Seeking Quiet

Seeking quiet for the treatment of migraine headaches: an introduction

Sounds, and loud noises in particular, can trigger migraines in some migraine sufferers.

Sensitivity to sound, or phonophobia, is a migraine symptom for many people with migraines, leading them to find a quiet place to avoid sounds when an attack occurs. People who suffer from migraines are more likely to avoid noise than those individuals who have other types of headaches.

Some people find that sensitivity to sound remains even after the migraine attack is over, while others complain that noises seem louder.

Research on migraine and sound sensitivity

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), one research study has identified areas of the brain that have increased activity in people with migraine. The heightened connectivity within primary sensory cortices, the pons and the anterior insula (AI), is correlated to the increased sensitivity migraineurs have to sound and light.1,2

While the study was small, the results are intriguing and offer a possible explanation for why different stimuli are painful to people with migraine. The areas of the brain responsible for processing light and sound in people with migraine had greater connectivity than in people without migraine. The fMRI scans were taken during times between migraine attacks (3 days before or after), showing that this heightened connectivity isn’t just related to a migraine attack. This could explain why some migraineurs feel sensitive to sound in general, not just during an attack.1,2

Getting relief during a migraine attack

If you have sensitivity to sound, it can be soothing to try the following during a migraine attack:

  • Find a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed
  • Try noise-cancelling headphones
  • Use a white-noise machine or app to help block out other noises

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last review date: June 2018
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