Light Sensitivity: A Real Pain for Migraine & Headache Disorders

By Greg (Guest Writer from Theraspecs) –

Light sensitivity may as well be “Exhibit A” for why migraine is so much more than a headache. It is the second most commonly reported symptom after head-related pain and may affect as many as 90% of people with the condition. And let’s be honest: it can turn your eyes into burning orbs of discomfort and make just about all your other attack symptoms that much more unpleasant too.

How light sensitivity affects chronic headache disorders

Light sensitivity, or photophobia as it is often called, is a common occurence no matter what type of migraine or headache disorder you have. In fact, it is often a prerequisite for diagnosis of any headache disorder, just proving that it does not discriminate.

For instance, studies show that more than 80% percent of familial hemiplegic migraine attacks include strong aversion to light, and nearly two-thirds of vestibular migraine attacks are similarly impacted. If you experience aura as part of your migraine episodes, you may actually be more susceptible to light sensitivity. Even in cluster headache—a condition that does not typically produce traditional migraine features—photophobia has been reported by more than half of those who have been diagnosed.

In addition, light is commonly cited as a direct trigger of migraine attacks. Although specific triggers often vary from person to person and even between attacks, light sources that can bring on migraines include:

Fluorescent light

● Tablets, smartphones

● Computer screens

● Television, movie screens

● Flashing lights

● Reflecting light and glare

As if that were not enough, people with a chronic headache disorder are also more sensitive to light outside of the attack phase.

Causes of photophobia in migraine

One of the leading explanations for why people with migraine have to endure painful light sensitivity has to do with specific cells in the retina of the eye. These cells (known as ipRGCs) are activated by exposure to light and then transmit the sensations of photophobia to the hyperreactive brain of a migraineur through a pathway that is different from how visual information is processed. Unfortunately, researchers also note that blue light is the most likely to agitate these cells; this is helps explain why artificial sources like fluorescents and even sunlight are especially problematic for the migraine brain.

There is also evidence that people with migraine are simply less tolerant of light. What normal eyes may consider dim lighting can be perceived as bright or painful for somebody with heightened sensitivities. In effect, the relatively-low intensity of a cloudy day is all that it takes to trigger migraine pain and other symptoms.

Tips to reduce light sensitivity

If you are photophobic as a result of migraine, your first instinct may be to avoid light—either by finding a dark room or popping on sunglasses inside. However, this can make you even more sensitive to light over time and has the potential to bring on emotional side effects like depression.

So what can you do to reduce the effects of light? Here are some practical tips:

Continue treating your migraine—studies show that the most severe symptoms (including photophobia) diminish with effective migraine therapies.

Try precision-tinted FL-41 lenses—these specialty tinted glasses block blue light and can reduce attacks that are triggered by any type of light.

Always wear sunglasses outside—make sure you have proper eye protection outdoors by wearing polarized sunglasses.

Test fluorescent alternatives—natural light or lamps with warm-colored bulbs may be a better option for interior lighting.

Protect yourself from screen light—many newer models of smartphones and computers have blue light filtering settings for sensitive individuals.

We hope these tips make your eyes and brain a little more accepting of the light around you.

About the Author: Greg Bullock is passionate about supporting people who have light sensitivity associated with chronic conditions such as migraine, post-concussion syndrome, and TBI. He is currently the Marketing Manager at TheraSpecs, which creates precision-tinted glasses for people with light sensitivity. Learn more at

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