In order to continue learning following Governor Baker’s shut down of schools in Massachusetts as a result of the ongoing pandemic in as much of a school setting as possible, Remote Learning (RL) policies were implemented, in which students would attend three classes a day in between the hours of 9 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. Because all class meetings and work are being completed virtually, students’ usage of technology increased significantly. In turn, student migraine or headache experiences have also increased. Whether a student already experienced head pain, or has begun to experience migraines or headaches after RL began, there is no denying that head pain is one of the impacts that screen time has on a student. Despite this negative effect of migraines, in no way should this survey nor its results diminish the overall beneficial RL. Those who worked to create this schedule for students to still meet in as much as a classroom setting as possible did very well and it has been a very valuable solution given the circumstances and allowed for face to face instruction.
To capture student experiences with prior and new migraines and headaches, an anonymous survey was sent to all WHS students about their experiences with migraines before and after RL began. 250 students responded with 32% being seniors, 24% being juniors, 26% being sophomores and 18% being freshmen. 96% of respondents acknowledged that their screen time has increased since RL began. One anonymous respondent even claimed that their “screentime is 12 hours and used to be five hours.” 178 students did not experience chronic migraines and/or headaches before RL began, but 45% of those students have started to experience migraines since RL began. Out of those who previously experienced migraines—72 respondents—the results were varied for how RL impacted those migraines. 50% said their migraines had gotten worse; 29%, stayed the same; 17%, improved; and the remaining 4% were not sure. Some students also experience other symptoms alongside their migraines. The most frequent ones were throbbing pain, sensitivity to light and sensitivity to noise. The most common symptoms of those who did not experience migraines before RL but did afterwards were sensitivity to light (75%) and throbbing pain (67%).
Despite most students experiencing an increase in migraines, some students have experienced less, like one student, sophomore Nina LaRusso, who believes the decrease is due to the lack of activities she does during quarantine.
“I think the reason my headaches have improved during RL is that… I was constantly using my brain for class, after school activities and then finishing my homework late,” LaRusso said. “Then my brain has no time to shut off and relax before I sleep… [and] I wake up early the next morning to repeat a busy schedule.”
Screen time can cause eye strain which in turn causes migraines. For that reason, it can be especially helpful to moderate one’s screen time, even as difficult as that may be while in quarantine and one of the only methods to do essentially anything is on some kind of screen, whether a cell phone, tablet, computer, or a television. However, some businesses are opening back up and summer is approaching—allowing students to get off their devices and outside.
Survey respondents recommend a variety of techniques that have been helpful to themselves and may also be helpful for other students like going outside, exercising and drinking lots of water.
As RL for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year comes to an end, it is important to use those extra hours of the day to go outside or do something active that does not require a screen. Additionally, setting screen time limits on cell phones is another option to decrease exposure. One respondent mentioned that wearing blue light glasses has helped deter their own migraines.
“I have found that wearing blue light glasses a few hours before i go to sleep helps a lot,” an anonymous respondent said. “Also if you get headaches a lot you should wear blue light glasses while you’re looking at a screen”
Through these methods, the frequency or severity of the more minor headaches can be reduced. However, if one experiences severe migraines constantly, contact a healthcare provider for more medical methods.