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What Should You Know About Tinted Lenses for Migraine?

Last updated: March 2024

Sensitivity to light is one of the most commonly reported migraine symptoms.1

People with migraine may feel sensitive to light even when they have no other migraine symptoms. Normal light levels may feel too bright, or light may feel painful. Even moving between brighter and lower levels of light may hurt or be uncomfortable.1

Scientists have recently made advances in understanding how light affects people with migraine.1

What is photophobia?

An extreme discomfort to light is called photophobia. It is a common symptom of migraine.1

Tinted lenses for migraine have helped some people manage their photophobia. To understand why, it may help to explore what happens in the body when someone has migraine and is light sensitive.

How does light physically affect someone with migraine?

Special cells in the eye called retinal ganglion cells help carry light signals to the brain. These signals go to neurons, or messenger cells, in the thalamus. This is a part of the brain that is involved in sensory and pain perception.2

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Neurons in the thalamus are “turned on” by migraine. They also convey messages about light and headache to other areas of the brain. Overstimulation of these pathways due to underlying migraine activity may make people feel more sensitive to light.2

What is the link between photophobia and migraine?

Many people with migraine report that light triggers their symptoms. But evidence shows a more complex process. It is likely that people with migraine experience pain or discomfort to light once migraine activity has already begun. In this sense, light worsens their pain or other symptoms.2

When someone is having a migraine attack, certain nerve pathways are excited. These include the trigeminal nerve, which has branches to the eyes, cheeks, and lower jaw. It is possible that when this nerve is overactive due to migraine, it fuels a greater sensitivity to light in some people. This may worsen feelings of pain or discomfort due to light.3

But even when light does not worsen headache, some people with migraine still avoid it. This may be explained by studies showing that colored light can trigger negative effects in people with migraine.2

Some people with migraine who were exposed to blue, green, amber, and red light in a study reported negative reactions. These included crying, and feeling angry, nervous, hopeless, sad, and agitated. They reported these feelings even when they were not experiencing migraine.2

This points to the idea that people with migraine may be sensitive to light in ways that people without migraine are not. This sensitivity includes not just the brightness of light, but also light colors.2

Which may lead you to ask: What color lenses should someone use with migraine?

Are rose-tinted glasses best for migraine?

As early as the 1990s, studies showed that rose-tinted lenses helped reduce photophobia symptoms in people with migraine. Rose-tinted lenses block blue light. Blue light is transmitted in comparatively shorter wavelengths than other colors. And studies show that shorter wavelengths are more bothersome for people with photophobia.4

Blue light is also theorized to spark light signals in retinal ganglion cells. Blocking blue light may help to “turn down” signaling in these cells. This would reduce activation of thalamus neuron signaling.4

What is right for you?

If you or your loved one have migraine and are sensitive to light, ask your doctor about trying rose-tinted or blue light-blocking lenses. It may help to keep a journal to record how you feel on days when you wear tinted lenses compared to days when you do not.

Have you tried rose-tinted lenses? Please share your story in the comments so others in our community can learn from your experiences.

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.

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