How Photophobia is Making Your Migraines Worse
Though there is no conclusive evidence that fluorescent lights trigger migraines, the color of light they emit has been shown to make migraines worse. In fact, what you think of as a fluorescent light migraine may actually be a reaction to blue light.
If you’ve ever felt a migraine coming on and made a run for the darkest room you can find, you’re likely one of the 80% of migraineurs who suffer from photophobia. It’s something of a misnomer because it isn’t a fear of light but a sensitivity to it–especially to blue light, which is known to make migraines more painful. A Harvard study found that blue light increased migraine pain in blind patients, indicating that blue light specifically can cause greater pain to migraineurs.
The world is practically swimming in blue light during the day. The biggest source of blue light is sunshine. It makes sense then that blue light has an energetic effect, helping to keep us awake and alert. Getting adequate exposure to daylight (blue light) during daytime hours helps set our body’s natural wake/sleep cycle for deep slumber during night time hours.
But, most of our artificial light is also blue. Fluorescent and LED lights emit lots of blue light. The lights in virtually every grocery store, mall, restaurant, office and classroom are fluorescent or LED. If you watch TV at night, use your computer, iPhone or tablet, or have any electronics in your room that have power lights (like your smoke detector, wifi router, television, alarm clock, power strip or printer), then you’re soaking up blue light at home, too. And if at home you’ve replaced your incandescent bulbs with the more efficient CFL or LED bulbs, you are being exposed to blue light long after the day has ended.
The constant exposure to blue light does two things: it worsens your headache pain and it disrupts your sleep cycles. And since one of the underlying causes of migraines is inadequate sleep, you’re setting yourself up for future migraines that are possibly even more painful.
So, in the age of fluorescent lighting, what do you do?
1. Reduce Blue Light Exposure at Home and Work with Blue Blocking Light Bulbs
First: get lamps. Changing the lighting scheme of a whole place can be a big task, but getting a lamp may be easier and more cost effective. Putting in a blue blocking bulb can reduce the pain that blue light can cause, and with the lamp acting as a task light, you will also be reducing eyestrain, another migraine contributor. Amber-tinted bulbs tend to be more expensive than standard bulbs (another reason to start with a lamp), but it may be a small price to pay for a migraine-free day.
2. Install a Migraineur-friendly Lighting Scheme at Home
Put the right bulbs in your home. CFLs are more energy- and cost-efficient, but the savings probably aren’t worth a fluorescent light migraine. Your two best options are incandescent lights (which emit very little blue light) and blue blocking light bulbs. If you must choose CFL or LED bulbs, opt for a warm white. Possible side effects: better sleep, less frequent headaches, and a cozier home.
Implement the right lighting scheme. Setting up your rooms with both task and ambient lighting will reduce eyestrain. Ambient lighting, like floor lamps and overhead lights, light up a room but it’s task lighting (like desk and reading lamps) that helps you see clearly while you work. Take this opportunity to put under lighting in your kitchen, or get a lamp for your cozy armchair. you may find that the right task lighting makes your books easier to read, your vegetables easier to chop, and your migraines less painful to endure.
3. Optimize Your Work Space
One of the worst parts about working under fluorescent lights is the glare. When you’re working at your computer, you may not even realize that light from the room is reflecting off your screen and causing your eyes have to strain to see past it. The combination of glare, fluorescent ambient lighting, and eyestrain is a recipe for pain.
If most of your work is done at a computer, consider an anti-glare screen. It fits over your computer screen or monitor to give your eyes some relief. Blue light filters function the same way. You may also consider getting an anti-reflective coating on your glasses, or non-prescription lenses with an anti-glare coating that you wear during work hours. Especially if you work in an office 8 hours a day, just these few tweaks can make an enormous improvement.
4. Enjoy Your Electronics Without the Pain.
Electronics are probably the most pervasive and difficult triggers to eliminate. Virtually every screen you use for entertainment or work is a potential trigger. Consider your eyewear.
If you’re particularly sensitive, or you look at screens for extended periods of yime, your two best options may be glasses with an anti-reflective coating, or glasses with lenses that filter out blue light. Most places that sell eyeglasses also offer an anti-reflective coating. you can get glasses with rose-tinted lenses through a company like TheraSpecs, or Eagle Eyes Optics which uses NASA technology.
Leverage techonology to your advantage. Use apps that change the emission of light color after sunset from blue to orange, turn off devices a few hours before bedtime, and ensure that your bedroom is completely dark. Cover indicator lights from devices (like your TV or smoke detector) with black tape and if you use an alarm clock, turn it so the light isn’t facing you while you sleep.
Make Your Fluorescent Light Migraine a Thing of the Past
There is so little control you have in managing your migraines, but each of the above is something you can do this week to help yourself live a pain-free life. It takes some willingness to experiment but if you’ve ever had a fluorescent light migraine, then it’s likely you’re sensitive to certain lights and that trying even just one of these tips will help. Give yourself that chance.