Do you suffer from photosensitive migraines? The ones where bright or flashing lights can trigger them and where the back of your eyes hurt from the light like someone has driven a nail into your eye? I totally feel your pain. Here I’ve written everything that I’ve learnt over the years that reduce my triggers and even better, don’t include medication. Save that for emergencies. I really hope that some of these simple hacks can help you as well.
I’ve suffered from migraines since I was 14 but the last 10 years they have been really severe photosenstive migraine and extremely debilitating. I’ve tried all the drugs going and seen numerous neurologists over the years and nothing, and I mean nothing helped. None of the medications. As for keeping migraine diaries, I’ve got years worth!
Up until 5 years ago I had an almost permanent migraine. I was either in one or in the recovery phase of one when the next one hit. They are called cluster migraines although mine are not quite in any sub group according to the neurologists. I’m always that one! I like to call myself special but sadly not in the way that I’d like to be. I’m special in the way that they like to bring in med students and get them to play 20 questions and see if they can diagnose me!
The only way I could get help was to take to doing the research myself and treat myself. I have now given up on neurology as it’s always a waste of time and I’m currently 5 months over due for my follow up appointment on the NHS anyway. Sometimes I don’t think that they realise that lives are being destroyed.
About 18 years ago my optician told me that I have an unusually exaggerated response to light and he recommended transition lenses in my glasses. I have worn them ever since and they protect me from the blue end of the light spectrum when I’m in sunlight. I’ve found it much more comfortable going out in strong light since. And who wants to stay indoors on a beautiful day! I certainly didn’t. Here I am in my transitions glasses while on holiday in Spain. 😀 The light would have been too strong without them and it’s hard to relax then. If it’s really strong I’ll wear a sun hat or cap as well to provide a bit extra shade over my eyes.
Recently I’ve been thinking more and more about other sources of light that could cause a photosensitive migraine. I also have green filters that I used to use over white pages of a book so that I could see them better for reading and be able to read more while doing my PhD. I’ve known for a very long time that fluorescent lighting is a trigger of mine (and my Dad’s) so reading off text books with white glossy pages was hard work when the light from fluorescent tubes was bounced back at me. These green filters were a godsend and are actually recommended for dyslexics. I recommend them for anyone who is struggling with studying due to headaches. I got mine through OT at the university but I would be very surprised if they weren’t available online.
If you are printing off work use a different colour paper for printing that is more easy on your eyes. I like mint green to relax my eyes and most stationers have coloured paper now.
In the last couple of years I’ve been using more and more bright screens. My laptop, tablet and phone all have very bright screens. If you read around there are various warnings about how these devices are messing up our sleep patterns because we use them too much, especially at bedtime. Of course, if you have to use them for work it can be a problem.
In windows (but not Apple the last time I emailed them) you can change the background display colour on your windows. So for instance, if I was writing a document in word or an email I could have my mint green background in the windows to help me see. Or any other colour that suits you. Go into the control panel and look through the display settings and tweak things until you find a relaxing display that suits your eyes. I also turn down the brightness of the screen. The great thing with this hack is that the colour is not printed out and doesn’t appear on other people’s screens if they open the document. It is in *your* personal display settings.
So that fixed the problem for me on my laptop but what about other devices? If you are like me and always reading with the kindle app there is another hack that you can use. If you look in the settings of your kindle app while in a book you can change the background colour of the display on your kindle app. Genius! Someone has finally taken note. (I’ve been emailing Apple for years asking them for a way to do this but gave up about 6 years ago as I no longer use them. I don’t know if it’s available now.) With my kindle app I like the sepia setting but there are a few other colours you can choose.
My most recent discovery was for my tablet and phone as I needed something to help me do my research for longer without a migraine being triggered as that would rob me of 3-4 days each time. I HATE LED screens and really wish I still had an old CRT monitor for my laptop. Anyway, tablet screens I have found are a major trigger for migraines with me. I was gutted as I love my tablet and all my books are on there.
What I found when searching through Google play store was a free app called Blue Light Filter for Android. I installed it and you can set the level of filter that you like and it filters out some of the blue light. It’s this blue light that we are particularly sensitive to. Absolutely fantastic! I nearly swore there with my excitement! 😀 I typically set the filter to around 50-60% and this has been enough to reduce my migraines to the occasional one caused by food allergies. I don’t think I’ve had a photosentive migraine from screens for a few months now. I am amazed after years of fighting them almost constantly.
I’m also cross. All the tests and appointments in neurology and not once have any of these simple tricks been discussed. They just throw new prescriptions at me and promise (but not keep) to follow up in 4 months. If you are triggered by photosensitive migraine please try to find where your major sources of blue light are from and tackle them. You might not need drugs after all.
To recap, for photosensitive migraine I use:
- transition lenses (brown tint) for sunlight, sunglasses would work as well and a sun hat
- a green filter over books with a white background (that reflect all light including blue)
- print on coloured paper (usually green or purple) to read notes
- change my display settings in Windows to a green background (reduces glare and blue light)
- use the sepia background on my kindle app
- turn down the brightness on my laptop and android devices (reduces glare)
- use Blue Light Filter app set to 50-60% on my android devices to cut out most of the blue light
And a bonus tip, I don’t use LED lights in my house as they are too strong and have too much blue light in them. Instead I have halogen bulbs that are more tolerable. I prefer a reading light behind me where it’s not in my line of sight. Also, avoid full spectrum lights as they have more blue light in them as well.
It’s taken me over a decade to find all these tips through trial and error. I hope that by putting them all here, in one place, that it will be helpful to you and I have saved you a lot of time as you figure them out. I do believe that we have to do everything we can to help ourselves as doctors don’t seem to be trained in lifestyle changes that could help their patients. They are too quick to prescribe medications that often come with unpleasant side effects without exploring the cause of the migraines.
My migraines are triggered by food allergies (gluten, pulses, lentils, alcohol) and also by blue light. Now that I have worked out the causes I can take steps to prevent them. Doctors often ask you to keep a food diary but I’ve never been told about blue light.
If you have any more tips that could help fellow migraine suffers then please leave them below in the comments. I’m sure they will be helpful to others and maybe to me as well. 😀
Note: I have recently upgraded to Windows 10 and I now can’t find the settings for changing the display. I don’t know if it has been taken away or if it’s simply moved somewhere else and been renamed. If you have any idea please let me know in the comments below. Thanks x
Today I am grateful for:
- My bluelight filter app 😀
- Google for helping with my research
- For being almost migraine free 😀