Some people who suffer migraines ''are highly susceptible to stressful visual stimuli," says study researcher Jie Huang, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology at Michigan State University. "The stimuli produce discomfort and perceptual illusions, illusions of color, shape, and motion."
How Light Sensitivity Triggers a Migraine?
Photophobia is a neurological issue that involves communication between receptors in the eye and the brain. Migraine patients appear to have a hyperexcitable occipital lobe, the visual processing center in the brain that increases sensitivity to light. (learn more about what happens in your brain when you have migraine)
The brighter the light, the more discomfort or pain you probably feel. The wavelength or color of the light also plays a role. Blue-green light; the type found in digital screens, fluorescent lights, and in the UV rays in sunlight, tends to trigger photophobia more than other colors.
Photophobia is one of the most common symptoms of migraines, or hypersensitivity to light. Photophobia can occur both during a migraine attack and between attacks, causing both natural and manufactured light to cause pain and discomfort. For some people, the light may act as a trigger for a migraine attack. Photophobia can cause people to avoid going outside on sunny days and seek shelter in darkened rooms. However, light isn´t always avoidable.
About 80 percent of people with migraines have photophobia, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. While light sensitivity is at its worst before and during a migraine, many migraine patients are more sensitive to light between migraine episodes than are other people and those who have chronic migraines are more light-sensitive than those with episodic migraines.
Migraine triggers vary from one person to the next. Also, one person usually has multiple triggers that include anything from foods and hormones to environmental factors and stress. (Learn more about different type of migraines, their causes, symptoms and treatments)
According to Top Migraine Triggers article published in Health.com, light sensitivity is a common trigger. Light impacts some migraine sufferers severely, some sporadically and some not at all.
While light sensitivity varies from person to person, some stimuli seem to show up more frequently. Those include pattern glare, bright lights, and fluorescent bulbs. Pattern glare causes visual stress from looking at various light patterns. Bright light such as sunlight and fluorescent lighting are also usual culprits since they give off dangerous light wavelengths.
Bright lights, changes in light levels, and sunlight can trigger an attack in some people and exacerbate the discomfort of a migraine once it takes hold. One strategy for managing photophobia is to wear glasses or sunglasses, particularly those with a specific tint to the lenses.
What research has been done on tinted glasses?
Several clinical trials have studied the effect of tinted glasses in people with migraine. One study conducted in 2002 compared glasses that filtered conventional white light with a control pair of glasses that were just tinted but didn´t filter light. The participants used different glasses and recorded the frequency of their migraine attacks in a headache diary. The frequency of attacks was marginally lower when the optimal glasses that filtered out light were used.
Another study involved 20 children with migraine, conducted in 1991. The children were randomly assigned to wear glasses with either an FL-41 rose tint or a blue tint for four months. The frequency, duration, and severity of migraine attacks were recorded. After one month's wear, all the children had an improvement in the frequency of migraine attacks, but only the children wearing the rose-tinted glasses had this improvement sustained up to four months. In the rose glass group, the frequency of migraine improved from 6.2 per month to 1.6 per month.
How are migraine glasses different from regular sunglasses?
Researchers have found that only certain wavelengths of light cause photophobia, which makes finding migraine glasses that filter these specific wavelengths very important. Currently, the FL-41 tint is the only known option that specifically targets this light without being too dark like sunglasses. Outdoor FL-41 lenses are also available and offer more protection than regular sunglasses. However, sunglasses are designed to block the bright sunlight, and while they can be worn indoors, prolonged wear of sunglasses indoors may cause the eyes to become more sensitive to light, as the eyes adapt to the darker shading of sunglasses.
While they may not entirely relieve or prevent migraines, eyeglass tints blocking certain wavelengths appear to help many sufferers.
How can I find migraine glasses?
Tinted migraine glasses are available without a prescription and can be purchased online or in certain eyeglass stores. There are several different manufacturers, offering different styles and price points.
What to Look for When Shopping for Glasses?
There are no definitively "right" or "wrong" types of eyeglasses or sunglasses to prevent or ease photophobia; different people may swear by different tints, degrees of darkness, or frame shapes. There is research, however, that a purplish-pink shade known as FL-41 is very effective for relief from the light sensitivity associated with migraines.
A study compared the tint with gray-colored lenses and found light-sensitive participants to have less sensitivity to overall light as well as fluorescent lighting while wearing FL-41 lenses.
FL-41 tinted lenses can be used for indoor glasses, sunglasses, and prescription lenses.
Sunglasses with dark, polarized lenses (with or without FL-41) are another good option for bright sunlight, as they reduce scattered light, which causes glare.
Tips for Finding the Right Lens Tint
Finding the right lens tint for relief from light sensitivity can be time-consuming. However, the relief received is well worth the effort. With that in mind, consider the following tips to help discover the right lens tint to relieve your migraine headaches.
- Be willing to experiment. Some people find significant relief after trying just a couple of lenses.
- Talk to your eye care specialist. An ophthalmologist can help identify additional triggers and make suggestions regarding lens tint.
- Check with your physician too. Especially if you´re struggling to find the right solution, your doctor can provide valuable input.
- Analyze your situation. Take some time to answer the question, “How do you choose the best lens tint?”
Remember that the quality of the eyewear matters, whether precision tinted or not. Tinted eyewear, especially those that bring relief to migraine sufferers, is not simply a summer fashion accessory.
Warnings to Consider
When investigating lens tint for the purpose of reducing light sensitivity as a migraine trigger, be aware of a couple of important warnings.
- Some people find that lens colors can trigger a migraine attack. Studies show that tinted lenses can be useful for migraine relief, but they also indicate that the wrong type of tint can make migraines worse.
- Exacerbated light sensitivity is a concern for those who find relief from excessively dark lenses. Wearing dark glasses indoors can significantly worsen light sensitivity in the long run. Therefore finding tints that filter only the most harmful wavelengths is a better option.
Blue Light: A Big (Avoidable) Trigger
The type of light you´re exposed to really does impact how you feel. While flashing or flickering lights are the most likely to bring on a migraine attack, blue lights and fluorescent and LED bulbs containing blue light are also massive triggers and aggravators. The majority of their lives people are in an office environment under fluorescent or LED bulbs, straining their eyes looking at monitors and smartphones that emit blue light. It´s really no wonder so many people struggle with migraines nowadays.
Blue light has been found to activate the trigeminal nerve, which plays a large role in pain perception during a migraine attack. It can even exacerbate migraine symptoms as well, such as light sensitivity, dizziness, nausea and more. While blue light is at its most harmful when the sun goes down, it can still trigger migraines throughout the daytime.
Blue Light Glasses Can Help
The good news is there are blue light glasses in the market. The lenses block up to 99 percent of harmful blue light and can help prevent both headaches and migraines brought on by blue light. They can even help minimize symptoms, like light sensitivity, once a migraine has already been triggered.
So, when exactly should you wear blue light glasses to help fight your battle with migraines?
- Whenever you feel a migraine might be coming on
- When a migraine has been triggered
- On extremely bright, sunny days
- In the office where you´re in front of a monitor all day, straining your eyes
- At night when you´re on your smartphone, tablet or computerIf you´re in a space with fluorescent lighting for an extended period of time
- You know your own body. If you feel a migraine coming on, take the proper steps to stop it before it gets worse.
Also, here are a few tips to avoid blue light so that you can hopefully reduce the number and severity of migraine episodes you have.
Experiment with sunglasses?
More research is needed to confirm the benefits of tinted lenses in preventing or reducing migraines, but if you suffer from headaches related to visual stimuli (or other light sensitivity issues), there´s no harm in trying them to see if they can help prevent attacks. An eye care specialist may be able to determine if you have visual triggers that you are unaware of and suggest lenses that may help. The simplest option is to experiment with sunglasses of different tint that are light enough to allow you to see well indoors. Many people find that rose tints work best. The glasses can be worn in situations where an attack may be triggered, during a headache episode to reduce its severity.
Keep in mind that no single intervention works for all migraine sufferers. How much you benefit may depend on many factors, including your particular triggers, along with the color and quality of the lenses. In some cases, wearing the “wrong” tint might worsen symptoms.
Compiled using information from the following sources: