When Light Triggers Migraine, Quality of Life is Affected

An estimated 90% of people with Migraine also experience light sensitivity or photophobia.

Because it is so common and so debilitating, it is is crucial that both doctors and patients have a well-rounded understanding of light sensitivity. A report by TheraSpecs® surveyed more than 290 people with Migraine and offers insight into the impact of light sensitivity. We unravel three of its key findings.

Light Triggers Migraine Attacks for almost 90% of people with Migraine

Identifying specific Migraine triggers is a fundamental practice for patients in order to better manage—and ultimately reduce—attacks that can possibly be prevented. Exposure to bright light is reported as one of these primary triggers. But we also know that people with Migraine often have a lower threshold for light. For many, even normal levels can bring about painful photophobia and other symptoms.(1)

This is one reason why smartphone screens or workplace lighting can be a literal pain. The TheraSpecs report revealed that an astounding 88% of respondents with Migraine identified light as a direct trigger for their attacks. The percentages were even higher for those who had also been diagnosed with fibromyalgia or dry eye—both of which are frequent Migraine comorbidities and can separately contribute to higher overall levels of light sensitivity. In contrast, existing clinical research has suggested that light may precipitate Migraine attacks in roughly 30% to 60% of patients, signaling it may be a larger health concern than previously thought.(2)

The Type of Light Matters

The type of light also makes a difference in how people feel. Flashing or flickering light was the most likely to bring on attacks or worsen pain in a person who was already sensitive. This is likely due to the high contrast and visible pulsing of these light sources. Not surprisingly, fluorescent light triggers Migraine attacks especially, with 55% of respondents saying they triggered or aggravated attacks every time.

In addition to their invisible flicker, the high amount of blue light has been suggested as a likely culprit. Within minutes of exposure to blue light, a multitude of Migraine symptoms can manifest.

Light sensitivity significantly impacts daily activities

Nearly every person who responded the survey said that they seek the comfort of a dark room or otherwise avoided light. This means that light sensitivity has additional negative consequences beyond just the physical symptoms: it keeps patients from the activities they actually want to be doing.

There is not much available research into the personal or professional impact of light sensitivity. A previous analysis showed that one-quarter of all light-sensitive patients—regardless of condition—believed the symptom diminished their quality of life,3 but what about those specifically with a Migraine diagnosis? This new data offers insight into the specific activities and situations that were most likely to be restricted:

Because of the high stigma and impact of Migraine (especially Chronic Migraine), it is important to be aware that corresponding sensitivity to light can have a compounding effect on a person’s everyday quality of life.

Hope for relief when light triggers Migraine attacks

There has to be something better than living in a dark room or wearing sunglasses indoors, right? According to the survey, precision-tinted glasses designed specifically for light sensitivity provided noticeable symptom relief for 85% of people with Migraine. Light-blocking glasses outperformed eye drops, natural supplements, and even prescription Migraine medication at minimizing light sensitivity.

Headache specialists and neurology experts repeatedly advocate for people to get out into the light, and these findings reinforce that precision-tinted lenses make that reality possible. Dr. Michael Ament of the Ament Headache Center in Denver, Colorado offers some practical tips for wearing tinted eyewear.

“If you can increase your awareness of light sensitivity, it gives you a leg up on managing your migraines,” he said. “For example, if you know that you will need to be at the computer for a full day at work, you might plan to wear these lenses prophylactically. If you only have an occasional migraine attack, you might keep a pair at work or on your desk and put them on when the symptom begins and before the light pushes you over the edge.”

Comments? Do you experience photophobia? Have you tried light-blocking glasses for when light triggers Migraine symptoms?

Read the full report: TheraSpecs

Additional references:

1 Vanagaite J, Pareja JA, Støren O, White LR, Sand T, Stovner LJ. Light-induced discomfort and pain in migraine. Cephalalgia. 1997 Nov;17(7):733-41.

2 Digre KB, Brennan KC. Shedding Light on Photophobia. Journal of neuro-ophthalmology : the official journal of the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society. 2012;32(1):68-81. doi:10.1097/WNO.0b013e3182474548.

3 Buchanan T, Digre K, Warner JE, Katz BJ. A review of the symptom of photophobia in an eye clinic. Neurology. 2009;72:A 184.

Dr. D

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