Is too much screen time the cause of your headache?


Spending a large amount of time in front of a screen has become a societal norm, but all that screen time can take a toll on your health. Long days looking at a computer screen followed by even longer nights binge watching television can worsen any underlying headache problems you may have.

When you have a headache, the pain and pressure it causes in the head can make it difficult to function. Headaches may come on suddenly or develop gradually overtime resulting in sharp pain, a dull ache or a throbbing feeling. They may last a few hours to a few days.

Types of headaches

If you suffer from migraines – a type of headache that causes severe throbbing or pulsing pain on one or both sides of the head – screen time can aggravate any associated light sensitivity. Eye strain, brightness, blue light and screen flickering can be migraine triggers.

Another type of headache – cervicogenic headache – is when a problem in the neck causes pain in the head. Cervicogenic headaches often start at the base of the skull and radiate up one side of the head. Poor posture at your workstation can worsen cervical muscle inflammation and tightness, which can in turn exacerbate cervicogenic headaches.

Ways to prevent headaches

There are ways to prevent these types of headaches. They include:

  • Exercise good posture: A physical therapist can evaluate your seated posture as well as your computer screen and keyboard positions to help you set up a good ergonomic workstation. 
  • Use a screen guard: You can reduce the brightness and glare of the computer screen by using a guard.
  • Wear blue light glasses: Filtering out blue light with a pair of glasses may reduce eye strain but more research is needed.  
  • Take a breaks: Frequent breaks every 20 to 30 minutes to allow your eyes to rest can help with screen fatigue.

When to see a doctor

If you experience frequent headaches, they become more severe, they don’t respond to over-the-counter medications or they prevent you from the activities of daily living, it may be time to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. Your doctor can work with you to create a plan to treat and prevent future headaches.

Kevin Weber is a neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and an assistant professor of neurology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.