Finally solving a 40 year-old trigger

My family has a rich oral history. One of the more popular stories involves my father and me. It was his habit to read to me almost every day. This continued until every night until all his hard efforts paid off. I was about five when the mental “lights” came on. I discovered I could read the words, too.  It also dawned on me that my father wasn’t a very good reader, so I corrected every mistake.  After several reading sessions accompanied by my corrections, Daddy handed me the book and suggested I read to him. That day began a lifetime love affair with books.

Around the same time, migraine decided to make its debut. I developed some bad reading habits that complicated migraine treatment. I preferred to read with the book close to my face. My body would get tired long before I was finished reading, so I would prop my head on the arm of the sofa and read for hours in dim light. This strange position would strain my head and neck, putting pressure on the occipital nerves, and trigger a migraine. But that wasn’t the only unusual thing my parents noticed. I was completely intolerant of bright lights. My eyes would burn and water and my nose would run when exposed to any bright light. Every outdoor photograph of me is an unflattering image of a painfully contorted scowl.

Together, these clues started to add up. It wasn’t long before my parents began to suspect that eye strain was one of my triggers. Concerned that my vision might be impaired, they scheduled an appointment with our family optometrist. The exam revealed mild far-sightedness with an astigmatism that is common in children. Most don’t need glasses and outgrow it. Because of my parents concern about migraine, I was fitted with reading glasses and encouraged to wear them any time I needed to see close up. All the adults had high hopes that this intervention would stop the onslaught of migraine attacks. No one realized that the harsh florescent lights in the classroom were actually the trigger.

To enlist my cooperation, I was told that glasses “made me look smart”. I liked being smart, so I eagerly wore them. Over time I discovered that the frames irritated tender spots on the bridge of my nose and both temples. This irritation, plus the buzzing lights, would often trigger a migraine attack. The very treatment designed to reduce attacks actually triggered more. Over the years I tried tinted glasses, special coatings to cut down on glare, and even prescription sunglasses. Nothing really helped. I did eventually break the poor posture habits while reading and that did help. By the time I mastered good body mechanics, there were many other triggers to contend with.

Sometime around my 40th birthday I started having trouble focusing close up. My children would call me “old lady” every time I held a book or sheet of paper at arm’s length in order to see the print. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t read at any distance. I desperately needed glasses. An eye exam confirmed what I suspected. I needed correction for both near and far, so bifocals would be necessary. Unfortunately, the cost estimate was over $600.  I didn’t have that much money to spend on glasses, so I continued to make do with cheap reading glasses from the pharmacy.

I finally made my vision a priority this year with a brand-new pair of bifocal lenses with an FL-41 tint. The tint felt great immediately. I am able to drive both day and night, shop in brightly lit stores, and rarely feel any discomfort due to lighting.  The bifocals did take some getting used to. At first my eyes had to work harder, so they were sore for the first week. The trickiest thing is using the distance vision while looking down, such as walking down stairs. Now that my eyes have adjusted they feel better than they have in years. I didn’t realize how often I squinted or tightened my facial muscles in an attempt to compensate for eye strain. What my parents tried to accomplish in 1975 is finally a reality. For the first time in decades, my eyes are wide open in bright sunlight and it feels great!

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

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