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3-D movies and the headaches & migraines they can trigger

I don’t like sitting too close to the movie screen, and I often have to close my eyes during rapid-fire shots in action movies. (I say that as if I watch action movies regularly—that is far from the case! When I do agree to watch one with Jim, I end up closing my eyes and/or covering my ears during the “thrilling” action sequences.)

The quickly-shifting frames result in a strobe effect, and we all know that I don’t like certain lighting effects—strobes can be a migraine trigger.

Though I’ve not seen many 3-D movies, excluding the multiple viewings of the amazing flicks they’ve shown at Disney World over the years (notably the Muppet 3-D adventure and the 1980s hippie flick where the kids blow dandelions at the audience), I find that I’m not that interested in them.

Putting on those glasses and watching the screen for more than a few minutes at a time makes me disconcerted and almost dizzy. Some folks have commented that the new 3-D technology has made it so the effects are easy on the eyes, but I haven’t had such a great experience with the fancy new special effects. Lawd knows I ain’t buying a 3-D TV any time soon!

So you can imagine that this article from NPR was pretty intriguing to me:

What has your experience been with 3-D films? Do they cause headaches or trigger migraines for you? Have you noticed any issues watching TV or using the computer before or during a migraine attack?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • NursePammie
    4 years ago

    For me, it depends on the format. “Real D 3D” seems to give me the least problems, so I try to stick to that. I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens in that format and had no issues at all. But IMAX made me ill, even before 3D.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    Hi Jacaquie,

    As cool as 3-D movies are, I need to stay away from them too.
    On a positive note, just think of the extra money we save by not having to buy those movie tickets 🙂

  • Jacquie
    7 years ago

    I know this is an old article, but YES 3-D movies are awful! I saw Harry Potter in 3-D IMAX years ago when I was still in denial about having chronic migraines. I’d gone to another city to see it with friends, and we had plans to go for dinner after. It obviously didn’t work out and I had to call my mum to come all the way to pick me up. It still sticks in my head as one of the worst migraines of my life.

  • Angel
    7 years ago

    Over the past few years, I prefer to wait until movies come out on DVD so I can watch them in the comfort of my own home, where I can one, control the volume and two, turn on the subtitles… I can’t seem to follow the plot any more (lack of focus) unless I can read the subtitles… I guess I’m just weird.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Angel – I’m with you. This means my video library is gi-normous, but it gives me something to put on when I’m Migraining badly and need the distractions.

  • Elaine Gross
    8 years ago

    I won’t take the chance. I can’t take it when there’s a lot of action on the screen, especially if anything looks like it’s coming toward me. I have to look away. I hate the Exedrin add on this screen. At first it really drove me crazy, but I’m getting used to it, maybe I’ve trained myself to look away. Not a good add for migraineurs.

  • Susan Cleveland
    8 years ago

    Going to see a movie on the big screen is always difficult on my eyes. I have to be sure to bring my reading glasses or I’ll have a migraine for sure. 3D is out of the question, it makes me dizzy. During the shots where they try to showcase their 3D-ness, I look away.

  • Stwart Jenssen
    8 years ago

    I have suffered from chronic daily migraines for the last 10 years. At one point, I was on six daily medications to keep them under control. I have gone through Zomig, Imitrex (pills, nasal inhaler, and shots) Axert, Amerge, and have now settled in with Maxalt (quick dissolving). The best thing I have done for treating my migraines is to have Botox injections. Since my first set of injections, I am down to only one daily medication, and my headache frequency is down an estimated 75%, even when eating “trigger” foods. I am due for another round of Botox next week, and I would love to wean off the remaining beta blocker after this set of injections, and be medicine-free, except for the injections.

  • nicholaxox
    8 years ago

    3-D movies definately set of my migraine attacks, i saw transformers in 3d and the first few minutes of wearing the glasses and watching the previews and the glasses had to come off to give my eyes and head a rest

  • Susan Mueller-Bissell
    8 years ago

    I thought it was just me that 3-D movies gave me a headache. I feel what starts the headache for me is how blurry the movie is with the glasses on making it hard to focus on any thing too long, I guess that is my trigger for my headache.

  • Janene Zielinski
    8 years ago

    3D is a big trigger for me too. Also when they do the “hand held” camera shooting where the action kind of bounces. And, whenever they circle the camera around the “kissing couple”… all of that can bother me. My eye muscles are weaker now then they were when I was younger and I can actually feel my eye muscles straining to “keep up” with the action. When I feel that slight strain, I know there is a migraine usually coming right up.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    I don’t do strobes, flashing lights or anything bright. To avoid these, we often just wait until our favorite movies are available to rent or buy. Watching them first on the smaller screen in the bedroom does a lot toward making the experience a good one instead of a Migraine inciting one. Family is really good too about telling me which movies I will like and which will likely cause a problem for me. It’s so wonderful they have got my back this way! True, I’m missing out on the whole 3D experience, but honestly, I’m happy with watching movies sans the 3D and lighting effects.

  • Sarah Scott Blankenship
    8 years ago

    It’s not just my imagination! I knew it!

  • Carrie Garner
    8 years ago

    Oh yes. Learned hard way after watching avatar in 3d.

  • Linda Barham Nabors
    8 years ago

    Me too, Sally!

  • Sally Colby Scholle
    8 years ago

    Almost anything with a strobe effect will trigger a migraine for me – lights on a police car (on TV or out on the road), fluorescent lights, driving through a wooded area in winter where the sunlight comes through trees like a strobe. One of the worst and fastest onset migraines I’ve ever had was when I used an old computer to look something up – the strobe effect was really bad and the migraine hit me within about two minutes.

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