iPhone screens are like laser beams to migraineur eyes

Last updated: June 2014

Awhile back, I wrote a post for migraine.com about how I sometimes realize I have a migraine only when I’m in a public restroom and that awful automatic hand dryer goes off.  “Aha!” I think then. “This noise is always annoying, but today it’s making me feel as if nails are being jammed into my head.  I must have a migraine.”

Other senses can be attacked in this same way, of course.  Just a couple of months ago I was driving Jim and me home from somewhere—it was still winter, and it was dark out.  He was in the passenger seat and took out his iPhone for a second.  The moment he clicked the button to activate the phone, it felt as if a flash of lightning struck my right eye.  I immediately put my hand alongside my temple, creating a shield between my eye and the bright light of the screen.  “Ow!” I said suddenly, not even speaking aloud on purpose—it was a gut reaction.  “What’s wrong?”  “Your phone light is…ow…so bright.”  He tilted it away from me a little, but even seeing it in the passenger window reflected back at me, it hurt.  He apologized but was a little confused—why did this action, one I usually didn’t complain about, to him suddenly become intolerable to me?

We got home and I soon had to take abortive migraine medication. I realized only then that his bright phone screen, always a little bit of a nuisance when it’s dark out, was turned into a weapon that night because I was in the beginning stages of a migraine.

In this case, I don’t think the light from the phone screen was the trigger for the migraine; rather, my senses were heightened due to a migraine episode that had already started.

In retrospect, this sort of thing has been happening to me for a very long time.  I remember my freshman year of college (before my migraine diagnosis but a full five or six years into my then-regular migraine attacks) when I lived with a girl who loved wearing perfume.  Normally it didn’t bother me, but one day I got home from an evening poetry class right as she was leaving to go out. She’d put on her perfume and we passed each other in the hallway.  When I got to our bedroom, the smell was overpowering. I’m sure she only sprayed it a few times, but the scent was unbearable. What was normally a pleasant, light scent transformed into a cloying, intolerable smell. I tried to bury my face in my pillow, and within a half-hour the headache I was getting made itself known as a full-fledged migraine.

I’ve asked this before and was fascinated by the conversation that ensued, so I’ll ask again: will you tell us a story of a time when you only realized a migraine was on its way because you had a sudden, severe intolerance for a certain sight, smell, taste, or sound?

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