- Migraine episodes are associated with high levels of screen time.
- Treatment for screen headaches and migraine episodes include OTC pain relievers, prescription medication you take at the onset, and preventive medication.
- Taking frequent breaks, optimizing screen and background lighting, and maintaining distance from your screen can all help reduce screen headaches.
Screen headaches and migraine episodes can really impact your personal and professional life. Not only do they limit your ability to complete work tasks, but the throbbing pain can also interfere with social obligations and time with friends and family.
And when you factor in the hours we spend browsing the internet, attending Zoom meetings, following the 24-hour news cycle, checking email, or trying to beat an unbeatable game, it makes sense that too much time in front of a screen takes a toll on our health.
This article explores the connection between screens and headaches or migraine, signs to be aware of, how to treat screen headaches, and tips to prevent them from happening in the first place.
The short answer is yes. Too much screen time can cause headaches and migraine. How and why it happens, however, is a bit more involved.
One 2015 study found an association between high levels of screen time and migraine in young adults, with the mean age being 20.8 years old.
The screens examined include computers, tablets, smartphones, and television. Of the 4,927 participants, those in the highest screen time group — over 2 hours daily — had an increased likelihood of reporting a migraine episode.
It’s not uncommon to experience eye strain when you look at a computer for a long time. According to a 2018 review, computer vision syndrome or digital eye strain syndrome can cause screen headaches, eye strain, dry eyes, neck pain, and blurred vision.
More specifically, computer vision syndrome is associated with headaches behind the eyes.
The symptoms of a screen headache are similar to what you might experience with a regular headache or migraine attack, with a few extra side effects from the screen.
Some of the more common symptoms of migraine, especially during the attack phase, include:
- pulsing and throbbing pain in the temples or on the side, front, or back of the head
- increased sensitivity to light and sound
- seeing shapes, bright spots, or flashes
Symptoms of a screen headache include:
- headache behind the eyes
- eye strain
- blurry vision
- tight neck and shoulder muscles
- dry eyes
- sensitivity to light
If the screen headache triggers a migraine episode, you may experience all of these symptoms.
Once you have a screen headache, you’re faced with treating the symptoms. But if you can take measures to avoid them from happening in the first place, you’ll eliminate (or at least reduce) the pain and discomfort that occur with migraines.
Here are some ways to avoid headaches and migraine attacks due to screens.
Adjust the lighting
The brightness from your monitor or electronic device combined with the lighting surrounding you can lead to eye strain and screen headaches.
To minimize eye strain, which can lead to screen headaches and migraine, keep the lighting in your room — both natural and artificial — balanced with the brightness of the monitor. Also, consider positioning your screen to avoid glare.
Take frequent breaks
Looking away from the screen throughout the workday or while using a screen for entertainment may help eye strain and consequently reduce triggering a migraine episode or screen headache.
The American Optometric Association recommends the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away.
Measure the distance
If eye strain is contributing to screen headaches and migraine, make sure your monitor is at least 20 to 25 inches from your eyes.
Get a pair of blue light glasses
Blue light blocking glasses may help reduce screen headaches, but the research is lacking. There are better ways to avoid a screen headache, but it doesn’t hurt to try an inexpensive pair.
Try a screen protector
If the glare from your screen is causing eye strain, consider installing an antiglare screen on your monitor.
Go old school with paper
While not the most environmentally friendly option, printing out longer documents that you may use more than once can reduce the amount of time you spend in front of a screen.
Simply avoiding screen time is not a reality for many people — especially if you spend the majority of your work hours staring at a monitor. That said, some remedies may help decrease migraine pain and prevent them from getting worse.
Over-the-counter pain relievers
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like acetaminophen, aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen) are often the first line of defense for acute migraine attacks.
Prescription migraine medication
Prescription migraine medications fall into two categories: one you take at the onset of a migraine episode (acute) and one you take to prevent migraine episodes.
Some of the common prescription medications used for acute migraine include:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID)
- antiemetics (antinausea medications)
- dihydroergotamine mesylate
According to the American Migraine Foundation, preventive migraine medications include
- calcium channel blockers
- CGRP monoclonal antibodies
Botox treatments may also be used to prevent chronic migraine. A
Lifestyle approaches and complementary treatments, including acupuncture, mindfulness meditation, yoga, daily physical activity, better sleep hygiene, and dietary modifications, may reduce migraine-related pain.
One 2019 research review found that complementary and integrative options like yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness may help with migraine.
Dietary modifications such as eliminating trigger foods like caffeine and MSG may decrease headaches or migraine episodes in susceptible individuals, according to research from observational studies.
And if you’re a fan of acupuncture, you may want to include it in your treatment plan.
A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis reports that acupuncture may help reduce the frequency of migraine attacks and that it may be safer than medication. However, researchers suggest that more high quality studies are needed to enhance the reliability of the conclusion.
Screen headaches and migraine episodes often occur with high levels of screen time. If you need to spend more than 2 hours in front of a screen, consider some preventive measures like adjusting the lighting, using screen protectors, and taking frequent breaks.
Also, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about OTC pain relievers or a prescription medication for migraine. With the right modifications and expert advice from your doctor, managing migraine pain is possible.