How Light Triggers Migraine Episodes (and What You Can Do About It)

Photophobia. Photosensitivity. Both terms describe an abnormal and extreme sensitivity to light — a common trigger for migraine episodes.

People with photophobia are hypersensitive to fluorescent lights, sudden light level changes, and even intense natural light.

The American Migraine Foundation citing the Harvard Medical School reveals that photophobia is exceedingly common in people with migraine — between 85 and 90% of people with migraine experience sensitivity to light.

Here’s more on photophobia, migraine attacks, and how to resist them.

What are the Causes of Photophobia?

Photophobia was identified in scientific writings as early as the 1930s — however, it wasn’t until 2010 that research began to shed light on this potentially debilitating condition.

The National Headache Foundation cites a 2010 study by the Harvard Medical School that showed pathways from the eyes to the brain that are active during a migraine attack. 

The study also noted that the same rod and cone cells that allow us to see are more sensitive to blue-green light waves.

What Headache Disorders are Common with Photophobia?

Because migraine conditions are so commonly associated with photophobia, light sensitivity itself is one of the primary migraine diagnostic criteria. The most common headache disorders associated with photophobia include:

  • Migraine
  • Tension headache
  • Cluster headache
  • New daily persistent headache

A migraine is a recurrent, throbbing headache that often affects only one side of the head. In addition to pain behind the eyes or ears, migraine can cause nausea and vomiting, vision problems, and sensitivity to sounds and lights. Experts don’t know precisely what causes migraine, although some migraine sufferers can point to certain things that seem to trigger their migraine — including family history, age, sex, hormonal changes, food, alcohol, and poor sleep.

Are All Light Colors Equally as Harmful?

According to research compiled over the last decade, not all light waves across the color spectrum are as detrimental as once believed. A recent study published in the journal Brain: A Journal of Neurology suggests that while migraine headaches are intensified by light in general, green light reduces migraine intensity, pain rating, sensory perception, and the spread of the migraine from the original site by 20%.

While green light wasn’t shown to act as a cure for migraine, the fact that it didn’t increase the discomfort, and in some cases actually made test subjects feel better, hints that green light might open ways to finding new therapies.

What Treatments are Effective Against Migraines Intensified by Photophobia?

The current methods of treatment for migraine episodes begin with working to prevent them before they strike. Some of the proactive measures that patients find helpful in preventing migraine sessions include:

  • Avoiding triggers. Such as foods, lights, sounds
  • Managing stress. With acupuncture, meditation, etc.
  • Getting quality sleep. 8 hours for most patients

Recent advancements in eyewear as a means to reduce the amount of artificial light from digital devices have shown promise as a protection against digital eye strain.

While blue light blocking glasses have been on the market for some time, developments in technology hint that blocking blue light is not nearly as effective as absorbing these rays when it comes to protecting and soothing the eyes — as the healing green light frequencies are also blocked from reaching the eyes.

The ideal glasses for treating photophobia and migraine episodes have the ability to absorb blue light at its most intense frequencies while capturing the highest levels of soothing green light frequencies that work to heal and restore vision. 


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https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/photophobia-light-sensitivity-migraine/
https://headaches.org/2017/03/27/light-headache-disorders-understanding-light-triggers-photophobia/
https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/139/7/1971/2464334

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