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Darkness | Rest

Sensitivity to light (photophobia) is a common migraine trigger. Light also can make migraine attacks worse. Up to 80 percent of people with migraine experience photophobia, which can make light painful. People with migraine are also known to be more sensitive to light between attacks.1

For this reason, many people retreat to a quiet, dark room when a migraine occurs. Resting in a dark room remains one of the most common self-care practices in people with migraine. Many people with migraine also wear sunglasses or tinted glasses to avoid light triggers.

What causes photophobia?

To better understand the condition, scientists compared people with migraine who were legally blind but who could still detect light with people with migraine who were completely blind. They found that light made migraine pain worse in people who could still detect some light.3

Scientists believe light causes or makes migraine worse in two ways. The first theory is that light on cells of the optic nerve somehow triggers the pain of migraine attacks.2 This light could be sunlight, the flickering lights of movies or TV, or the blue light of electronic devices.1,3

In the second, cells in the retina called melanopsin photoreceptors get turned out when exposed to light. These cells trigger an area of the brain that is active during a migraine. Even after the light has been removed, this area of the brain can remain active. Scientists believe this helps explain why many people with migraine say it can take 20-30 minutes of being in a dark room before the pain gets better.4

Green light helps, blue light hurts

Several studies have shown that different colors of light can make migraine pain better or worse. Different wavelengths of light create different colors of light, and blue light seems to cause the most discomfort. Green light can reduce photophobia and headache pain.3

One study found that rose-tinted FL-41 lenses cut the frequency of migraines in half of children with migraine. FL-41 lenses filter 80 percent of flicker from fluorescent lights, which may help some people.1 Other people find that blue-blocking lenses improve light sensitivity.4

Other non-drug treatments for migraine

Read more about other non-drug treatments for migraine, such as:

As always, the best source for advice on treating migraine is your own migraine specialist. These natural remedies are provided only for informational purposes. You should always check with your doctor before trying any new treatment, drug or supplement.

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last review date: November 2019
  1. Digre KB, Brennan KC. Shedding light on photophobia. J Neuroophthalmol. 2012;32(1):68–81. doi:10.1097/WNO.0b013e3182474548.
  2. Why light worsens migraine headaches. Science Daily. Available at https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100110151323.htm. Accessed 11/4/19.
  3. Harvard Medical School. Green Light for Migraine Relief. Available at https://hms.harvard.edu/news/green-light-migraine-relief. Accessed 11/4/19.
  4. Digre KB. Photophobia – What is it? Can it be treated? American Migraine Foundation. Available at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/understanding-migraine/photophobia-what-is-it-can-it-be-treated/. Accessed 5/23/18.