Color of the ambient light can help or worsen migraines

Bright light bothers many migraine sufferers and in some, a flash of bright light, such as sun reflecting off a window glass or water can instantly trigger a severe migraine. Sensitivity to light may be color dependent, according to a presentation by Japanese researchers at the International Headache Congress held in Vancouver earlier this month.

Dr. K. Niwa and his colleagues in Tokyo studied 936 patients with chronic headaches aged between 12 and 77. They compared 546 patients with episodic and chronic migraines with 392 patients with episodic and chronic tension-type, cluster, new daily persistent and other types of headaches. They exposed these patients to yellow, white, gray, blue green, and red ambient light. They measured the degree of discomfort on a 6-point scale, ranging from none to unbearable.

White, blue, and red lights aggravated discomfort both during a migraine attack and between attacks. Green light reduced discomfort between attacks of migraine and reduced pain intensity during a migraine, regardless of the presence or absence of light sensitivity. This was true for patients with both episodic and chronic migraine headaches. Those with chronic tension-type headaches had only mild discomfort from white light, while patients with all other types of headaches had no positive or negative reaction to various colors of ambient light.

This study confirmed previous reports (and our patients’ experience) that blue and white light worsens migraine pain. The more important finding is that green light seems to be very beneficial. Considering the low cost of this treatment, migraine sufferers, especially those with light sensitivity, may want to buy a green light bulb or sunglasses with green lenses. Some of our patients have a preference for different colors, including bright orange, which eliminates blue light. One of my previous blog posts mentioned research looking at individualizing color selection of eyeglass lenses. This customized service is not yet available and is likely to be expensive. However, several companies sell glasses with FL-41 tint that is specifically designed for migraine patients. Theraspecs is one and Axonoptics is another. The Fl-41 tint can also be applied to any lens.

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