Monday, January 11, 2010

Scientific Proof of Photophobia Link with Migraine

Not Surprising to Migraineurs

Read an article today that gives a scientific explanation for the pain that light creates for many migraine sufferers. Those of us who have photophobia know that the problem exists, we just don't know how to stay away from light on a permanent basis.

The article entitled "Why Bright Light Worsens Migraine Headache Pain" at states that a study was done with blind migraine sufferers, some of whom could sense or see light, and some of whom could not. The migraine patients who could not see light had no difference in pain when exposed to light, while the patients who could sense light had increased pain on light exposure. The resulting theory is that the optic nerve itself and its functioning and connectivity is related to photophobia. The author states:

They tested out these ideas in a lab, by injecting dyes into the eyes of rats with migraine headaches. By following the dyes, the researchers traced the path of the melanopsin retinal cells through the optic nerve to the brain, where they found a group of brain cells that became electrically active during migraines.

"When small electrodes were inserted into these 'migraine neurons,' we discovered that light was triggering a flow of electrical signals that was converging on these very cells," Burstein said. "This increased their activity within seconds."

And even when the light was removed, Burstein said, these neurons remained activated. "This helps explain why patients say that their headache intensifies within seconds after exposure to light, and improves 20 to 30 minutes after being in the dark."

I hope physicians that are skeptical about the light dodging habits of frequent migraine and other primary headache sufferers read this. We aren't imagining that light can trigger headache pain, and that light can make headache pain worse. We are experiencing an electrical storm that is either ignited by light exposure or incited to greater levels by light exposure, and that this storm doesn't stop the instant that light levels are lowered. Hoping that this research can either lead to a way to stop light from triggering or worsening migraines, or a medication that can assist in gaining light tolerance.

Maybe designers of emergency rooms could take note also, and have an area with dim lighting for headache patients to wait in. Migraine patients are already in a lot of pain before they ever hit the emergency room, because no headache patient willingly goes into that environment of noise, light, and odor unless they have no other alternative for pain management. A quiet dark area where you could wait your turn would be a welcome change from the normal bright fluorscent light.

Diana Lee at Somebody Heal Me has coordinated and published the January Headache Blog Carnival. The subject this month was "Healthy Habits for the New Year." As always there are a variety of submissions, with my favorite being about how behavior can increase or decrease pain tolerance. Please drop by and check out this month's offerings!!!


  1. Emily, I suffer from Migraine Headaches as well and end up wearing sunglasses all day long. This is a very good article...awesome writing and I enjoy reading you info...Thanks...

  2. Thanks Shelah, a lot of migraine sufferers do the same, you do get looks when you are indoors at night wearing them!!

    I've had migraines from 17 to 45, then I had a hysterectomy and NO MORE MIGRAINES, then alas I got this headache Hemicrania Continua, the mother of all headaches. Sigh....