Virtual Learning and Migraine

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Virtual Learning and Migraine

This year, no other event has been more significant and influential as the ongoing global health crisis, and it’s easy to see why. The pandemic not only provided the world with an opportunity to engage in the biggest remote working experiment, but also pushed millions of educational institutions to employ distance learning in order to curb the spread of the virus. Here in America, the Household Pulse Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau noted that nearly 93% of households with school-age children are already participating in some form of distance learning. Of that percentage, 80% were heavily reliant on screens and other connected devices, since much of their activities are anchored in online resources.

Man with a migraine

This new reality, which is very likely to persist even in a post-pandemic world, begs us to zoom in on what was once the most pressing issue for parents: the effects of prolonged exposure to screens. During the first few years of widespread digitalization, many parents were concerned about the different negative effects of screens on their children’s health and overall development. This then gave rise to a new body of research that continues to be of interest to many up to this day.

Now that current circumstances have made it inevitable for learners to rely on connected devices, researchers are no longer just focusing on its impact on development, but also on its capability of increasing the risk of various health conditions, one of which is migraine. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraine is the 3rd most prevalent illness and the 6th most disabling one in the world. In the US alone, every 10 seconds an American goes to the emergency room complaining of head pain, and about 1.2 million ER visits are for acute migraine attacks. To make things even worse, migraine is also noted to affect kids of varying ages. While migraine affects 10% of school-age children, the percentage can go up to 28% in adolescents between ages 15-19. These days, with kids learning mostly through online learning platforms, it’s becoming even more important for many of us to look back at the connection between screen exposure and migraines.

Migraines and overexposure to screens

Based on a cross-sectional study involving 4,927 French students that self-reported their screen-time exposure and migraine-related symptoms, it was found that participants who were in the highest screen time quartile had an increased likelihood of reporting migraines. The same study also emphasized how smaller screens of other connected devices like smartphones are just as capable of increasing the risk of migraines as televisions. In spite of these findings, the authors of the study clarified that their goal wasn’t to address the mechanisms underlying the association between screen time and migraines. Instead, they are more focused on finding out whether the use of electronic screens could trigger migraines.

Another study that’s worth mentioning is the cross-sectional hospital-based study published in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice. After surveying 400 patients with primary headache conditions, the researchers found that 96% of smartphone users were more likely to take pain-relieving drugs compared to 81% of non-smartphone users. The same study also mentioned how smartphone users reported less relief from headaches after taking medication. Although this study is not focused on migraines, it is important to note that the smartphone users who participated in the study also reported a higher occurrence of aura. Aura describes a warning sensation before an attack of epilepsy or migraine.

Last year, a study that examined the effects of smartphone overuse on headache, sleep and quality of life in migraine patients was published in the journal Neurosciences (Riyadh). The study, which had a total of 123 participants, found that smartphone use increased headache duration and frequency in migraine patients. The study further noted how overuse in migraine patients has resulted in poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness and reduced quality of life.

Girl wearing light sensitivity glasses

Making migraines more bearable

Even in the face of all these findings, the only thing parents and learners can do is to subscribe to various activities that can help alleviate the symptoms of migraines and make them a tad bit more bearable. Here are some examples of such activities:

Practicing yoga

Apart from increasing your body’s flexibility, strengthening your core, promoting mindfulness and inducing calm, did you know yoga can also help in relieving all sorts of pain? Based on the studies reviewed by Harvard Medical School, yoga has been found to have positive effects on people with arthritis, lower back pain, fibromyalgia and migraines. A study published in the International Journal of Yoga also mentioned that migraine patients who combined yoga with conventional care experienced significant improvement in both the frequency and intensity of migraine episodes.

Eating the right kinds of food

Aside from practicing yoga, you can also alleviate the symptoms of migraines by being extra mindful of the food that you eat. In one of our previous posts ‘Migraine Diet: Eating to Manage Your Migraine’, we mentioned how fresh meats, fish, fruits and vegetables alongside whole grains are the best kinds of food for people who suffer from migraine. The reason for this is that pre-packaged, processed foods are often packed with tons of ingredients that could trigger and exacerbate migraine attacks.

Take some magnesium supplements

Magnesium deficiency is more common in people who get frequent migraine headaches, compared to those who don’t. To help alleviate the symptoms of migraine and reduce both their frequency and severity, a study published in the journal Nutrients highly suggests taking 600mg of oral magnesium citrate per day. However, since magnesium supplements can also cause a variety of digestive side-effects, it would be best to start with smaller doses.

About the author

image of author
Alexis Spencer experienced debilitating migraines for the first time while she was in college, and doctors had always advised her the same thing: lessen your computer usage. But in an age where using gadgets like smart phones and laptops is inevitable for both work and study, how does one with migraines cope? She’s spent countless hours poring through research and doing her own, and hopes to help others like her find comfort from their migraines.
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2 thoughts on “Virtual Learning and Migraine

  1. MEG Aline says:

    Online learning was an absolutely brutal change for me, not only for stress but also for my migraines. Not going a day at the computer without my axon optics glasses and my magnesium supplements.

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