Planning Around Migraine: Plans for When You Can’t Drive

Planning Around Migraine: Plans for When You Can’t Drive

It’s 3 p.m., and your children get out of school in 45 minutes. The school is 30 minutes away so you start packing up to leave. As you grab your purse, a migraine attack hits out of nowhere.

Now, you’re breathing heavily and blinking in pain from the light. Your stomach is swirling. Your head is throbbing in time with your heartbeat. You’re dizzy, and it’s becoming difficult to focus. What do you do?

If you’re lucky enough to live in a walk-able neighborhood or in a city with a strong public transportation system, you may not have a problem. Your children, depending on their ages, may be able to walk home alone or catch the bus, subway, or trolley car. There even may be a school bus that can drop them off right at your door. But what if that isn’t the case?

Often, we drive anyway, but we shouldn’t

Driving with a migraine is never a good idea. There are safety concerns, of course, but there are personal physical ones as well. Pushing ourselves when we’re sick often results in increased severity and an exacerbation of symptoms. To avoid this, we need to plan ahead.

Planning ahead opens up options that might not be available in the heat of the moment. This enables those of us without family nearby or an available spouse to still put our family’s safety and our personal health first. Even if—as is the case in Texas where I live—public transit and/or school buses are not available.

Taxi or rideshare service

If your child is old enough and you can afford it, you may be able to have a taxi, Uber, Lyft, or other rideshare service pick up your child from school. If you’re considering this, however, do your research first to avoid frustration. Most companies post rules on when a child is old enough to ride alone. If it turns out your child isn’t old enough for a solo ride, you can request to be picked up first and then ride along. However, this will cost double the price so that’s likely a last resort.

Friend or neighbor

If you’re anything like me, you may hate this idea. I get it. Asking someone neither related to nor married to me for help is right up there with heading to the dentist on my list of things I really don’t want to do. That’s where planning ahead can help. Talking to the person in advance enables you to gauge their willingness to help in the hypothetical, when stress isn’t flying high. This will likely make you both feel more at ease.

Back-up partnership with another parent

Your child likely has a best friend at school. Consider forming a partnership with the other child’s parent in which you both agree to step in for the other in the event of an emergency. This will require you to be upfront about your condition, but it may be easier than the other options listed above. The other parent will likely already be at the school anyway, and your child knows him or her. Better still, this arrangement is a partnership so the implied reciprocity may alleviate any discomfort you might feel about asking for help.

We all know the necessity of having a migraine toolkit. Think of advance planning for these types of events in the same way. Anything that helps us cope with the unexpected and prepare for the expected enables us to live a less stressful, more joyful life.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (13)
  • Selena Marie Wilson
    5 months ago

    So much this!

    I’ve learned (very reluctantly) that driving and migraine can be a really freaking dangerous combination.

    In some places, you can be ticketed with DUI simply for driving with an active migraine attack (not counting driving on medication!) because it alters your perception, and may lose your license.

    Please be careful. If not for you, for the others on the road you could hurt or those in your vehicle.

    We don’t think of the safety risk often enough as opposed to all the things we’re supposed to be doing or what an annoyance others will think it is, but we NEED to take it seriously. It’s a very legitimate danger.

  • Deb
    11 months ago

    I, as many migraineurs, am very sensitive to bright lights, flashing lights, etc. Within moments of being in a room with florescent lights, a migraine is triggered. Watching TV is horrific. Often bright light, including the sun, is a deterrant to driving. Recently I purchased a pair of Theraspecs. They have been very effective for me in reducing migraines triggered by light. I bought the daytime pair, as I can no longer drive and am rarely out at night. I offer this information only as a suggestion for those who may never have heard of them. A friend of mine, who is also part of this community, recommended them to me. My only regret is that I did not get them sooner. I have many triggers. Theraspecs have significantly reduced the light trigger and I am very grateful. I put my theraspecs on when I get up and take them off when I go to bed. If light is a trigger for you, Theraspecs can help and should be part of your toolkit. Thanks to Ann Schwietert for sharing this information with me. I hope it is helpful for others.

  • Selena Marie Wilson
    5 months ago

    Not everyone can afford theraspecs. I have enough trouble just affording food. I’m chronic daily and unable to afford medication.

    I promise I’m not intending to be rude, but many can’t have a “toolkit” or stock it with the things others think we should.
    I may be being oversensitive, but there’s no “should,” only what is doable.

    I’m glad for those who can, of course, and I’m sure you only intend to be helpful, which is great. I mean that sincerely.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    10 months ago

    I have a pair, too. I love them. Thank you for commenting and sharing your tip. It’s always helpful to know what helps other people.

  • litoria76
    11 months ago

    I tend to get migraines in and around my right eye and get extremely light sensitive to the point of having to keep my eye shut. This makes driving impossible. My current treatment for migraine is Percocet and I’ve built up a tolerance over the years so I am relatively functional on it. I always wear dark sunglasses while driving due to the glare from headlights, taillights, and brakelights. My only worry is getting stopped by the police, them seeing my tiny pupils, and arresting me for a DUI and losing my license. I need to be able to drive to get to doctor appointments, get groceries, and take my mother to doctor appointments. If i run out of Percocet my plans have to be cancelled.

  • azmigraineur
    1 year ago

    I have a problem, and I’m not sure if this is the right place to ask, or if anyone here can help me, but does anyone know if a migraine, especially when I’m extremely light sensitive and especially sensitive to strobe/flashing lights, can make me fail the DUI eye test (HGN test)?
    I was stopped during a DUI task force, and discovered a new migraine trigger for me: prolonged exposure to flashing emergency lights. I have always been basically incoherent around strobe lights, such as at events or parties, and have just avoided them. Strobe lights are migraine triggers for my mother and sister (the only time that they ever get migraines, but I am a chronic migraineur, plus occipital neuralgia, so I figured it was best to just avoid strobe lights). I have passed accidents and traffic stops after dark, and could tell the lights were affecting me (not as much as strobe lights), so I have always just done my best to avoid looking at the flashing lights from the emergency vehicles. I’ve never been pulled over, and have been a passenger in a few minor accidents at night, that had minimal flashing lights, and I just closed my eyes for most of it (the 3 accidents I have been in were all during the day, thankfully).
    During this stop, the officer came and took my licence to go run it (my record is spotless so I wasn’t worried) but another officer was there for backup almost immediately, just standard procedure. So now I had twice the flashing lights. After a few minutes I knew it was too late to avoid a migraine, but I hoped I could lessen the severity of it, so I closed my eyes and then covered my eyes with my arm, until the cop finally came back, and I immediately asked him to turn off the flashing lights, which they promptly did, (dont want to risk a seizure), but only the front-facing flashing lights. It was a pretty dark area, and the rear flashers were still on, so the whole area was still filled with flashing lights to me. I’m also very light sensitive in general during a migraine, and I had the headlights from both police cars, plus their spotlights aimed directly at me and my rearview mirrors to reflect into my eyes, intentionally to basically blind the driver (the officers’ explaination). I asked them to turn off the spotlights since it was aggravating the migraine and they already knew that I had a spotless driving record, no warrants, and I had worked as a 911 operator and police dispatcher before I had to go on disability because of my back and severe fibromyalgia. I was one of the good guys and would definitely behave myself, but they refused because it was policy. Since it was a Drunk Driving task force, they then started asking me other questions to see if I was impaired by alcohol or drugs. I knew I was answering slowly, because during a migraine I have trouble concentrating and finding my words,not uncommon symptoms as we all know, but cops don’t, plus “fibromyalgia fog.”I even told them about the “fibro fog and migraine symptoms immediately, but I’m sure they thought I was making up excuses, even tho if I was impaired by drugs or alcohol I wouldnt be aware of being slow and unable to finding my words. I hadn’t had any alcohol (migraine trigger for me), but then they asked if I had taken any drugs in the past 24 hours. The stop was around 8 pm, so I admitted I had taken an opioid and muscle relaxant around 11pm the night before, when I went to bed, but I hadn’t taken anything since then, not even regular Tylenol. So then they made me get out of the car and I heard one cop comment to the other that I used my car extensively to assist me getting out, a sign of impairment, until I brought a cane out with me. I have severe back problems that affect my balance, in addition to sciatica which makes putting pressure on that leg incredibly painfu unless I take the med for that, which I hadn’t because I had to drive. Because of my disabilities, I couldn’t do any field sobriety tests, but the officer wanted to do the eye test. He said if I passed the eye test they wouldn’t arrest me for DUI, but if I refused the eyr test then they would. I should have refused the eye test anyway. In addition to the flashing lights, the headlights, and the 2 spotlights on me, the officer shined his huge flashlight directly at my face so he could see my eyes better. Then had me follow the tip of his pen with my eyes only (not moving my head) as he moved the pen back and forth, then up and down. Of course I failed the eye test. It’s officially called Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) where the eyes have trouble following the target at the edge of the field of vision and start kind of twitching back and forth… or something like that. It occurs with alcohol and drug impairment, but my attorney is pretty sure it also happens during a migraine, especially when I’m extremely light sensitive, and the migraine was triggered by all the lights in the first place, plus the flashing red and blue emergency lights still bothering me, which I told the officers just before they did the eye test. The officer said “The flashing lights aren’t that noticeable.”. Maybe not to you guys, but they are what triggered the migraine in the first place, and now with the extreme light sensitivity, they are very noticeable to me.” I protested again when the officer shined his flashlight directly into my eyes, and it took a couple attempts to complete the test because my eyes just couldn’t tolerate all the light. My attorney said the officers should never have completed the eye test with my complaints about it causing me extreme pain, and the numerous attempts to complete it.
    I have an excellent neurologist that manages my migraines, but at my last visit I only got to see a student since it was just a 6week checkup in the middle of my 12 week notox cycle. The student didn’t know when I asked him about the eye test (or what HGN stands for), but he made a note to find out — not for me, but so he would know after he graduated and started his residency. I don’t get to see my neurologist for another 5 weeks, and it is driving me crazy not knowing anything. It is even more frustrating because we got a copy of the police report, and there is no mention of the migraine, my requests to turn off the flashing lights and all the other blinding lights, my complaint about the flashing lights still affecting me, and the flashlight being too bright in my eyes for the eye test. The officer mentioned that it took multiple attempts to complete the eye test, but only as proof of my impairment, not that it was blinding me because of the migraine. He also mentioned that I said I took certain medications, but he didn’t mention that I said I hadn’t taken them in 20 hours, long after they’d worn off. I’m always extremely careful about not driving while taking medications, waiting at least twice as long as the medications are supposed to be active for. If I can take it every 4 hours and I can feel it wearing off after 4-5 hours, I’ll wait 8-10 hours before driving. But as any attorney will tell you, in legal proceedings, if it’s not written down or recorded somehow, it didn’t happen. This agency doesn’t have any dashboard cameras, and they are working on getting body cameras for all the officers, but it’s not done yet. We don’t know yet if the 2 officers I dealt with had cameras, but they didn’t mention it in their report, which they usually do if they have body cameras.
    My attorney will get to interview both officers under oath, but it’s been over a year since they stopped me, so we have to depend on them remebering my individual stop and my complaints about the flashing lights, the bright lights that were aggravating the migraine, or that I hadn’t taken the medications in 20 hours, all of which they didn’t include in their report (which they should have). Whether they think it’s significant or not, they are supposed to include everything that happened in their report, especially any complaints I made. So I’m extremely frustrated with the whole thing.

  • Selena Marie Wilson
    5 months ago

    It can definitely cause you to appear under the influence, and in some places you can legally be ticketed for driving with migraine as it alters perception.

    I remember reading an article a few years ago about a woman whose migraines were triggered by flashing lights – she got an ordinance passed that provided vehicle stickers for those diagnosed with a condition triggered by flashing lights so police would know to turn them off when pulling over someone…you had to have documentation of your condition to get one. I can’t remember now where that happened, though I’m thinking Canada. It was only her province/state that passed it, but wouldn’t it be an incredible idea if we could do that?

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    That sounds extremely frustrating. I’m so sorry that happened to you. It sounds like you have a good attorney, so hopefully you’ll have this resolved soon. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to your question, though I would ask your doctor. You might also ask the opinion of an attorney who specializes in DUIs. Looking around the internet, it looks like quite a few have experience with this particular type of test and say that migraine can cause someone to fail it. If your attorney doesn’t specialize in those cases, maybe they can ask for a consult from someone who does?

  • PhillyGirl72
    1 year ago

    This is a constant fear of mine as I am a professional driver, escorting oversized loads. Simply pulling over is not a viable option, sometimes the loads can’t even fit in truck stops. I can usually manage with medication and keep going. Luckily I have only been totally flattened by migraine on the road twice. Once, the very understanding driver stopped early for the night, and only 100 miles from home. The other I had to push it to the destination then laid in the back of my truck vomiting for 2 hours while he unloaded. Every trip I worry a bad one will hit me when we can’t stop. I honestly have no idea what I’ll do when it inevitably happens. I’ve only been doing this for a year and love my job but migraine is the one thing that could ruin it for me.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    That’s really tough! Do abortives work for you? Having a stash of those on hand might help you make it home.

  • katdan1026
    1 year ago

    I know the feeling. Twice in the last year I have had a migraine with vertigo hit me while I was driving! Luckily I was close enough both times to pull into a near by parking lot and turn off the car. The 1st episode I had to call my husband to pick me up, he brought my mom to drive my car home. The 2nd episode, no one was available. So I popped 2 rescue meds, leaned my car seat back, closed my eyes, and sat in a parking lot for over an hour until the vertigo slowed down enough for me to drive home. I’ve pretty much given up driving except for close to home because of this.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    I’m so sorry you’ve had to limit your activity because of this symptom. I frequently wish I lived somewhere with better public transit so I could worry less about my ability to drive. Have you mentioned the severity of the vertigo to your doctor? I had to press mine several times before she finally started to take it seriously and find something to help in these circumstances.

  • Dana
    10 months ago

    azmigraineur
    There are many, woulda, coulda, shoulda’ s in your story that you probably think back to now, like refusing the test and asking for a blood test or asking for a superior officer to come to the scene immediately, but you were scared and in pain and probably wanted the situation to end as quickly as possible. I am so sorry that happened to you. Sometimes our boys in blue… well never mind. I hope things work out for you, that just sounds awful. I mean, my heart breaks for you.
    I don’t drive at all anymore. I hadn’t driven in about a year and my doctor had a doctors appt and her dad was held up at work and i thought it’s not that far…. well my head was throbbing, the sun was blinding and I turned in to oncoming traffic. I panicked a quickly drove over the median, not even checking to see if I would be side swiping anyone (I didn’t, thank God). Haven’t driven since. I had my daughter with me, I can’t even begin to imagine…..
    Now I hear everyone talk about Theraspecs (not that these would get me back behind the wheel), but they seem to work better than sunglasses, they’re so expensive! The cheapest pair I found were $99 on Amazon and when you aren’t working that’s high dollar . Anyone found them cheaper elsewhere?

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