Office workers in buildings with poor quality indoor air suffer from more intense migraines and more severe headaches than those who work in buildings with good air quality, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of Toledo, Ball State University and Virginia Tech teamed up to better understand the connection among migraine, headache and indoor environmental parameters, such as the levels of carbon monoxide and dioxide, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds as well as temperature and humidity. They evaluated data from a study that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted of 100 offices in 25 states from 1994 to1998. More than 4,300 workers participated.

In all, the researchers found that when the participants worked in an environment with unhealthy indoor air, 38% reported experiencing a headache one to three days per month, and 8% reported headache on a daily basis.

According to a press release from Ball State University, when exposed to an uncomfortable air environment, researchers found the following:

  • Females were more likely to report a headache in the last four weeks than males (75% vs. 53%).
  • About 21% of employees reported that a physician had diagnosed them with migraine. Females (27%) were significantly more likely than males (11%) to report a migraine diagnosis.
  • The highest levels of migraine diagnosis were for employees exposed to out-of-comfort range levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in their office buildings.
  • Exposure to out-of-comfort range indoor environmental parameters was higher in groups that reported higher headache frequencies.

The authors note that the issue of air quality in many building types was first described  after the oil shortage in the 1970s, when buildings began to be constructed to be airtight and entirely dependent on artificial heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. Sometimes these systems are not properly maintained or operated, resulting in further air quality issues, and the authors advise building managers to create and implement strategies to improve indoor air quality.

“Collection of periodic data on indoor environmental parameters should become a universal practice, and based on the data, a health risk management plan for the occupants should be designed,” said Suchismita Bhattacharjee, one of the authors from Ball State University. “Reviewing operation and maintenance of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems should be made an integral part of the strategies to reduce harmful worksite exposures.”

Neurologist Gretchen E. Tietjen, MD, of the University of Toledo Medical Center, led the study, which appeared in the Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology.