Light sensitivity creates an unpredictable trigger for migraine sufferers that can pounce without any warning, depending on the situation and circumstances. When aware that they are sensitive to light, sufferers often become anxious or fearful when they know a given situation could lead to an attack.
For many, this can mean they avoid what would ordinarily be a pleasant situation. For instance, being outside on a bright sunny day is generally a good thing. Unless bright light triggers migraine, when it becomes the opposite. If sunlight flashing between tree branches can cause a painful episode, sunny days are far from stress free.
Research indicates that tinted glasses may be of help.
A Study Involving Children with Migraine
Back in the early 90s, 20 children with clinically diagnosed migraine took part in a study to determine whether or not tinted lenses could help with frequency, duration or severity of migraine attacks. To effectively evaluate the effect of the tints, the study was run over a period of four months. The children were given either density-matched blue tinted lenses or rose colored tinted lenses.
Over the first month of the study all the children experienced fewer migraines. However, it was only those who wore the rose tinted lenses who sustained improvement over the full four month period. Those who wore blue tints saw no marked improvement after the first few weeks.
Bright lights are not the only visual stimuli that can make migraine headaches worse. Some sufferers find that looking at light patterns create something called pattern glare. This happens in high contrast situations, for instance when black lines appear on a lighter background.
This hypersensitivity causes increased activity in the brain's visual cortex, and a further study performed in 2011 assessed whether wearing tinted glasses could help people who find patterns triggers migraine attacks.
Although the study did not evaluate actual headaches, MRI scans of those participating in the study indicated that wearing precision tinted lenses reduced hyper excitability in the visual area of the brain, indicating that it helped to reduce visual stress.
Bright flickering sunlight, or fluctuating artificial lights, are not the only light variables that can trigger migraine. Other situations that can cause you visual stress include watching TV, working with computers or even reading, especially using electronic reading devices.
Do Sunglasses Work?
Some research studies have evaluated the effectiveness of precision ophthalmic tints compared to ordinary tinted lenses such as those found in sunglasses.
The two types of lenses were tested side by side, with the control lenses being either grey or colored. After exposing the participants to a range of different striped patterns designed to stimulate some visual stress, the results of each type of lens was measured.
The precision ophthalmic tints gave the best results, reducing visual stress by around 70%. In comparison, the control lenses were only around 40% effective.
A 40% reduction in the visual stress experienced when exposed to disturbing stimuli is, however, still significant. It shows that wearing ordinary sunglasses could bring relief to migraine sufferers, although you may need to experiment before you find a lens color and density that suits you. You may also need to hunt around for a lens that is light enough for indoor use if you intend using them for normal day-to-day activities or computer work. Please note, most doctors do not recommend wearing glasses indoors as it can further dark adapt a person's eyes.
It’s Not Just the Color
The results of the various studies indicate that the color of the lens and the wavelengths of light that is blocked by the lens is very important. For instance, the study done on schoolchildren indicated that blue lenses had very little effect whereas rose colored tints helped a great deal. However, not every rose colored lens is created equally. A pair of studies at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center showed that a certain type of rose lens was more effective at decreasing the effects of light sensitivity than other rose or gray tinted lenses.
Axon Optics now distributes these specialty rose lenses for those with migraine and general light sensitivity. The migraine glasses by Axon Optics allow the “good” light through while blocking the painful light that has been shown to trigger and aggravate migraines. An indoor and outdoor version of the lens are available. The company was founded in 2011 by a neuro-ophthalmologist and light sensitivity experts to develop tinted glasses and perform clinical studies.
Personal experimentation is a good place for you to start. It can help you manage your own migraine condition and investigate personal strategies to lessen its impact. A visit to an eye care specialist could take you a step further, potentially identifying new triggers and suggesting specialist lenses that could help. Your doctor too, could give you valuable advice and input. The studies done is this area indicate that lenses created for each individual are the most effective. In some instances, it appears that wearing the wrong type of tint could actually make things worse.
As with many aspects of migraine, there is no clear-cut answer. What is effective for one person will have no impact on the next, so it is largely up to each individual to find his or her own unique solutions. But anything that gives some control over unpredictable situations is worth looking into, and for light triggers, tinted lenses could provide some relief.Photo by Jacob Enos | Used under Creative Commons image attribution license 2.0