How Does Light Trigger A Migraine Attack? The Science Behind Blue Light and Migraine

If you suffer from migraine, you know all too well that fluorescent lights, computer lights, and natural lights can be debilitating when you’re experiencing an attack. So, what is it about light that causes migraine attacks? Well, first, let’s look at a little science to help you understand and manage light-triggered migraine episodes.

If there is one thing we know, it’s that all light sources share one thing in common. They transmit the following primary colors: red, blue and green, or RGB. As light enters our eye, it is processed by our retina for image recognition. The retina consists of three color-sensing receptors called ‘cones’ that are stimulated by either blue, green or red frequencies.

For the scientist in us, and for discussion purposes, the frequency of visible light is measured between 400 to 700nm (nanometers) with each of the three cones responding to the following frequency ranges:

So, what does that mean? Basically, different light sources can vary with intensity and frequency of RGB – and blue light is the culprit when it comes to your migraine pain. You see, blue light is ubiquitous in just about every light source and is the main color frequency associated with the onset of headaches. The intensity can vary from high to low by a light source which is why you may feel worse under florescent lights than you would say daylight.

Compact fluorescent (CFL) and newer LED (light-emitting diode) lights are prominent and provide bright light with low energy consumption, which is good for our pocketbook and the environment but not so much for our heads. When CFLs transmit blue light, it spikes at 405 nm and 430 nm and, when combined with the annoying flickering, can trigger headaches for light-sensitive individuals. 

LEDs use about 65% less energy than CFLs, are much brighter and last longer, making LEDs the most popular option today for indoor lighting, outdoor lighting, digital devices and screens. The downside is that LEDs can also trigger detrimental headaches because they transmit blue light from about 425 to 500 nm with an intense spike around 455nm, which closely overlaps the blue cone’s peak sensitivity point.

All of this said, it might help explain why more people who suffer from migraine attacks want to avoid computer use or brightly lit environments like a big box store, school, hospital, etc.

This, in large part, is why we created Migraine Shields. We wanted to find a solution that would help block the light at 455 nm so that our “wearers” would instantly find a sense of relief, and not to mention, have another level of protection from harmful light. Plus, while our lenses block large amounts of blue light, they still let your eyes experience the benefits of green light which can actually have a soothing affect to your eyes.

It’s important to understand how light works and having the right protection is essential for anyone wanting to combat its impact. Questions? Let us know in the comments below.

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