upper back, neck, and shoulders. This tension can easily trigger a headache. Sit up straight!
How to Combat Screen Headaches and Migraines
Now that we’ve looked at what a migraine is, what causes migraines, the difference between migraines and headaches, and why computer screens cause headaches, let’s take some time and make some adjustments to solve the problem.
Adjust Your Monitor
The first adjustment you can make is to your monitor. Make sure that your monitor brightness is balanced with the lighting in the room. This means if you are in a very bright room make sure that your monitor is not very dim. It will be very tough on your eyes. On the other hand, if the room is very dark make sure your monitor is not very bright. You should be able to find a sweet spot where the brightness of your monitor and the brightness of the room are somewhat similar. This will be ideal for your eyes.
You’ll also want to ensure that your monitor is the correct distance from your face. I’m sure we’ve all heard the cliché of mom telling us not to sit too close to the television. Guess what? This still applies! The ideal distance from the monitor to your eyes is about 20 to 25 inches. Use a tape measure and slide your monitor backward or forward on your desk to ensure that you are the appropriate distance from your monitor.
Adjust Your Lifestyle
I know you’ll hate to hear it, but there are some lifestyle changes that you might need to make an order to combat the headaches you’re getting from your computer screen. The first and most simple adjustment you can make is to form a new habit of every 20 minutes taking 20 seconds to look at something approximately 20 feet away. This technique is recommended by the American Optometric Association.
This next step might be a little more severe and less possible for some of you based on the kind of work you do, and that is to spend less time at the computer and do things the old-fashioned way. Instead of sitting in front of your computer and drafting a lengthy email, maybe you can pick up the telephone and give that person a call. Instead of reviewing your bank statements and accounting documents on the screen, maybe you can print them out and review them with a pen and highlighter.
Blue Light Glasses
Lastly, you might want to try and pick up a pair of blue light glasses. I have been using blue light glasses for a couple of years and I personally enjoy them. I do not wear them all day, but I do wear them in the evening hours (typically from 6pm and on). They are said to block the harmful blue light that your computer screen is emitting from reaching your eyes.
The science for blue light glasses is lacking. There have not been any great breakthroughs that I am aware of that prove that blue light glasses work beyond a shadow of a doubt. However, I do notice when I wear my blue light glasses (several hours) before bed it is a lot easier for me to fall asleep. Whether or not that is placebo, I’m not sure. They are cheap enough that I recommend picking up a pair and trying them out.
If you’re wondering “Can computer screens cause migraines?”, the answer is yes. Today we have looked at what a migraine is, what causes a migraine, a migraine versus a headache, why computer screens cause headaches and what you can do to combat computer screen headaches. If you spend a significant amount of time in front of computer screens on a daily basis you are probably no stranger to these symptoms. Implement the strategies we have discussed today and you should find yourself getting less headaches and migraines.