Although bright lights can certainly trigger a migraine, 85% of people who have these types of headaches report being extremely sensitive to light or photophobic during their attacks. The very first thing most sufferers must do is lie down in a very dark room. This very unpleasant symptom usually lasts for the duration of the migraine, which could be hours or even days. Thankfully, the disabling head pain may subside after 30 minutes in complete darkness.
Photophobia can intensify the headache pain that occurs. This hypersensitivity to light is believed to occur because blood vessels in the brain enlarge during a migraine. The light produces pain because the anatomic pathway that produces head pain is linked to the vision system in the brain. Signals are transmitted along the optic nerve to the retina. During a migraine, these neurons misfire, triggering the intense pain.
Sensitivity to light during an attack is not as common in older adults as it is in younger adults. In one study, only 75% of people over the age of 60 report light sensitivity, while 79% of people age 18 to 38 experience it. People who take migraine prevention medication report less sensitivity to light than those who do not.
Photophobia can make normal day-to-day activities such as working, driving a car, reading and writing impossible. Other than finding a dark, quiet place to rest, there isn’t much that can be done to alleviate migraine light sensitivity. Some people find it helpful to carry a dark pair of sunglasses with them at all times so they will be prepared when a migraine strikes. Some people even wear two pairs of sunglasses. This would help with the excruciating pain associated with sunlight, florescent lights, headlights, computer monitors and other types of light until they could get to their dark destination. Many migraine sufferers purchase only the darkest colored window coverings they can find. Some people find an eye mask not only blocks out light but can help alleviate their headache pain as well.
Much research is being conducted on migraines and light sensitivity. We now know more about what happens inside the brain during an attack than ever before. Experts believe that new drugs may be produced within a few years that can help treat this disabling migraine symptom.