Headaches Associated With Personal Protective Equipment - A Cross-Sectional Study Among Frontline Healthcare Workers During COVID-19

Headache. 2020 May;60(5):864-877. doi: 10.1111/head.13811. Epub 2020 Apr 12.


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an emerging infectious disease of pandemic proportions. Healthcare workers in Singapore working in high-risk areas were mandated to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 face mask and protective eyewear while attending to patients.

Objectives: We sought to determine the risk factors associated with the development of de novo PPE-associated headaches as well as the perceived impact of these headaches on their personal health and work performance. The impact of COVID-19 on pre-existing headache disorders was also investigated.

Methods: This is a cross-sectional study among healthcare workers at our tertiary institution who were working in high-risk hospital areas during COVID-19. All respondents completed a self-administered questionnaire.

Results: A total of 158 healthcare workers participated in the study. Majority [126/158 (77.8%)] were aged 21-35 years. Participants included nurses [102/158 (64.6%)], doctors [51/158 (32.3%)], and paramedical staff [5/158 (3.2%)]. Pre-existing primary headache diagnosis was present in about a third [46/158 (29.1%)] of respondents. Those based at the emergency department had higher average daily duration of combined PPE exposure compared to those working in isolation wards [7.0 (SD 2.2) vs 5.2 (SD 2.4) hours, P < .0001] or medical ICU [7.0 (SD 2.2) vs 2.2 (SD 0.41) hours, P < .0001]. Out of 158 respondents, 128 (81.0%) respondents developed de novo PPE-associated headaches. A pre-existing primary headache diagnosis (OR = 4.20, 95% CI 1.48-15.40; P = .030) and combined PPE usage for >4 hours per day (OR 3.91, 95% CI 1.35-11.31; P = .012) were independently associated with de novo PPE-associated headaches. Since COVID-19 outbreak, 42/46 (91.3%) of respondents with pre-existing headache diagnosis either "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that the increased PPE usage had affected the control of their background headaches, which affected their level of work performance.

Conclusion: Most healthcare workers develop de novo PPE-associated headaches or exacerbation of their pre-existing headache disorders.

Keywords: N95; coronavirus disease; coronavirus disease 2019; eyewear; face mask; goggles; headache; healthcare workers; personal protection equipment (PPE).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Headache / epidemiology*
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Personal Protective Equipment / adverse effects*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*
  • Singapore / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult