There has been some interesting research on light, photophobia, and migraines. We all know about the intensity light has. How painful it is. How we will do almost anything to hide from it with an attack.

Light and migraines

There may be more reasons for this than we initially thought. The new study by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has discovered a previously unknown link between the light-sensitive nerve cells in the eye and areas in the brain “that regulate mood and a host of physical parameters such as heart rate, shortness of breath, fatigue, congestion and nausea. The findings, which explain how light can induce the negative emotions and unpleasant physical sensations that often accompany migraine” NeuroScience News

First, the light itself triggers other reactions, one of which is an emotional response.

“They were telling us that light made them anxious, angry, irritable, agitated, nervous, hopeless, needy, sad, scared, upset, depressed, worried, panicky,” says Dr. Rami Burstein of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, the paper’s senior author. CommonHealth

Physically our reported response is that light can give is feelings of “tightness in the chest or throat, it made them breathe faster, gave them dry mouth, dizziness, nausea — all responses controlled by the autonomic nervous system.” CommonHealth

Colour also makes a difference as the green light to be less of a problem. And we already know from research on the migraine tint Fl-41 and migraine specs… that blue light certainly IS a problem. The research into green light though may lead to other products that can be migraine friendly.

It seems, however, their research indicates our light aversion does, in fact, cause other aggravating factors.

Until now, Dr. Burstein says, we thought aversion to light was just part of how the brain changes during a migraine attack. “Now we are bringing a new concept here,” he says, “suggesting that many of the symptoms, like nausea and vomiting and stuffy sinuses — many of those can actually be exacerbated or attributed to the fact that migraine patients are spending much of their time in the light.” CommonHealth

The study involved showing different coloured lights to 81 people who experience frequent migraines and 17 who have never had a migraine and ask them what their experiences were. The effects of light and colour were tested three times. Once for those who have never had a migraine attack, two times for subjects with migraines; once during an attack and once between.

In the pre-clinical experience with albino rats, they identified unknown connections between nerve cells in the retina and neurons stretching into areas of the brain that control “physiological, autonomic, endocrine and emotional responses to changes in the external environment.” NeuroScience News

I can understand this. I know when I have a migraine attack and I have to leave the comfort of my light controlled house… I am slammed by the light outside. And it compounds everything. I get so much worse, so fast.

regret_this_decision_anchorman.gifThis is why tinted migraine specs have been such a great option. They soften the intensity of the light. It seems to help quite a bit for me.

Also see: Fl-41 specs for a Migraine and Review: Theraspecs

There has also been more recent research on green light that intrigues me quite a bit and I am now exploring. The research is about as old as the research for Fl-41 tints for photosensitivity but only recently (in 2020) have I seen any actual products with it coming out to explore.

3 thoughts on “Light and migraines

  1. Hi Nikki. I feel your pain. I’ve had severe chronic photophobia for a number of years due to migraines. I’ve had good success reducing my photophobia through a technique to reduce chronic pain. Essentially, you can block the pain through visualization while you expose yourself to bright lights. It seems insane at first since any light can cause pain, but the results are worth it. I originally got the idea from chapter 1 of Norman Doidge’s book “The Brain’s Way of Healing”.


    1. That is interesting! I do know since I learned light avoidance can make photophobia worse I have been slowly exposing myself to more light in the house. Soft light or different times of day. And it has helped a lot. In addition to the migraine tinted glasses which enable me to handle a lot of light better. It is just one of those aggressive symptoms we definitely feel like we should avoid, but perhaps there are better ways to cope with it.


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