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Photophobia, which refers to a strong and often painful sensitivity to light, can be frustrating for those who have it; the symptom can cause physical discomfort, trigger other symptoms, and negatively impact daily life. It is also not easily treated on account of the fact that there is no medication which is widely proven to reduce its effects, and you cannot just hide from all light either. But various options do exist for treating photophobia, and we curate remedies that are known to provide some relief.

Note: These likely do not reflect all of the potential therapies available to patients, but they have at least some effectiveness in relieving light-related pain according to documented clinical studies—many of which we cite below.

Precision-tinted glasses

The single-most effective tool for combating photophobia is precision-tinted glasses, specifically those tinted with FL-41. Research has shown these lenses to relieve even the most chronic of light-sensitive individuals, whether they have migraine, blepharospasm, post-concussion syndrome or another disorder. The reason they work centers on their filtering of light that can activate the eyes and the brain in such a way so as to cause pain and other symptoms.1

They even help reduce generalized light sensitivity, particularly from fluorescents, by cutting down on the invisible pulsing that conventional fluorescent lighting and even some digital screens emit.2 So even though they were designed for people with chronic light sensitivity, they can be just as—if not more—effective than so-called “blue blockers” for people who are only sensitive to artificial blue light.

Here are just some of the recorded benefits of these specialty glasses:3,4

  • 74 percent reduction in attacks for people with migraine-related photophobia
  • Improvement in overall light sensitivity, spasm frequency and severity for people with blepharospasm
  • Greater long-term reduction of harmful, light-triggered brain activity

Although each of these studies represent a small sample size, thousands more have tried these precision-tinted glasses as a treatment for photophobia and experienced similar relief. While they have been most popular with migraine patients (such that the phrase ‘migraine glasses’ has become part of the lexicon), they have anecdotal support among people with numerous other conditions—everything from meniere’s disease to mal de debarquement syndrome. Hundreds of medical professionals also recommend them for their patients with traumatic brain injuries, chronic headache disorders and vestibular conditions too.

Better yet, these lenses allow more light in than traditional sunglasses, so they are not simply another mechanism for "avoiding" light; this also means there is no added risk for dark adaption and worsening of photophobia. And yes, even those who chronically wear sunglasses inside all the time can have success with the lighter FL-41 tinted glasses.

Botox injections

Most of us would probably associated Botox® (or botulinum toxin A) injections with cosmetic use, but they have practical benefits for certain neurologic-based photophobia. Specifically, studies have shown that these injections can be effective for people with migrainous photophobia (particularly those with comorbid dry eye symptoms) and reduce light sensitivity associated with blepharospasm too.5,6 There is emerging evidence that Botox® may also be an alternative treatment for traumatic brain injuries, but more research is needed to make a conclusive determination.7

Of course, there can be some downsides to using Botox® for chronic photophobia, specifically due to the possibility of unpleasant side effects. Some have reported issues such as skin irritation and muscle weakness around the injection site, headache, neck stiffness, and blurry vision. In addition, it was not designed for treating light-sensitive disorders, so it is more of a ‘happy coincidence’ that it has any effectiveness at all. And so for these reasons, leading advocacy organizations often recommend trying other prevention methods first, especially for migraine.8

Anti-CGRP medications

One of the most exciting developments for people with chronic migraine has been the approval of specific medications that can treat and even prevent attacks—and which also can dramatically reduce photophobia. These drugs target a protein released in the brain called "calcitonin gene-related peptide" (CGRP) that has been linked to symptomatic pain during a migraine episode. Here is a shortlist of these new FDA-approved anti-CGRP medications:

  • Fremanezumab (AjovyTM)
  • Erenumab (AimovigTM)
  • Galcanezumab (EmgalityTM)

So how effective are they for also lessening the onset of light sensitivity? Multiple studies have shown they not only lower the frequency of attacks, but they tone down photophobia and other sensory symptoms.9,10 In addition, they reduce the total number of "headache days" that also feature sensitivity to light.11 And these results may be sustained for twelve weeks or more.12 These encouraging outcomes reinforce the importance of developing targeted therapies for chronic conditions like migraine because they can yield some of the biggest improvements in related issues like photophobia.

Of course, as with other medications, there are side effects of which patients should be aware. Since CGRP inhibitors are typically applied through injections, skin irritation and pain can occur. In addition, elevated anxiety or depression, constipation and/or diarrhea have been noted as well.12 Lastly, each of these medications have subtle differences, so it is important to work with your doctor prior to starting or changing any treatment.

Triptans

Unlike anti-CGRP medications, tryptamine-based medications (triptans for short) have been around for several decades as a treatment for acute migraine—meaning they are designed to stop an attack after it has already begun. So while they are unlikely to prevent the light-sensitive reactions of patients over time, they have at least been shown to relieve them within the first few hours (if not sooner) of a migraine attack; they can have similarly positive outcomes for pediatric migraine patients as well.13-16 They also can lead to a faster recovery time and quicker return to daily activities, which is known to be one of the most challenging side effects for people with photophobia. And the earlier these medications can be taken after the onset of pain, the more effective they are likely to be.

Common complaints associated with the oral use of triptans include: dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, abnormal skin sensations (tingling, warmth, etc.), and non-migrainous headache. So they are not free of side effects.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation

It sounds kind of scary, but transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a form of neuromodulation that sends electrical currents to parts of the brain via the surface of the skin. This process mediates pain and sensory responses from the nervous system, and it can be a treatment for persistent photophobia because it attempts to counteract activation of the trigeminal nerve—which is believed to be one of the main pathways for light-related pain.

Unfortunately, only a few researchers have explored the benefits of this type of neuromodulation, but the results are promising. A small group of patients with dry eye had lower levels of photophobia in both eyes after the therapy and less overall pain; migraineurs may also experience fewer attacks, which of course can lead to a reduction in other symptoms like sensitivity to light as well.17,18 However, once again, this therapy can lead to unwanted side effects that cannot be overlooked.

Acetaminophen

Another temporary option for acute photophobia is the pain-relieving drug known as acetaminophen. Studies have suggested that these over-the-counter medications can alleviate some of the most burdensome migraine symptoms, especially light sensitivity, during the first two hours—which may last even longer for some.19 With greater accessibility and fewer adverse outcomes for most individuals, it can be a highly desirable therapy. But, as noted, it is unlikely to provide meaningful photophobia relief over the long haul and may not work at all for more chronic and/or medication-resistant disorders.

Pilocarpine

Pilocarpine is not a targeted treatment for light sensitivity, instead having been developed for people with chronic dry mouth and elevated inner-eye pressure (e.g. from Sjogren’s Syndrome). However, it has given some benefit to those with migraine-related photophobia. Immediate light sensitivity reduction was noted within an hour and sustained for at least one week for 70% of a small group of trial participants.20 It is important to note that—in addition to the known side effects of eye tearing, dizziness, and more—even medical experts advise that relief is only a short-term solution as light sensitivity symptoms typically return within 6 months.

Other tips for treating photophobia

Even though there is not a long list of relief therapies for light sensitivity, patients can make their dealings with light more comfortable with some additional tips and actions.

Pre-treatment

If you suspect you are sensitive to light, there are some important first steps you can take in order to address it. Here is what our team recommends:

1. GET A FULL WORK-UP AND DIAGNOSIS: Photophobia, particularly if it has come on all of a sudden, may signal a serious condition or injury. A comprehensive doctor’s visit will help identify the root cause of this sensitivity and help move forward with the appropriate treatment(s). Learn what causes photophobia ➜

2. SEEK OUT SPECIALISTS FOR THE CONDITION: While there are no medical professionals that focus solely on photophobia, there are countless specialists who treat the conditions that cause it. For instance, headache specialists are specifically educated to support those with migraine and its related symptoms. Find a headache specialist ➜

3. SPECIFY THE AGGRAVATING OR TRIGGERING SOURCES: Many photophobic patients can specify exact types of lighting that set off their episodes—from fluorescent lighting to LEDs to bright sunlight. Understanding these factors can lead to better long-term management.

4. LOOK OUT FOR EMOTIONAL COMPLICATIONS: Although light sensitivity is predominantly a physical reaction, emotional side effects can happen too. People with photophobia are known to have higher levels of anxiety and depression, both of which can make the physiological issues worse. This further reinforces the importance of a thorough exam. More about photophobia and anxiety ➜

Behavioral changes

Patients must not sacrifice long-term health for shorter term relief when it comes to dealing with photophobia. As we previously mentioned, the dark adaptation of the eyes is a real phenomenon that results from chronic light avoidance. Therefore, patients should abide by the following:

  • Stop wearing sunglasses indoors regularly to prevent photophobic episodes
  • Use dark room or dim light environments only during acute and/or extreme bouts of light sensitivity
  • Find ways to manage light triggers instead of outright avoiding them

In fact, there are numerous ways to create a more light-friendly environment. This can include changes in the home, workplace accommodations and digital screen-related hacks. All of these can help make the lighting a little more tolerable so that you do not have to abandon your most cherished activities.

Other considerations

Patients must remember that photophobia often represents a complex and still-unknown process that may be further complicated by the specific disorder that is responsible for it. This can render even the most promising of treatments ineffective for any given person due to all the variables. We always recommend consulting with a physician or specialist to determine what works best for you.

That said, light-sensitive individuals can be encouraged by the fact that the symptom may simply decrease on its own over time. Although chronic photophobia is unlikely to fully remit as a person gets older, approximately half of TBI patients have reported a reduction in its effects over the years; migraine attacks (as well as their symptoms) may also become less frequent and intense after the age of fifty.21 Still, there is no cure for persistent sensitivity to light and many of the underlying conditions.

Lastly, there have been some exciting recent developments—specifically surrounding the role of green light therapy. Researchers found that only lighting on the green color spectrum might actually reduce brain hypersensitivity and corresponding pain, whereas all other colors have been shown to worsen migraine-related photophobia.22 However, follow-on studies have shown that it still negatively impacts attack symptoms in about 40% percent of migraineurs. In addition, any practical applications of green light for relief would have to account for the brightness levels because, after all, people with photophobia have a significantly lower tolerance for any light. Hopefully, we will see more exploration of this area in the future.

Read More about Photophobia ➜

References:

1M. Tatsumoto, T. Eda, T. Ishikawa, M. Ayama, K. Hirata. Light of Intrinsically Photosensitive Retinal Ganglion Cell (ipRGC) Causing Migraine Headache Exacerbation. IHC symposium OR3. 2013 June.

2Wilkins AJ, Wilkinson P. A tint to reduce eye-strain from fluorescent lighting? Preliminary observations. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 1991 Apr;11(2):172-5.

3Good PA, Taylor RH, Mortimer MJ. The use of tinted glasses in childhood migraine. Headache. 1991 Sep;31(8):533-6.

4Blackburn MK, Lamb RD, Digre KB, et al. FL-41 tint improves blink frequency, light sensitivity, and functional limitations in patients with benign essential blepharospasm. Ophthalmology. 2009;116(5):997–1001. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2008.12.031

5Diel RJ, et al. Photophobia and sensations of dryness in patients with migraine occur independent of baseline tear volume and improve following botulinum toxin A injections. Br J Ophthalmol. 2018 Sep 29. pii: bjophthalmol-2018-312649. doi: 10.1136/bjophthalmol-2018-312649. [Epub ahead of print&91;

6Olson RM, Mokhtarzadeh A, McLoon LK, Harrison AR. Effects of Repeated Eyelid Injections with Botulinum Toxin A on Innervation of Treated Muscles in Patients with Blepharospasm. Curr Eye Res. 2019 Mar;44(3):257-263. doi: 10.1080/02713683.2018.1543707. Epub 2018 Nov 23.

7Yerry JA, Kuehn D, Finkel AG. Onabotulinum Toxin A for the treatment of headache in service members with a history of mild traumatic brain injury: a cohort study. Headache. 2015 Mar;55(3):395-406. doi: 10.1111/head.12495. Epub 2015 Feb 3.

8Bendtsen L, et al. Guideline on the use of onabotulinumtoxinA in chronic migraine: a consensus statement from the European Headache Federation. J Headache Pain. 2018 Sep 26;19(1):91. doi: 10.1186/s10194-018-0921-8.

9Bigal ME, Walter S, Rapoport AM. Fremanezumab as a preventive treatment for episodic and chronic migraine. Expert Rev Neurother. 2019 May 22:1-10. doi: 10.1080/14737175.2019.1614742. [Epub ahead of print&91;

10Dodick DW, Silberstein SD, Bigal ME, et al. Effect of Fremanezumab Compared With Placebo for Prevention of Episodic Migraine: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018;319(19):1999–2008. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.4853

11Silberstein SD, Stauffer VL, Day KA, Lipsius S, Wilson MC. Galcanezumab in episodic migraine: subgroup analyses of efficacy by high versus low frequency of migraine headaches in phase 3 studies (EVOLVE-1 & EVOLVE-2). J Headache Pain. 2019 Jun 28;20(1):75. doi: 10.1186/s10194-019-1024-x.

12Raffaelli B, Mussetto V, Israel H, Neeb L, Reuter U. Erenumab and galcanezumab in chronic migraine prevention: effects after treatment termination. J Headache Pain. 2019 Jun 3;20(1):66. doi: 10.1186/s10194-019-1018-8.

13Cady RK, Dexter J, Sargent JD, et al. Efficacy of subcutaneous sumatriptan in repeated episodes of migraine. Neurology. 1993 Jul;43:1363-8.

14Derry CJ, Derry S, Moore RA. Sumatriptan (oral route of administration) for acute migraine attacks in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;2012(2):CD008615. Published 2012 Feb 15. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008615.pub2

15Klassen A, Elkind A, Asgharnejad M, Webster C, Laurenza A. Naratriptan is effective and well tolerated in the acute treatment of migraine. Results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study. Naratriptan S2WA3001 Study Group. Headache. 1997 Nov-Dec;37(10):640-5.

16McKeage K. Zolmitriptan Nasal Spray: A Review in Acute Migraine in Pediatric Patients 12 Years of Age or Older. Paediatr Drugs. 2016 Feb;18(1):75-81. doi: 10.1007/s40272-015-0160-2.

17Sivanesan E, Levitt RC, Sarantopoulos CD, Patin D, Galor A. Noninvasive Electrical Stimulation for the Treatment of Chronic Ocular Pain and Photophobia. Neuromodulation. 2018 Dec;21(8):727-734. doi: 10.1111/ner.12742. Epub 2017 Dec 28.

18Tao H, Wang T, Dong X, Guo Q, Xu H, Wan Q. Effectiveness of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for the treatment of migraine: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Headache Pain. 2018;19(1):42. Published 2018 May 29. doi:10.1186/s10194-018-0868-9.

19Lipton RB, Baggish JS, Stewart WF, Codispoti JR, Fu M. Efficacy and Safety of Acetaminophen in the Treatment of Migraine: Results of a Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-Controlled, Population-Based Study. Arch Intern Med. 2000;160(22):3486–3492. doi:10.1001/archinte.160.22.3486

20Motter B, Jackowski M. Photophobia and Light-Induced Headache: Novel Long-Term Effects of Pilocarpine. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2013;54(15):5333.

21Truong JQ, Ciuffreda KJ, Han MH, Suchoff IB. Photosensitivity in mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI): a retrospective analysis. Brain Inj. 2014;28(10):1283-7. doi: 10.3109/02699052.2014.915989. Epub 2014 Jun 19.

22Photophobia in migraine does not apply to green light, which may lessen headache severity. Nurs Stand. 2016 Jun 8;30(41):14-5. doi: 10.7748/ns.30.41.14.s17.

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Trauma that occurs to the head is always serious, especially because of the multitude of issues it can leave behind. It can result in a concussion (or mild traumatic brain injury) with acute symptoms such as headache and light sensitivity, which often resolve themselves over the course of a few days or weeks. However, these same post-concussive symptoms (and new ones) can develop and persist for months or even years after the initial injury—complicating the recovery process.

While each person will recuperate at their own pace, there are some incredibly important tips to consider in order to maximize the recovery for concussion and post-concussion syndrome patients.

1. Early diagnosis, intervention and education is key

Perhaps more than any other condition, early diagnosis and treatment after a mild traumatic brain injury is essential. The brain has just endured a physical shock as a result of the injury and reacts to its newfound state while simultaneously beginning the act of trying to repair itself. During this acute stage of the concussion, patients can experience the onset of specific symptoms such as headache, light and sound sensitivity, dizziness, and/or mood or cognitive changes—all of which can range from mild to severe. It can be a scary time facing these new and uncomfortable realities. In these moments, patients desperately need the support of medical professionals and concussion specialists to help ease the uncertainty.

This support can manifest as educational assistance, behavioral rehabilitation, outpatient resources, assistive devices, medications and more. Ultimately, doctors want to tap into the natural healing power of the brain and body in multiple ways in order to focus and accelerate the recovery.

In fact, evidence has shown that the development and severity of post-concussion symptoms are lessened when patients consult with a concussion specialist sooner. Similarly, acquiring treatment in the earliest stages after a concussion can help reduce the overall impairment in work, leisure and relational aspects of patients’ lives.1,2 This should encourage them to seek immediate assistance following a head injury.

2. Identify other risk factors for prolonged recovery

An extension of early diagnosis is the identification of additional risk factors that may influence the onset or duration of post-concussion syndrome. Some of the most important ones to look out for include:3

  • Prior history of concussion
  • History of regular headaches or migraine attacks
  • Post-traumatic amnesia
  • Dizziness or vertigo symptoms
  • The presence of multiple symptoms due to the injury
  • Depression or other emotional disorders

As a result, a comprehensive evaluation should be performed after the trauma in order to rule out any of these possible concerns. And while the existence of these issues do not automatically guarantee there will be a longer recovery period, they can give additional insight into specific patient experiences and ultimately allow for more effective care.

3. Total rest and isolation does more harm than good

In the past, people with a concussion were told to rest and become mainly inactive for several weeks following the concussion or until symptoms have subsided. However, this recommendation has changed recently because of evidence that “cocooning” behavior worsens physical symptoms such as photophobia and can also lead to anxiety, social isolation and depression.4

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends that patients, including children, return to activities based on their individual symptom status instead of a singular mandate of extended rest. In fact, many are suggesting no more than 2 to 3 days of rest before slowly returning to non-sporting activities. Of course, each person presents a unique set of circumstances, which makes it important to work with a qualified healthcare provider to make this determination. But experts ultimately agree that concussion and post-concussive individuals should not go into total isolation for very long.

4. Increase participation in activities that do not worsen symptoms

Many people with concussion or post-concussion syndrome question when they can return to their normal activities and, as we mentioned, the answer is not very straight forward. However, we do know one thing: returning to normal activities should not make your symptoms worse. The medical community has recognized that complete isolation does not work for patients over the long haul, but, similarly, activities should not push them beyond their limits either.

For example, in athletes with concussion, it is recommended that a rest period of a few days is taken followed by gradual activity tolerance. As they meet certain physical and cognitive goals, they can continue to add more to their daily routine until they have fully reintegrated back into their regular activities.5 The key thing to remember is not to push it—your body will reveal its limitations, and it can simply take longer to get back to normal in your specific case.

5. If concussion symptoms persist, explore alternative diagnoses

What happens when concussion symptoms last longer than expected? Investigation from the medical care team may be required at this point in order to provide an expanded diagnosis beyond post-concussion syndrome. Even for those without the aforementioned risk factors prior to injury, the concussive blow and ensuing problems may have activated secondary processes and disorders that are now impacting the recovery process. Some of these include:6

Chronic headache or migraine

Even in the absence of a prior history of migraine, a serious head injury can lead to the development of chronic headaches or migraine attacks. And of course if patients have a genetic predisposition, they may be even more likely to be diagnosed with one of these disorders. The development of these problems may also partially explain the ongoing hypersensitivity symptoms that characterize both migraine-related conditions and post-concussion syndrome.

Chronic pain and fatigue

The mere presence of ongoing pain (particularly as a result of the head trauma) has been shown to lead to more sustained post-concussion symptoms. Deployed veterans may be particularly vulnerable to the development of chronic pain after a mild traumatic brain injury, but studies have suggested that more than half of civilian TBI patients also experience ongoing discomfort and irritation.7,8 Some experts have even suggested that specific neck-related pain may mimic post-concussive issues and/or contribute to or worsen post-concussion syndrome.6

Depression, PTSD and other emotional disorders

Since concussion injuries and post-concussion syndrome have a tremendous impact on a person’s physical quality of life, it is understandable that it can compromise their emotional well being too. In particular, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and panic disorders have been associated with prolonged physical symptoms and overall functioning.9,10 In addition, if patients are prescribed the isolationism of “cocoon therapy,” it can hasten these challenging emotional side effects and recovery can be further delayed.

Labyrinthine concussion and other inner ear disorders

Not surprisingly, serious trauma to the head can mess with the inner ear given their relative physical proximity. In fact, a more refined diagnosis of labyrinthine concussion directly classifies these symptoms of hearing loss and tinnitus as a byproduct of injury to the inner ear. Similarly, inner-ear ruptures known as perilymph fistulas may be misdiagnosed as or even caused by a concussion.11 This can represent a linkage to the dizziness, vertigo and other vestibular dysfunction faced by some individuals.

Dry eye

With more than one-third of people with a traumatic brain injury reporting dry eye disease, patients cannot ignore it as a possible comorbid or co-occurring condition that is affecting their symptoms. In fact, given the important role of the eye in a multitude of neurological issues, eye sensitivity to the environment can lead to headaches, eye strain and photophobia, among other problems.

6. Treat the most burdensome symptoms

Whether patients are in the acute or persistent symptomatic phase of a head injury, it can feel like a long, hard road to getting better. In addition to identifying risk factors and other complicating disorders, taking measures to relieve the most burdensome symptoms can help ease the struggles for them. Here are some recommendations to consider.

Management of light sensitivity and photophobia

As previously noted, isolation therapy is not a good long-term solution for mild traumatic brain injuries. This can make light sensitivity a particularly challenging symptom to address because it means facing the light that causes pain; however, there are remedies that can make a difference. Among them, FL-41 glasses may be the most effective because their lenses are lighter than normal sunglasses and block certain colors of light that can aggravate photophobia.

Read more about light sensitivity after concussion ➜

Management of migraine and headache disorders

Post-concussion headaches and migraine attacks share many of the same physiological processes as traditional migraine with or without aura. This makes visiting with a headache specialist or neuro physical therapist a great first step for patients because those professionals can help identify the right mix of treatments—from typical migraine medications like triptans or CGRP drugs to behavioral modifications, rehabilitation and trigger management.

Read more about headaches after concussion ➜

Management of dizziness and vertigo symptoms

For some, persistent dizziness and vertigo may be treated with an exercise-based physical therapy program called vestibular rehabilitation. The goal of this therapy is to help improve the all-too-common balance issues and motion-induced symptoms that affect post-concussion patients. In addition, prescription medications like antihistamines can help with these issues and anti-nausea drugs can improve some of the add-on complications of vertigo as well.

Read more about dizziness after concussion ➜

Management of cognitive issues

The goal of cognitive rehabilitation is to restore and maintain daily cognitive functioning and has shown to be beneficial in those with brain injuries. This type of treatment uses techniques to enhance memory, processing speed and attention as well as psychotherapy. While not necessarily the most burdening symptoms, these concerns can add up real fast and, when treated properly, can make the physical rehabilitation that much more effective.

If you are dealing with the consequences of a concussion or the ensuing post-concussion syndrome, we hope these tips give you a place to start. Each person responds differently to certain treatments and these may not all be relevant to or work for you, but you can feel confident that there is support available. We encourage you to speak with your medical team to see what can aid you in your recovery.

Related: Long-Term Effects of Post-Concussion Syndrome ➜

References:

1Forrest RHJ, Henry JD, McGarry PJ, Marshall RN. Mild traumatic brain injury in New Zealand: factors influencing post-concussion symptom recovery time in a specialised concussion service. J Prim Health Care. 2018 Jun;10(2):159-166. doi: 10.1071/HC17071.

2Wade DT, King NS, Wenden FJ, Crawford S, Caldwell FE. Routine follow up after head injury: a second randomised controlled trial. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1998;65(2):177–183. doi:10.1136/jnnp.65.2.177.

3Scopaz KA, Hatzenbuehler JR. Risk modifiers for concussion and prolonged recovery. Sports Health. 2013;5(6):537–541. doi:10.1177/1941738112473059.

4Giza CC, Choe MC, Barlow KM. Determining If Rest Is Best After Concussion. JAMA Neurol. 2018 Apr 1;75(4):399-400. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2018.0006.

5McCrory P, Meeuwisse W, Dvořák J, et al. Consensus statement on concussion in sport-the 5th international conference on concussion in sport held in Berlin, October 2016. Br J Sports Med. 2017 Jun;51(11):838-847. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097699. Epub 2017 Apr 26.

6Leddy JJ, Sandhu H, Sodhi V, Baker JG, Willer B. Rehabilitation of Concussion and Post-concussion Syndrome. Sports Health. 2012;4(2):147–154. doi:10.1177/1941738111433673.

7Stålnacke BM. Postconcussion symptoms in patients with injury-related chronic pain. Rehabil Res Pract. 2012;2012:528265. doi:10.1155/2012/528265.

8Irvine KA, Clark JD. Chronic Pain After Traumatic Brain Injury: Pathophysiology and Pain Mechanisms. Pain Med. 2018 Jul 1;19(7):1315-1333. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnx153.

9Lagarde E, Salmi LR, Holm LW, Contrand B, Masson F, Ribéreau-Gayon R, Laborey M, Cassidy JD. Association of symptoms following mild traumatic brain injury with posttraumatic stress disorder vs. postconcussion syndrome. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014 Sep;71(9):1032-40. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.666.

10Oldenburg C, Lundin A, Edman G, et al Emotional reserve and prolonged post-concussive symptoms and disability: a Swedish prospective 1-year mild traumatic brain injury cohort study BMJ Open 2018;8:e020884. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020884.

11Whitelaw AS, Young I A case of perilymphatic fistula in blunt head injury Emergency Medicine Journal 2005;22:921.

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A key advantage of TheraSpecs is the overall reduction of symptomatic and pain-filled days—which, as a result, can greatly lessen the need for prescription medication. Not only are our glasses giving people their lives back, but they are doing so without the unpleasant side effects and other risks (such as medication overuse headache) of these drugs.

Jacqueline is one of those individuals who is enjoying this newfound freedom with TheraSpecs. However, for several years prior, she had been dealing with the struggles of constant migraine attacks and light sensitivity.

"Migraines have been a regular part of life for the last 11 years," she said. "They lay me out in bed for days, curtains drawn, silence observed as the slightest noise or light could bring me to sickness from the pain."

Unfortunately, these symptoms only worsened as she started to show signs of a condition known as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS for short). No treatment seemed to work either, so Jacqueline turned to prescription painkillers in an effort to combat the intensity of these effects. But this often created additional consequences.

"I have damaged my body with the excessive pain killers I took to try and get a handle on them," she told us. "I normally haven’t been able to go more than 3 or 4 days at a time without taking a really strong codeine-based medication in at least two years. Before that, I spent almost a decade of my life creating a stomach ulcer from all the constant naproxen and Excedrin I took to constantly ward off the impending migraines."

It was not until she got her hands—and her eyes—on a pair of TheraSpecs that she began to learn what natural migraine relief felt like.

And in her first three weeks of wearing them, she has not experienced a single attack; the light and sound sensitivity, the headache-related pain, it has all melted away. Better yet, this also means that Jacqueline has not needed to take a single pill.


"I've just gone three whole weeks without needing to take a single codeine, I’m simply amazed at the change." she said. "I have noticed my general sensitivity to light has improved greatly since wearing them. It’s such a great feeling to not feel like the light is hurting me anymore!"

She further described TheraSpecs as ‘muscle relaxers for her eyeballs’ in the way they limit the pain of bright lighting. She is able to open her curtains and uncover her lamps once again; she no longer has to live her life like a vampire. And now she cannot stop telling other people about TheraSpecs in hopes she can share some of the relief for those who need it.

"This is my love letter to TheraSpecs. I have already told three other chronic migraine sufferers about them and will tell everyone I can in the future because these are truly an amazing product! Who knew that simply wearing a special type of tinted [glasses&91; could reduce migraines so dramatically?"

We love hearing about your transformation, Jacqueline. Thank you for sharing your story with us and spreading the love for other migraine patients too.

Shop TheraSpecs Today ➜

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The symptom of photophobia and light sensitivity is not solely confined to the attack or so-called ‘headache’ phase for people with migraine—it can develop at any stage of the experience, leading to elevated pain and even acting as a trigger. This helps explain why photophobic people often describe hyper-sensitive responses to bright light just about all the time. In this post, we explore just how light sensitivity affects migraine patients at each stage of the attack.

Prodrome or Pre-Attack Stage

Some experts have suggested that sensitivity to one’s environment reflects the earliest signs of a migrainous episode, supporting the belief that parts of the brain have become negatively activated at this time. For this reason, intense photophobia develops even prior to the onset of head pain and other typical symptoms. And research shows that approximately 30-50% of those with migraine have this sensitivity before an attack.1,2

However, light sensitivity can be more than just a symptom prior to the attack; it can function as a direct trigger for one as well. These factors vary greatly for each person, but general estimates support that at least one-third of attacks (but likely more) are brought on by light exposure.3 This indicates direct agitation of pathways between the eye and brain and is likely furthered by the overall lower tolerance for light inherent to people with migraine. In addition, premonitory photophobia has been connected to an increased risk that light will trigger migraine attacks too.1

Aura Stage

Most people do not experience the aura phase, which is characterized by sensory disturbances that affect visual, motor or verbal function and occurs immediately prior to an attack. However, strong sensitivity to light still rears its ugly head for those who do have migraine with aura. Although there is much confusion about exactly what distinguishes a prodrome symptom, an aura disturbance and a trigger, studies have pegged photophobia as an issue for 88% of people with migrainous aura. And there is a significant link between those who have visual aura symptoms (e.g. zig zag patterns, loss of vision, and starburst-like phenomena) and light sensitivity as part of their migraine attacks.4,5

Attack Stage

The vast majority of the approximately 90% of light-sensitive migraine patients only endure photophobia during the full-blown attack phase. Here, they typically describe light exposure as an aggravating factor for their head-related pain and other symptoms, which often forces withdrawal to a dark room. Patients might also complain of eye pain and tearing, inability to open one’s eyes and/or excessive or impaired blinking. And these issues can occur for as long as the attack persists, sometimes for several days.

Additionally, very few differences exist between the type of migraine—such as vestibular or hemiplegic—and the likelihood of photophobia; since they all seem to share the same brain dysfunction, light sensitivity tends to just come with the territory. Certain comorbid disorders (e.g. dry eye or serious brain injuries) frequently co-occur with migraine and can complicate the presence of photophobia as well. Other factors, such as age, may mitigate the risk for some individuals, but it still remains a central feature of most migraine episodes.

Postdrome or Post-Attack Stage

As we mentioned, some people remain sensitive to light almost all the time. This includes the post-attack phase (known as the postdrome), where as many as one in ten continue to deal with photophobia. However, other studies have suggested that light sensitivity occurs less frequently in favor of other symptoms like brain fog and fatigue.6,7 Regardless, the lines can become heavily blurred between the end of a photophobic episode and the beginnings of another attack. Unfortunately, this cycle of ongoing sensitivity to the environment can lead to auxiliary effects, such as greater risk for anxiety and challenges with personal and professional obligations.

As we have shown, light sensitivity is not just a ‘one and done’ symptom that affects people only during their attacks—it makes everything a little bit harder before and after as well. One of the best remedies to deal with migraine-related photophobia is to try precision-tinted migraine glasses that filter the most harmful wavelengths of light. We encourage you to learn more about how they work by clicking below.

Learn Why Migraine Glasses Are Effective ➜

References:

1Schulte LH, Jürgens TP, May A. Photo-, osmo- and phonophobia in the premonitory phase of migraine: mistaking symptoms for triggers?. J Headache Pain. 2015;16:14. Published 2015 Feb 15. doi:10.1186/s10194-015-0495-7

2Giffin NJ, Ruggiero L, Lipton RB, Silberstein SD, Tvedskov JF, Olesen J, Altman J, Goadsby PJ, Macrae A. Premonitory symptoms in migraine: an electronic diary study. Neurology. 2003 Mar 25;60(6):935-40.

3Vincent AJ, Spierings EL, Messinger HB. A controlled study of visual symptoms and eye strain factors in chronic headache. Headache. 1989 Sep;29(8):523-7.

4Rasmussen BK, Olesen J. Migraine with aura and migraine without aura: an epidemiological study. Cephalalgia. 1992 Aug;12(4):221-8; discussion 186.

5Hayne DP, Martin PR. Relating Photophobia, Visual Aura, and Visual Triggers of Headache and Migraine. Headache. 2019 Mar;59(3):430-442. doi: 10.1111/head.13486. Epub 2019 Feb 8.

6Giffin NJ, Lipton RB, Silberstein SD, Olesen J, Goadsby PJ. The migraine postdrome: An electronic diary study. Neurology. 2016;87(3):309–313. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000002789

7Kelman L. The postdrome of the acute migraine attack. Cephalalgia. 2006 Feb;26(2):214-20.

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We spend much of our time highlighting the how and why of photophobia—what causes it, how it affects different conditions—but we cannot overlook an equally important factor: its impact on our lives. This strong sensitivity to light changes the way we function, from how we engage in our relationships to our productivity on the job (if we are even able to work). We want to focus on five reasons that living with photophobia can be a challenging experience.

Special note: Our purpose behind writing this article is not to further the struggles and pain for those with photophobia and light sensitivity, but instead to bring awareness to its difficulties and hopefully bust the stigma that many with the symptom face. If you identify with the experiences included in this article, we encourage you to share it with others to help communicate what you have to endure. And if you need help in finding relief for your light sensitivity, check out our tips here.

1. Your senses are hyper-charged just about all the time

"[The&91; photophobia gets worse and your eyes get used to being in the dark. I'm at the point that it's become very realistic that soon I'll have no use for my sunglasses whatsoever and can no longer use my eyes. Every bit of light hurts. I feel sicker everyday. I sleep around 9.5 hours to feel just a little refreshed. I go to sleep with pain. I wake up with pain." (via photophobeing/reddit)

Light sensitivity does not just begin and end during a migraine attack or a fibromyalgia flare. For many, their eyes and brains struggle to process light 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Research consistently shows that people with neurological disorders like migraine or post-concussion syndrome have lower thresholds for light, which makes them susceptible to experiencing photophobia between symptomatic periods or even as a triggering factor for their symptoms. This makes it difficult for them to feel any respite from it. One thing’s for sure: if these 'super senses' were a superhero power, most would gladly trade it in because of the discomfort it causes.

2. You can be all about that cave life

"My husband essentially turned our entire house into a migraine safe cave for me. [He&91; bought insulation panels that he cut to fit inside the window frames to block out light for almost the entire house! It was amazing and helped tremendously. However, this was not his first attempt at trying to make our home more light sensitive friendly for me. (via Amanda Workman / migraine.com)

During particularly brutal light-sensitive episodes, it is natural to want to find the darkest space you can find to get away from the intensity. The “dark room” is a typical safe haven for people with migraine and post-concussive photophobia; if complete retreat is not an option, then many turn to dark sunglasses so they can at least be semi functional. Although neither of these are great options because of the secondary symptoms they can accrue (e.g. worsening light sensitivity and/or anxiety, depression), it is understandable that patients want to remove themselves from the lighting that sets off their heightened senses.

3. Every appointment on your calendar is "tentative"

"I'm 18 and have had this light problem for about 3 years. It started when I'd go out with my friends at night. Now it's even worse. I can't go out of my room without sunglasses. My eyes ache constantly. I can barely stand any light. I wear my sunglasses day and night, indoors and outdoors. It's gotten to a point where I'm afraid to go out with my friends and even to work for fear of having an attack and not being able to drive home. I can't sit through movies or play laser tag or go to clubs." (via anonymous user / ourhealth.com)

One of the more heartbreaking yet all-too-common descriptions of living with photophobia centers on the activities that people have to forego. And they often represent the things the rest of us take for granted: going to the shopping mall or grocery store; working in an office setting with fluorescent lights; spending time with friends at the movie theater or a local restaurant. Even when patients are able to go out, they often have to meticulously plan the experience by identifying possible triggers in the environment and coordinating an escape plan if their light sensitivity symptoms flare up.

As a side note, these are the stories that affect our team at TheraSpecs the most. It is also why our core mission is to help people with photophobia get out of the dark and back to their lives with the help of our specialty-tinted glasses. And it is why we celebrate those happy moments for our customers on our blog and social media pages when they do.

4. You have to deal with those who just don’t understand

"Since [Lyme Disease&91; can cause so many different symptoms, those living with it have to learn how to cope and make it through their days. For me, I often have to wear sunglasses indoors because the light sensitivity is too much — people often think I am hungover, but in reality, I am just trying to get through the work day without my eyes burning. It is hard when others don’t understand what you are going through or why you are acting a certain way." (via Cassidy Colbert / themighty.com)

Light sensitivity, and the conditions that cause it, are subject to personal and professional stigma. Others simply cannot relate to the invisible nature of this symptom, and therefore all they can “see” are the after effects—the sunglasses or lightly-tinted shades indoors, the missed activities or work obligations, the dark room or cocoon-style therapy. They might think you are trying to present yourself as a celebrity or a “diva” or consider you a liability or wonder if you are outright faking it. This only serves to compound the pain, guilt and other issues that come from having a light-sensitive disorder. It also reinforces the importance of patient advocacy through public awareness efforts, professional accommodations for light sensitivity, and increasing access to support resources. If you are struggling, we recommend taking advantage of these resources to connect with others and hopefully find additional ways to cope with your photophobia.

5. You biohack your environment to get through the day

"I am really sensitive to light, especially certain types of light…ok, never mind… all types of light. As the days are getting shorter I’ve been re-arranging the light configuration in my living room trying to find a setup that will provide some light without aggravating said light sensitivity. Over the last few years I’ve found a few things that seem to help me deal with the way light affects me, and I thought I’d share those with you: Use indirect lights; go tinted [for car windows&91;; use sun visors; use blue light blockers; and get rosy [with specially tinted lenses&91;." (via Julie Ryan / countingmyspoons.com)

Obviously, it would be great if there were a straightforward approach to treating light sensitivity, but instead people have to get creative in order to dodge the bright light bullet. This actually makes them one of the most resilient groups we have come across. They adjust brightness levels on their digital screens, use color-filtering mobile apps or other smartphone hacks, try tinted photophobia glasses for indoors, experiment with different light bulbs or arrangements at home or in the office, and countless other methods that help make life with light sensitivity a little bit easier. Of course, there is no perfect mix for every person, so you have to find what works best for you. But with the enduring spirit and biohacking skills of many people with photophobia, we know you have the ability to discover those tools that can make a difference in how you manage the symptom.

And if you need some inspiration, click on the button below for a few ideas to reduce your photophobia.

Tips to Reduce Photophobia ➜

More resources for photophobia:

The Ultimate Guide to Light Sensitivity and Photophobia

Special Report: The Impact of Light Sensitivity

Light Sensitivity, Photophobia: Facts and Statistics

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In recent years, light emitting diodes (LEDs for short) have gained tremendous popularity as a more energy-efficient alternative to the traditional incandescent and compact fluorescent bulb. However, as they continue to dominate the lighting market, the question becomes: what, if any, is the cost to our health? In this post, we discuss how some people can experience light sensitivity (photophobia) and other issues like migraine attacks from exposure to LED lights.

What is LED Lighting and How are We Exposed to It?

According to leading authorities, LEDs are an energy efficient and inexpensive way of providing lighting in many home and work settings, and their use currently represents over half of the general lighting market today. They only utilize approximately one-fifth of the energy of an incandescent bulb, and the answer to how they impact our eyes and brain may lie in precisely how they function.

This type of lighting typically produces an amber, red, green or blue light which is then converted into the white light most commonly used in homes. The more “white” the color of the LED, the more blue wavelengths are contained therein; this is an important factor because, as we discuss below, the impact of blue light on how we feel can be quite significant.

Unbeknownst to many, we are chronically exposed to LED lights on a daily basis. They are used in many commonplace applications such as:

  • Interior light bulbs
  • Car lights
  • Computer screens and phones
  • TV’s and other electronic devices
  • Outdoor holiday lighting

In addition, many of today’s devices that are labeled LCD (‘liquid crystal display’) are actually backlit by an LED bulb, which inherently provides similar benefits and risks as general LED lights. More specifically, they can produce a flickering effect that can cause problems for many people, especially those who are sensitive. Ironically, older LCD screens were lit by a compact fluorescent bulb, which also could generate this unpleasant flicker.

LEDs Effect on Light Sensitivity and Migraine

The neurological effects of LED lighting remain in question, but there continues to be emerging research in the area. Recently, a French health report acknowledged that intense exposure to the blue light specifically in LEDs can lead to eye damage and natural sleep disturbances. This is consistent with other data that shows blue wavelengths can contribute to the onset of migraine attacks, headaches, eye strain and other symptoms.1,2

Experts were quick to note, however, that these findings do not necessarily extend to our regular exposure to lower-brightness sources—such as smartphone use—although it can produce a cumulative effect over time. That said, they did warn that the strobe-like flickering of some LEDs can absolutely lead to headaches and visual complications. This is supported by other research which indicates that LED-lit LCD devices are more likely to lead to visual symptoms ranging from difficulty refocusing to eye strain and bright light sensitivity. This was especially worsened for those who read on their smartphone in the dark.3

Recently, researchers found that LED exposure—specifically based on color—leads to higher rates of headache and migrainous symptoms (including photophobia), giving better insight into the origin of light sensitivity within the eye itself.4 While it is unclear exactly why LED lighting triggers these issues, its inherent properties are believed to play a role.

Another offensive source of LEDs are car lights. Their relative brightness, particularly on darkened roads, can negatively affect people without a chronic headache disorder; and they can be especially brutal for those prone to light-sensitive headaches or migraine attacks. Glare, and any pain or discomfort produced by it, can also be an unpleasant side effect of LED exposure on the road.5,6 As a result, it should be no surprise that LED headlights on vehicles are one of the biggest sources for painful light sensitivity at night.

LED Lighting Versus Fluorescent Lighting

We know that both LEDs and fluorescent lights can cause visual, headache and migraine symptoms. In addition to the high proportion of blue light wavelengths, these issues are likely a direct result of the rapid flicker they both emit. Even more surprising is that this flickering may be more prominent in LED sources, particularly at brightness levels less than 100 percent. This occurs because LEDs can only be completely on or completely off, so they have to produce the flicker in order to simulate these dimmer settings.

Arnold Wilkins—one of the leading researchers on lighting and health—has stated that LED bulbs switch on and off hundreds of times per second. This can lead to symptoms of eye movement dysfunction, double vision, headache, dizziness and the feeling of being unwell, all within 20 minutes of exposure! And these effects may be more severe when compared with fluorescent lights. Moreover, people with persistent post-concussion migraine report greater aggravation of their symptoms to LED and LCD displays, including head pain and photophobia.7

In a more direct comparison, certain colors of LED light has been shown to yield fewer negative effects than conventional fluorescents, but more research is needed to verify these findings.8 As a result, the jury is still out regarding whether or not LEDs or fluorescents are worse for people with migraine, light sensitivity or other chronic disorders.

Type and Color of LED Lighting Matters

With new technology often comes new features. This is especially true in the development of organic light emitting diodes (OLED) found within many newer devices. Instead of using a backlight, each pixel in an OLED screen produces their own light. And this may change how our brains interpret that light; a small study showed a reduction in the number of “headache days” and corresponding emotional symptoms for migraine patients in environments with this type of lighting versus standard LEDs.9 As a result, this also likely reduces the frequency of episodes of light sensitivity and photophobia.

The color of light also matters. As we showed previously, blue light remains a central component of LEDs and continues to be a primary culprit for worsening migraine attacks and sensitivity to light. In addition, red- and white-colored LED lighting also activate areas of the brain that are suspected of producing photophobic and migraine pain. Curiously, green lighting may be the least likely to instigate migraine attacks, but more investigation is needed to determine if any practical applications exist for patients.4 And remember: the color that you see does not necessarily reflect the amount of blue wavelengths you absorb; in fact, cold, white LEDs have the highest concentration of blue light even though they do not directly appear as blue to the eye.

How to Improve LED Light Sensitivity

While it is highly unlikely for anybody to completely rid himself or herself of LED-related photophobia, a few simple tips can greatly improve any negative effects they may have:

  • Avoid artificially dimming any LED or LED-lit LCD screens; instead use color filtering programs like f.lux and other helpful smartphone features.
  • Wear TheraSpecs or other specialty-tinted eyewear that blocks blue wavelengths and flicker that can trigger migraine and light sensitivity.
  • Manage the effects of LED glare while driving and/or try nighttime driving glasses, along with other tips here.
  • Avoid excessively using LED-lit devices in the evening hours and in darkened environments because of the high-contrast light sensitivity it can produce.
  • Experiment with different types of lighting, including organic LED, warm lamp lighting and other options; pay close attention to how you specifically feel in these environments and go with what works better for you.

Hopefully these tips help you better manage the pain and discomfort associated with LED lights in your daily environments.

More Tips: Reduce Light Sensitivity ➜

References:

1Main A, Vlachonikolis I, Dowson A. The wavelength of light causing photophobia in migraine and tension-type headache between attacks. Headache. 2000 Mar;40(3):194-9.

2Kim DJ, Lim C-Y, Gu N, Park CY. Visual Fatigue Induced by Viewing a Tablet Computer with a High-resolution Display. Korean Journal of Ophthalmology : KJO. 2017;31(5):388-393. doi:10.3341/kjo.2016.0095.

3Antona B, Barrio AR, Gascó A, Pinar A, González-Pérez M, Puell MC. Symptoms associated with reading from a smartphone in conditions of light and dark. Appl Ergon. 2018 Apr;68:12-17. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2017.10.014. Epub 2017 Nov 2.

4Noseda R, Bernstein CA, Nir RR, et al. Migraine photophobia originating in cone-driven retinal pathways. Brain. 2016;139(Pt 7):1971–1986. doi:10.1093/brain/aww119

5Salvaia J, Elias J, Shepherd AJ. Symptoms of visual discomfort from automobile lights and their correlation with headache in night-time taxi drivers. Lighting Research & Technology. 46(3):354–363.

6Tashiro T, Kawanobe S, Kimura-Minoda T, Kohko S, Ishikawa T, & Ayama M. Discomfort glare for white LED light sources with different spatial arrangements. Lighting Research & Technology. 2015;47(3):316–337.

7Mansur A, Hauer TM, Hussain MW, et al. A Nonliquid Crystal Display Screen Computer for Treatment of Photosensitivity and Computer Screen Intolerance in Post-Concussion Syndrome. J Neurotrauma. 2018;35(16):1886–1894. doi:10.1089/neu.2017.5539

8Hawes B, Brunyé T, Mahoney C, Sullivan J, Aall C. Effects of four workplace lighting technologies on perception, cognition and affective state. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics. 2012; 42: 122-128.

9Tatsumoto M, et al. Evaluation of the effects of an organic light emitting diode lighting environment for patients with migraine. Journal of the Neurological Sciences. 2017;381:946.

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Migraine can lead to some very scary physical symptoms, but perhaps the biggest fear for many patients is not how it affects the body; instead, it revolves around the potential consequences that all the attacks can have on one’s personal and professional life. TheraSpecs customer Alex faced a lot of uncertainty in her own life as a result of her constant migraine attacks and light sensitivity.

She had developed these debilitating issues during her time in school, which dramatically affected her ability to be successful in her studies.

"During my second year, I started suffering from very bad migraines—all day, everyday—varying in intensity and pain, for 9 months. It got to the point where I could not go to class or study and had to have special exams put in so I can pass."

She worked with her doctors to treat what were believed to be possible causes, but nothing seemed to make enough of a difference in how she was feeling. It ultimately became so bad that she had to drop out of school in order to focus on her health. However, things seemed to get better in the fall of 2018. Her attacks had all but disappeared, and she felt better than ever. She even took on a new professional role in an office setting.

Then the light sensitivity and photophobia set in and her migraine episodes returned.

"I was sitting near big, open windows, and the office has multiple, big lights with fluorescent bulbs," she said. "I started struggling, getting sick, not being able to work properly. I was moved to a new seat in the office away from the windows, yet I still suffered."

As a result, Alex’s superiors started to question whether or not her health issues would further affect her job performance. In an effort to provide accommodations, she was eventually moved to the darkest space possible and took additional measures to fight off the painful light—from wearing a hat indoors and covering her head with a blanket to having prescribed painkillers on hand in the event of an attack. But even then, she experienced a particularly bad migrainous episode that put her new job in jeopardy.

Then TheraSpecs changed everything...

After learning about our precision-tinted glasses from her mother, she scoured the endless stream of positive reviews and knew they could offer the relief she had been seeking. And did they ever deliver!

"Ever since I wore these, I have had nearly no migraines. My eyes felt instantly relaxed, and I could finally see and work—improving my performance, my quality and my mood all in one," she said. "These glasses came just in time and saved both my job and my health."


Alex has found migraine relief wearing Classic Indoor TheraSpecs.

Thanks to TheraSpecs, Alex does not have to experience those awful symptoms of light sensitivity and migraine; no more burning eyes, nausea, or stabbing and crushing pains. She even recognizes the changes that the whole experience has made for her personality.

"I have become happier, more like myself because I am not in pain and do not hide from the light anymore. These glasses were the best investment I have ever made," she told us. "Thank you so much, I cannot express how much it means that these have helped me."

Your story and smile is thanks enough for us, Alex.

Buy TheraSpecs Today ➜

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It sounds like an oxymoron: light sensitivity at night. How can you experience this kind of strong sensitivity when there is an absence of light? Believe it or not, you actually can have this painful symptom during the evening hours, and we highlight a few of the ways that light sensitivity can be aggravated at this time.

Bright Car Headlights

Perhaps the biggest offender when it comes to nighttime photophobia is car headlights. Again and again, patients describe the horror of bright LED lights shining directly in their eyes while on the road at night. Janet describes it this way:

"The vast contrast between the darkness that had enveloped me and this sudden, jarring brightness is too much for my brain to compute...this bright visual stimulation is one of my most frustrating migraine triggers, and I often worry that driving at night on dark roads will end up putting me in migraine mode."

She hit the proverbial nail on the head. The contrast from deep darkness to blinding light has often been associated with light-sensitive conditions, especially migraine. The brain becomes agitated, and as a result, an attack can be initiated. Studies have supported this finding as well, showing that vehicle lights can bring on hallmark light sensitivity symptoms such as glare, visual discomfort and ocular blurriness. It only gets worse for people who are prone to headache or migraine attacks due to light.1 There is also evidence that it affects older drivers more prominently as well.2

Tips for driving at night with migraine ➜

Polar Night and Day

Locations that feature extreme periods of darkness and light—known as polar night and day, respectively—can really mess with a person’s brain chemistry. For people who have non-migrainous headaches, the darker season in some parts of Alaska, Norway and other places is more likely to worsen their symptoms. Even for those with migraine, about 10% have headache pain, light sensitivity and related issues during this extended night phase; those with migraine aura photophobia may be particularly vulnerable for seasonal complications.3 This type of turbulent lighting also creates problems during the “transition” period from day to night. Many cite sunrise and dusk as triggering factors for their sensitivities.

A number of reasons may contribute to this effect, from melatonin production or suppression to disrupted circadian rhythms and sleeping patterns, both of which can bring on photophobic responses. The dark adaptation process also likely plays a critical role in this process. Our eyes and brain eventually become accustomed to this prolonged exposure to darkness, such that taking in just a little bit of light thereafter can trigger a painful response. For this reason, so many with light sensitivity seek solace in completely darkened rooms. It also further explains why polar day season can be particularly brutal with the strong density of sunlight, especially on the heels of an extended “nighttime” period.

Blue Light at Night

Many experts believe that artificial blue light can greatly affect how we feel. Our exposure to artificial light at night—through our computer screens or digital devices—can negatively influence our sleep as well as our alertness and concentration the next day. Blue wavelengths can be even more detrimental for those with light sensitivity due to a chronic condition. While we all have naturally-photosensitive cells in our eyes that are activated from these wavelengths, chronic neurological dysfunction can make any light-induced pain feel worse.

In fact, research has shown that screen time is already associated with greater risk for the onset of migraines and other symptoms. And bright device lighting specifically in a dark environment can lead to straining of the eyes after just twenty minutes!4 This of course can make us more sensitive to light and more prone to painful smartphone-triggered headaches too.

Learn more about the effects of blue light ➜

Interictal Light Sensitivity

For those with a chronically light-sensitive disorder, light is often painful even outside of attacks or symptomatic episodes. For example, when a migraine ends, many of the physical symptoms dissipate; but a postdrome or post-attack period can set in, during which some issues may linger and/or new ones develop. Heightened sensitivity to light is a complaint for many during this time.5 So if you are coming out of an attack during the evening, even a small amount of dim light (such as from a night light or street light) can be enough to cause light sensitive pain.

This indicates that the central nervous system remains highly sensitized, outlasting even the core migrainous or photophobic episode. In addition, those with these conditions generally have a lower acceptance level for the brightness of light, which may further explain ongoing discomfort. And the effects of dark adaptation, either through perpetually hiding in dark rooms or wearing sunglasses indoors, also can make a person experience increased photophobia all the time.

Read More: Photophobia and Light Sensitivity ➜

References:

1Salvaia J, Elias J, Shepherd AJ. Symptoms of visual discomfort from automobile lights and their correlation with headache in night-time taxi drivers. Lighting Research & Technology. 46(3):354–363.

2Mainster MA, Timberlake GT. Why HID headlights bother older drivers. Br J Ophthalmol. 2003;87(1):113–117. doi:10.1136/bjo.87.1.113

3Lilleng H, Bekkelund SI. Arctic environment triggers migraine attacks. Can Fam Physician. 2010;56(6):549–551.

4Montagni I, Guichard E, Carpenet C, Tzourio C, Kurth T. Screen time exposure and reporting of headaches in young adults: A cross-sectional study. Cephalalgia. 2016 Oct;36(11):1020-1027. doi: 10.1177/0333102415620286. Epub 2016 Jul 19.

5Hayne DP, Martin PR. Relating Photophobia, Visual Aura, and Visual Triggers of Headache and Migraine. Headache. 2019 Mar;59(3):430-442. doi: 10.1111/head.13486. Epub 2019 Feb 8.

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We know that if you have any type of migraine, you are way more likely to have light sensitivity as one of your symptoms—even when compared with other chronic conditions. But there are subtle differences in photophobia for the approximately one-third of patients who also experience aura (visual or otherwise) with their attacks. We explore how light-related triggers and sensitivities might affect these individuals uniquely.

Similar levels of light sensitivity during and between attacks

Not surprisingly, the majority of clinical studies reveal the same conclusion: there is almost no difference in the percentage of migraine patients who experience light sensitivity—regardless of aura. In fact, between 85-95% of those diagnosed with migraine with aura report photophobia as part of their attacks, according to separate studies.1,2 Additionally, the intensity of photophobic pain is equally prominent for all patients with the headache disorder, with well over three-quarters rating it as moderate or severe.3 Patients even share similar levels of light-related discomfort between migrainous episodes as well.

Photophobia during the "aura" stage of attacks

If photophobia as a symptom is comparable during and outside of attacks, then what ARE the differences for a person with migraine-related aura? First, they experience an entire phase of migraine (the aura) that not every patient goes through, and it is a stage in which light sensitivity typically appears.

As a reminder, here are the four stages of a migraine attack:

  • Prodrome: Pre-attack experiences that begin a few hours or days prior to the episode
  • Aura: Also occurs prior to an attack, usually within the hour; roughly one-third of migraine patients have aura symptoms
  • Attack/Headache: The heavily symptomatic period which often features head pain (but not always) and can last from a few hours to several days
  • Postdrome: Describes the symptoms and issues that develop and/or persist after the main attack has subsided

Photophobia can be (and often is) a common complaint at all of these stages, but the aura stage presents its own challenges. Typically occurring 5 to 60 minutes before the headache sets in, the aura regularly develops with visual symptoms—ranging from zigzag patterns to temporary vision loss. Sensitivity to light is a large component of this stage as well, affecting perhaps as many as 88% of those who have migrainous aura.3 This is more than any other issue during this time. And, as we noted, this often continues right into the attack stage, worsening the pain for the duration of the episode.

Curiously, one study showed a link between aura-related photophobia during an attack and more light sensitivity outside of one.1 This could mean that light-sensitive migraine aura creates a greater risk for having photophobic reactions to light all the time. With interictal (or between-attack) visual discomfort levels being the same for those with and without aura, this might indicate separate biological causes, which we discuss in greater detail below.4,5

Greater visual sensitivity and light-triggered pain for migrainous aura

Although it is common for both groups, patients with migraine aura have generally been described as more visually sensitive to their environment. This can include intolerance to bright lighting, but it also encompasses sensitivity to stimuli such as flicker, glare or high-contrast patterns. In addition, this sensitivity may also extend to the eye-related symptoms (such as blurry vision, for example) that are hastened by environmental factors. And these findings remain consistent for episodic and chronic migraine with aura too.6,7

Similarly, the triggering aspect of light also seems to more definitively affect patients with migraine-related aura. At least one study suggested that 40% believe that light exposure has brought on migraine with aura episodes when compared with just 5% of those without aura.1 While we believe the latter number significantly under-represents how often light triggers attacks, this dramatic difference still must be recognized. And given the high percentage of aura patients who deal with visual complications during this stage, it makes sense that they might also be generally more sensitive to or prone to be triggered by their surroundings—including bright and/or flashing lights.

Unique brain activity for migraine aura & photophobia

Researchers have identified some unique brain effects related to aura that might explain these variance in light sensitivity and light triggers. One study showed a link between photophobia and elevated levels of a neurotransmitter called calcitonin gene–related peptide (CGRP). This has also been implicated in the broader migrainous pathophysiology, but additional evidence suggests that those with migraine aura may have greater CGRP plasma levels. This could ultimately explain their greater risk for feeling light sensitive.8,9

In addition, increased activity in the visual cortex of the brain has been recorded for people with migrainous aura versus those without. This cortical hyper-reactivity may underlie prior findings that aura sufferers are more visually sensitive to their surroundings—particularly between attacks—and may explain why light is a more prominent attack trigger.1 If true, this might also mean that different physiological processes affect those who do not have any aura symptoms; more specifically, certain pathways that lead to specific visual aura symptomatology may be distinct from those that actually lead to light sensitivity. As a result, this may also endorse more traditional explanations for migrainous photophobia, especially during attacks, as common to all migraine types.

Lastly, some have theorized that this unique brain activity and the effects that result from it may make those with visual aura sensitivities more aware of how light impacts them. This can lead to a greater likelihood that they will report light sensitivity as a problem.

Where it all gets a little complicated

It is important to note that these differences are not clear cut. Doctors and patients often have a difficult time distinguishing between the timing of symptoms before an attack. Not only can patient recall and tracking be an unreliable measure, but we still do not know enough about the biological processes that lead to migraine and migrainous aura. This makes it a challenge to fully understand if certain symptoms are actually representative of the stage in which they are believed to occur. For example, some experts believe that sensitivity to light at any point prior to the onset of headache pain actually signals the earliest moments of the attack phase—not the prodrome or aura as we might expect.

Top Triggers of Migraine with Aura ➜

Related articles about migraine aura:

6 Visual Symptoms and Disturbances of Migraine

Migraine Aura Looks Different for Different People

Light Sensitivity and Visual Aura of Hemiplegic Migraine

Differences in Visual Aura for Migraine and Epilepsy

References:

1Cucchiara B, Datta R, Aguirre GK, Idoko KE, Detre J.Measurement of visual sensitivity in migraine: Validation of two scales and correlation with visual cortex activation. Cephalalgia. 2015 Jun;35(7):585-92. doi: 10.1177/0333102414547782. Epub 2014 Sep 3.

2Vanagaite 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.

3Rasmussen BK, Olesen J. Migraine with aura and migraine without aura: an epidemiological study. Cephalalgia. 1992 Aug;12(4):221-8; discussion 186.

4Hayne DP, Martin PR. Relating Photophobia, Visual Aura, and Visual Triggers of Headache and Migraine. Headache. 2019 Mar;59(3):430-442. doi: 10.1111/head.13486. Epub 2019 Feb 8.

5Datta R, Aguirre GK, Hu S, Detre JA, Cucchiara B. Interictal cortical hyperresponsiveness in migraine is directly related to the presence of aura. Cephalalgia. 2013;33(6):365–374. doi:10.1177/0333102412474503

6Perenboom MJL, Zamanipoor Najafabadi AH, Zielman R, Carpay JA, Ferrari MD. Quantifying visual allodynia across migraine subtypes: the Leiden Visual Sensitivity Scale. Pain. 2018;159(11):2375–2382. doi:10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001343

7Friedman DI, De ver Dye T. Migraine and the environment. Headache. 2009 Jun;49(6):941-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2009.01443.x.

8Recober A, Kuburas A, Zhang Z, Wemmie JA, Anderson MG, Russo AF. Role of calcitonin gene-related peptide in light-aversive behavior: implications for migraine. J Neurosci. 2009;29(27):8798–8804. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1727-09.2009

9Cernuda-Morollón E, Larrosa D, Ramón C, Vega J, Martínez-Camblor P, Pascual J. Interictal increase of CGRP levels in peripheral blood as a biomarker for chronic migraine. Neurology. 2013 Oct 1;81(14):1191-6. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182a6cb72. Epub 2013 Aug 23.

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TheraSpecs customer Ashley has been highly light sensitive for as long as she can remember. She even recalls having to get a doctor’s note in middle school just for permission to wear sunglasses in her physical education class. Throughout her adult life, photophobia has continued to take a toll on her too.

"My eyes water and tear up in the light, and my migraines are very light-triggered," she said. "I have always been the type that needed sunglasses on cloudy days, and even those never really cut it."

At the recommendation of her doctor, she became introduced to TheraSpecs precision-tinted glasses, which protect sensitive individuals like Ashley against specific migraine-triggering wavelengths. She was particularly enticed by our generous 60-day return policy, particularly in a day and age where drug medication can be so costly and often viewed as the only source for relief.

"It's a shame doctors and patients everywhere do not already know about TheraSpecs," she told us. "There are so many prescriptions for migraines that are passed around easily, regularly require costly copays, and can have potential negative side effects."

And the best part about TheraSpecs is they work!

As Ashley describes it, her first experience with our glasses left her practically speechless. In fact, she kept putting them on and taking them off because she could not believe how much her pain had been tempered.

"I was blown away by the stark difference in my headache level with them on or off. I never fully appreciated just how much light caused me pain until I tried on TheraSpecs! I always kept the blinds drawn to minimize light, but now I feel comfortable enough to let some of it in. I was just in shock at [the&91; difference they made."

Of course, TheraSpecs do not take all of her headache pain away, but they greatly minimize those light-related symptoms. And most importantly, they allow her to enjoy more time outside with her dog and working at her computer, and less time clutching her head and eyes in pain. Truly our glasses have led to a significant improvement in her quality of life.

As a result of such immediate relief with her Hudson indoor pair, Ashley had to get the outdoor glasses as well—knowing that they were simply better than any normal sunglasses. And she also recognizes just how many more people like her could benefit from TheraSpecs.

"Having something that can help this much, with no down side, no side effects, and only a one-time, reasonable cost, is wonderful! I feel there are a lot of people out there who would try them if they knew about them, and who would get wonderful relief just like I have."

That is definitely our mission, Ashley! Thanks for helping us spread the word by sharing your wonderful story.

Try TheraSpecs Today ➜

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