Those cat-eye shades may not be the best option.
One of the most common symptoms of migraine is photosensitivity, or severe sensitivity to light. Photosensitivity among people with migraine is so common—affecting around 85 percent of people with migraine—that it’s actually one of the diagnostic criteria, according to the American Migraine Foundation.
“Light can emit certain wavelengths that can cause discomfort to the eyes,” says Cynthia Armand, MD, neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “The brain interprets it in a way [that] can trigger a migraine attack.” (Learn more about common migraine triggers here.)
Photosensitivity is one of the reasons many people find relief in dark rooms while they are experiencing a migraine. However, if bright lights are a major trigger for you, it’s unrealistic (and not recommended) to completely avoid light in your everyday life.
“There are so many things that individuals can do in order to limit photosensitivity. One of the more common treatments that we talk about in our offices as headache specialists is for individuals to wear certain sunglasses,” says Dr. Armand.
You might find *some* relief from a standard pair of sunglasses from the gas station mart, but that’s not what’s recommended for migraine prevention. To find the best sunglasses to prevent migraines, you should speak to an eyecare provider. They can help inform you of the various frames and lenses that will bring you better relief.
When looking for sunglasses to prevent migraine, you’ll want to look for the following characteristics, according to Dr. Armand:
Polarized lenses: “We want to make sure that the tinting involves a polarized type of tint that scatters light [and] decreases glare,” says Dr. Armand.
The FL-41 tint: Certain wavelengths of light are more likely to trigger migraine than others. FL-41 is a special, therapeutic tinted lens with a rose-hued appearance that helps filter out blue-green light.
Frames with good coverage: The tiny frames from the 1990s would not work in this situation. “Make sure [you] choose certain frames that can help block light that comes from above, that comes from the side, and that causes glare that comes from the back,” says Dr. Armand.
You may also need to wear your sunglasses indoors to deal with triggers like fluorescent lights, computer screens, and so on. However, wearing sunglasses indoors too much can lead to something called chronic dark adaptation, which can actually make your sensitivity to light even worse. For those indoor triggers, always look for other adaptations, such as turning off fluorescent lights or adjusting or tinting your computer screen. If wearing sunglasses indoors, be sure to take occasional breaks to avoid chronic dark adaptation.
If you’re wearing the recommended sunglasses and still experiencing migraine from photosensitivity, make an appointment with a headache specialist. “There might be an issue that’s not being addressed,” says Dr. Armand. “Photosensitivity can be a hallmark of uncontrolled migraines, so we want to make sure that they have the right management on board that can supplement the sunglasses in order to decrease the photosensitivity much better.”
Dr. Armand is a neurologist and headache specialist at Montefiore Headache Center in New York City.
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Photosensitivity is sensitivity to light.
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The light can emit certain wavelengths
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that can cause discomfort to the eyes.
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The nerves connect to the brain, and the brain
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interprets it in a way such that can trigger a migraine attack.
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Photosensitivity can happen before a migraine,
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during a migraine, or after a migraine.
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It's so common that it's actually part
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of the migraine diagnostic criteria, and in that sense,
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it's called photophobia.
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One of the more common treatments that we talk about
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in our offices as headache specialists
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is for individuals to wear certain sunglasses.
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Appropriate sunglasses that filter certain wavelengths
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of light that are more likely to cause photosensitivity.
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When someone is looking into sunglasses
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to help treat photosensitivity, it's important that they speak
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to an eyecare provider to make sure
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that they're well-versed and aware
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of the certain particular tintings that are available
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for blocking certain wavelengths,
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and also, choose certain frames that can help block light
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that comes from above, that comes from the side,
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and that causes a glare that comes from the back.
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You want to make sure that the tinting involves
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a polarized type of tint that scatters light
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that helps decreases glare.
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One example of a tint that we use is the FL-41 tint.
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That tint has been shown to be effective
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in helping with photosensitivity.
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There are a lot of individuals with migraine
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that experience photosensitivity indoors,
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and we see that because a lot of the lights
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that are used indoors like fluorescent lights,
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computer screens, those wavelengths that come out
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of those lights can actually cause photosensitivity,
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so it's quite common.
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We do recommend that individuals who experience
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photosensitivity indoors use appropriate tinting glasses
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at times, and also in terms of computer screens,
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there can be tinting and adjustments
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that can be done for that as well.
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I want to issue a word of caution for individuals
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who might want to wear sunglasses indoors,
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and if you do that a lot of the time,
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that can cause a phenomenon called chronic dark adaptation.
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Once you break out into the sunlight,
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the light that's coming on to your eyes is so bright
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that you just can't handle it and you're super sensitive to it,
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so we want to make sure that the individual wearing
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indoor sunglasses, one, has appropriate filtering
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that targets the photosensitivity, and two, takes breaks
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throughout the day from it in order to prevent
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the chronic dark adaptation.
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If someone is wearing the appropriate amount of filtering
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in their sunglasses and they're still really suffering
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from photosensitivity, especially in between attacks,
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I really, really, really want them to make an appointment
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to see a headache specialist because there might be
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an issue that's not being addressed.
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Photosensitivity can be a hallmark of uncontrolled migraines,
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so we want to make sure that they have the right
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management on board that can supplement the sunglasses
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in order to decrease the photosensitivity much better.
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Photophobia (light sensitivity) and migraine. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation. (Accessed on February 19, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/photophobia-light-sensitivity-migraine/.)
Preventive treatment of migraine in adults. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2020. (Accessed on February 19, 2020 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/preventive-treatment-of-migraine-in-adults.)