Flashing My Brights

Flashing My Brights

“Oh, sorry! I thought your brights were on!”

“Oh my gosh. I’m not a jerk—I just thought you hadn’t turned off your brights!”

“Sorrrrryy!”

These are a few things you might hear me say if you ever are in the car with me after dark, particularly if I’m on a mostly-empty Georgia highway and have just flashed my brights at other drivers.

Former night owl

When I was younger, I enjoyed night driving. My internal clock was set to night owl mode, so I could accomplish even longish drives past midnight without getting tired. As a kid, I fondly remember feeling so safe and cocooned in the backseat of the car, my dad driving us back from a family trip as the streetlights blinked, blinked, blinked outside the passenger window.

Nowadays, I don’t love long solo car trips as I once did, and even an hour or so after dark isn’t the pleasant escape it used to be. The main reason for my desire to get off the road once night falls is because of the dang headlights on other cars.

Bright lights

On a huge interstate, one’s eyes are somewhat protected by the bright lights of cars traveling the opposite direction: there’s a huge median, if not a concrete wall, between lines of traffic moving in different directions. In a more densely populated area where restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses have well-lit parking lots and signs up near the road, there’s a median level of ambient light that makes your fellow drivers’ lights not seem so offensive.

For me, the problem is with night driving on two- or four-lane state highways, where a double-yellow line divides the roadway and there are few, if any, street lights to speak of. In fall and early spring, I often find myself making the one-hour drive from a small town (where I provide books for author events) and my bookshop in Athens. I drive to these events in mid-afternoon, the sun illuminating the lovely farms and homes that dot the Georgia highways. The sun tends to be above my car, so I don’t have to deal with its rapid flashing from behind trees in my side window. The way home is a different story, though. From September until April or so, I usually leave the events right after dark. Until I reach the outskirts of Athens, I don’t encounter many other cars. There aren’t overhead street lamps, so my field of vision is restricted to what my own headlights illuminate. The darkness that surrounds me feels complete. That is, until I see the telltale sign that an oncoming car is about to reach the crest of an upcoming hill: beams of dusty light show up way ahead of me.

Sensitivity while driving at night

Here’s where I become the annoying fellow driver on the road: 99% of the time, I am pretty sure the car approaching me has its brights on. About 50% of those instances, I flash my brights to remind the person to turn off his high beams until he’s solo again. The vast contrast between the darkness that had enveloped me and this sudden, jarring brightness is too much for my brain to compute. Once in awhile, someone will flash their brights back at me, quickly showing me that her brights weren’t on, actually, and I was the one who just put unnecessarily bright visual stimulation right in her face. Oops.

I get nervous because this bright visual stimulation is one of my most frustratingmigraine triggers, and I often worry that driving at night on dark roads will end up putting me in migraine mode.

As my brain and eyes age, it’s not only sudden assault of car lights emerging from the dark night that bothers me. I’ve also found that it takes me a beat or two longer to adjust to the dark once I turn out the lights; it also takes me a few seconds longer to get used to the bright outdoors if I’ve been inside for awhile. And, after years of reading with very low light (despite my mom and grandma telling me to turn on a lamp already), I now find that I need brighter light in order to read comfortably.

Does anyone else here have trouble driving at night? Do you have other issues or problems related to your eyes? What vision-related migraine triggers have you discovered, and how has your vision changed as you’ve aged?

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.

Comments

View Comments (29)
  • B-visible
    3 months ago

    I also have trouble even as a passenger in a car at night. I am recently experiencing issues where even lights being turned on in the house during the day cause pounding ramifications for my migraine, so some days I go without any light. Sometimes my eyes can adjust to lights being turned on as long as my eyes are closed and I slowly open them. Any abrupt, unexpected, or sudden change in amount of light causes issues for me.

  • Matthew72
    4 months ago

    I find headlights way to bright often too. The best way to deal with it on country roads is to follow the bends by looking at the edge of road on your side as the other car passes. You can use your peripheral vision to see the other vehicle without looking directly into the headlights.

  • litoria76
    12 months ago

    I get blurred/double vision/halos from headlights, tail lights, and brake lights. My neurologist has told me i should not drive but my vision is 20/20. I wind up driving wearing dark sunglasses to cut the glare.

  • katdan1026
    12 months ago

    I no longer drive after dark if I can because of this. On coming headlights absolutely blind me if I’m anything other than a city street. It’s very limiting.

  • choklityum
    1 year ago

    My problem with driving at night Is actually due to a type of cataract that affects only 5-10% of people who were/are severely myopic and/or had Lasik. I’m 2 for 2. Headlight glare and bright sunlight are my kryptonite. At night, I drive with both headlights and fog lights; it drives my husband nuts, but I need the additional light of the fog lights to help me see lane markings. People flash their lights at me. Driving at night in rain, fog, and snow can be nerve wracking. I’m hoping this year is the year for surgery. Headlights aren’t a trigger, but blinking office lights are a whole different story. If bad enough, I have to ask to work in a different location until fixed.

  • DawnW3296
    1 year ago

    Ahh yes. Since developing migraines & a balance/dizziness disorder just 4 years ago, I’ve stopped flying and now drive from WI to FL & back a few times a year to visit family. While I love driving, I have issues with the sun filtering through the trees creating a ‘flashing’ effect during the day, and the same nighttime issues you describe. I’ve found that yellow nighttime driving ‘sunglasses’ have helped with the headlights coming at me enough to get me through an extra hour or two of the nighttime driving. It doesn’t dim them any, but it gives the white light a yellow hue, which is easier on my eyes. I haven’t found any solution to the sun through the trees issue I have such trouble with. I wear Rx sunglasses and another pair over that, but then I can’t read much on my dash. Flashing lights like school busses, tow trucks, construction vehicles, and police/fire/ems are sometimes even worse than the headlights, though. The yellow lenses don’t do much to help with those.

  • anovla
    1 year ago

    I can’t stand driving at night!! Not only is it the headlights but the streetlights and reflectors too. I’ve become photophobic 24/7 in the last 6 months-a year. It sucks. I can’t even bring my kids to the fair without leaving 3 rides in looking like a hammered soccer mom (vertigo-everything is spinning, confused, lightheaded, seeing double, & puking)..yea quite a sight. I’ve been looking into these special sunglasses for migraines and light sensitivity. There are some that have lens that look pinkish red but they’re expensive. I always try to have my husband drive after dark and I carry an eye mask in the diaper bag and in my purse for the ride. Comes in handy.

  • Ellifane
    1 year ago

    With my migraines, I’m photophobic but I think I’ve just become that way now. I can’t drive on a sunny day without my polarized sunglasses. I’ve had a hard time at church because when they worship, the room is dark and they have all these lights…and then…I’m triggered. I’ve tried to do a concert a year and the same thing happens. I used to do 12 hr + road trips over night and I’m with you at 39 years. The contrast between the dark and the lights are just too much anymore, and I’ve flashed a few people too. I guess I can’t take bright lights period.

  • Carolelaine
    1 year ago

    Between my migraines, the cataracts that are not ready to be removed and the fact that I drive a sports car that sits low to the ground, driving at night is miserable. I have found myself limiting the distance I have to travel at night, especially in the winter when it gets dark so much earlier. I feel so much older than I am.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    That sounds so rough. I didn’t even think about cars that sit lower to the ground–this problem is definitely worse for me when I’m borrowing my mom’s car instead of driving my own, which sits higher. I know what you mean about feeling older than you are–you have company in me!

    -Janet

  • 9731mb
    1 year ago

    I have the same trouble with driving at night. The oncoming cars and the car or truck behind me – driving too close and filling my rearview and driver’s side mirrors with bright light – all make driving after dark distressing. If I have to drive too long in the dark it will trigger a migraine. Unfortunately, my car is part of the problem. I got a new Toyota a few years ago and it has those super bright lights. On the back roads people often flash their head beams at me (ouch) thinking that I have mine on.
    I have glare reduction on my prescription eye glasses and this helps a bit, but not enough. Have found driving at night a painful experience for the past 20 years and it gets worse as the years go by. I might try getting some rose-tinted clip on lenses.
    My other light issue is with those Christmas tree lights that came out about 10 years ago. I first noticed the bluish-purple ones. I call them “migraine lights”. They have a blurry, intense lights that hurts my head almost immediately. Migraine lights and scented candles during the holiday season make me want to hide or stick my head in a snow bank.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    I don’t have anything clever to say in response, but I wanted to thank you for your comment and let you know that I can identify with everything you wrote!

    -Janet

  • kim716
    1 year ago

    I was just thinking this same thing last night! I was on my way home and it felt like every 2nd or 3rd car I passed had its brights on. I resisted flashing my lights, but I had to look to the side which is totally dangerous. But that’s how I deal if seems too bright. I keep my eyes on the white line on my side of the road. Again, totally dangerous, but it’s the only way I can cope.

  • Amanda Workman moderator
    1 year ago

    I actually have the same issue as well. I also live in are with many petro plants and they use flashing red livhts to help the 18 wheeler truck drivers see through fog but it’s horrible for people like us at night! I’m sure TheraSpecs may fuss at my for admitting to this but I will wear their inside glasses while driving at night and it helps me so much to deal with the car headlight and the other random lights that we come across on the road, at least for me. You’re definitely not alone with this particular challenge. I really wish doctors could come up with something for light sensitivity. Sending you lots of love and strength
    Amanda Workman (moderator and contributor)

  • tucker
    1 year ago

    HA! I do the same thing! I was feeling like an old fogey! It’s those ridiculous led lights. LOl, like the others said, as we get older, we NEED brighter lights to see the lines in the road 20 feet in front of us but that doesn’t mean we want anyone else coming our way! (in my defense, I have the factory lights on my 2008 mid-line van- I just am prone to using my brights)

    Company signs do the same thing to me. There is a CRAZY bright white store sign that I have been fighting with the company over for years. It is huge and draws your eye to it then blinds you with this huge white rectangle. It’s been there for 5-10 years or whenever those darn LED signs came out and I’ve been complaining ever since. Now that daylight savings time ends tomorrow it will be daily migraine from being on the computer all day at work tipped over the edge to, sorry, I can’t cook dinner b/c I saw that coming to heaven Cobb sign on the way home. The worst part is, as I was driving by there last night, it said they had moved! GRRR. take it down. I was doing research and the LED street lights, headlights, and signs are really bad for us on so many levels and none of them even mentioned migraines!

    So headlights, store signs, flashing store signs!, they are all migraine inducing and only worse from November-March. Anybody who works past 4pm is stuck in the dark so I wish the government would wake up and listen. But that’s a dead horse. I can’t even get one company to take it’s sign down even after it’s moved!

    Speaking of “long arms”, I get migraines every day at work. I thought it was something in the air, an allergy, stress from the boss, etc. I work at 2 locations and it was only happening at one of them. I’ve needed reading glasses (and bright lights) for about 3-4 years now. My old eye doctor gave me a prescription for progressive glasses but I couldn’t figure them out then they were in a purse that was stolen 2 weeks after I got them. That eye doctor wasn’t cooperative about replacing so I took the loss. I went to a new eye doctor last Dec and he gave me a new RX but said it was so small just use reading glasses. But on the computer, they didn’t work. I found a pair of “progressive” glasses at Target for $35 (score!) and I can see the computer better. Still getting migraines. Fortunately I don’t work every day. I’m not sure if it’s the Target glasses, the computer, or environment. At the other location I work on a computer but I use reading glasses (I don’t need them as much). I’m not on the computer all day, but a big chunk of it. I’ve considered changing jobs but that might mean full time and/or FT computer work. Maybe it’s time for a new occupation :):) Anyone need a friendly dysfunctional, migraine-prone, animal loving, loves to sew (but not really cook), good with kids (esp sleeping ones) loves to be outside if it’s warm and sunny (great for naps in the hammock), highly educated, mom whose kids are heading to college next year and really needs to keep the same income she has now?

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    Tucker, you managed to make me laugh so many times in your thoughtful response–this despite the clear frustration you convey! I can identify with so much of what you said and appreciate your taking the time to respond here.

    TheraSpecs definitely help me when driving at night or using the computer, but I admit to not using them consistently enough.

    I hope you are able to find some more tools that help soon. Until then, know that you have contacts in the migraine world who are suffering through the end of daylight saving time with you. 🙂

    Take care,
    Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • debdeal
    1 year ago

    I relate to each and every story. I won’t go anywhere in the fall and winter if it’s afternoon. Because it get dark so early. And even the old headlights kill me now. All headlights blind me awful. And then I am hurting so bad I puke. I am so sick of feeling trapped. I am in a constant state of depression that I don’t know how to move away from. I wake every day of my life already having a migraine. And now it’s becoming harder to get the meds I take. I don’t care any more if I am an addict. I just don’t care. I have to have something to stop this pain. Im stuck at home day in and day out. Except for the days I get to go see a doctor about something. I truly don’t know how much longer I can do this. I never dreamed as a kid I would become such a depressed recluse. I was always on the move and first one at the party. Those days are gone. And I’m not old yet.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    Debdeal,

    I hear you and I understand everything you’re saying.

    I am really concerned about your well-being, mentally and physically. I strongly encourage you to seek the help of a therapist or counselor, preferably one who has other clients who deal with chronic pain. Trusted friends, colleagues, or medical doctors may be able to help you find someone. This may help: https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Living-with-a-Mental-Health-Condition/Finding-a-Mental-Health-Professional

    I know that going to therapy 1-3 times a month has helped me immensely. Also: one of my prescription meds for migraine, noritriptyline, is an antidepressant as well, and that has helped my mood and my migraine.

    There is hope out there. I know it seems unlikely, but I’m here to tell you things can get better.

    Take care; I hope you start feeling much better mentally and physically. I’m thinking about you.

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • MidrinMan
    1 year ago

    Getting old sucks doesn’t it? I have some old blu blocker clip ons that I have used on occasion. They help. (the yellow ones)

    The headlights are getting brighter. Obnoxiously brighter. If you have an older rig like mine, you can go to the auto parts store and choose three levels of headlight brightness.

    1. Good old days factory standard.

    2. I’m a little older and need a little brighter…… bright. And a man step for my tailgate.

    3. Screw you. I’m a camo queen/king yuppy baller wannabe and I’m going to radiate everything in my path …………bright. (Camo optional) With these headlights I can see Russia from my dashboard. Of course these headlights burn out every 3 months because they burn so dang hot and pull massive wattage. MMMerika.

    I’m still waiting for the MRI results showing me the holes in my brain from the last hyper caffeinated soccer mom who shot her death rays at me the other night.

    Has my vision changed? No. My arms have gotten longer as I hold the book up to read it.

    Out of everything I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a lot over the decades) two things stand out. Midrin, and yoga. I felt really goofy going into yoga class at first but after enduring those torture sessions the benefits started kicking in. Among them, muscle tension release, and a sense of calm and well being, not to mention strength and stamina in all of my body.

    Swimming helped immensely as well. Slow, take your time, start out with a few laps and work towards a modest goal. Loved it. Focusing on body position and breathing got me out of my head and my routine. It centered me. I didn’t realize I was such a mess. I still am, but less so.

    Life is nuts in this day and age.

  • tucker
    1 year ago

    I love it ! You are so funny. Humor is what keeps us going too.

    I’m *trying* to get back into exercise (of any kind really). I love yoga and have tapes at home. It’s the “doing” that’s the hard part! Walking the dog, dancing around the living room with her, challenging the kids to a few push-ups, whatever.

    My neighbor invited me to her river house and we rode bikes and kayaked. I have kayaked many times and have tried to get my husband to buy kayaks but he’s not interested. I did buy myself a bike when I got home. A new comfort bike. Built just for me (not the guys bike I bought when I was 25). Granted, I can only ride this one for about 30 minutes and my shoulders lock up. But it’s so nice to have that breeze blowing in your face.

    Maybe if my new job venture doesn’t work out I’ll join the gym and start swimming again. I used to swim (I was a lifeguard and loved swimming growing up and when I was pregnant). It IS very relaxing and methodical. Kind of like yoga or ballet. You don’t have to be perfect, just be yourself.

    There are also a few other things I want to do in the next couple years that are just for me- comedy class, photography class, tap lessons, set up the spare bedroom as my craft room. We all have to find our stress relief and go for it.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks for the funny, candid, and helpful conversation, Tucker & MidrinMan!
    I appreciate your taking the time to write here.

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Emae
    1 year ago

    During the day I can wear sunglasses which keep me from a migraine and let me see. However, during the night sometimes I do not see things, and it really scares me. When I know the road I basically drive from my memory because if not I feel like I cannot see. Lights during the night blind me, and when I am reading I need brighter lights if not I feel uncomfortable.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    Emae,

    That does indeed sound pretty dangerous, as memory won’t help you know if there’s an unexpected item or animal in the road. I encourage you to talk to an ophthalmologist and/or migraine specialist about your vision and do everything you can not to drive at night.

    I’ve found that TheraSpecs help me drive with less light sensitivity at night.

    Thanks for commenting, and please be safe. I know it’s hard.

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Lauren
    1 year ago

    I’ve always enjoyed driving at night up until a few years ago. The headlights are just too much, as are the street lights etc. I wear my TheraSpecs, but often feel like they are just making things appear darker- making me feel less confident as I drive. So I have my boyfriend drive instead usually. Which just brings up the next problem— driving when I really shouldn’t. How many of us do this out of necessity? I mean, he has a job too, he can’t always drive me places… So I drive, often on “auto-pilot”.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    Lauren,

    I identify with so much of what you said. My husband doesn’t like driving at night for various reasons, so it can be frustrating deciding who has to drive any particular evening we’re out after dark. Thankfully, I am able to get rides from friends and have routes to and from work that are really well-lit by street lamps so that my brain doesn’t go haywire between the dark night and the bright lights.

    Stay safe out there; I know it’s tough.

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Tamara
    1 year ago

    Use too love night driving and now I’m not able to do it at all, which really sucks in the winter when it gets dark at 5pm. I can’t see anything because the street lights are too bright, I started missing people walking, running over curbs etc,

    Any lights at night have huge streaks and halos around them now. And that glare from other cars passing you in sunlight is killer. I have prescription glasses with prism so I cant get the sunglasses that wrapped around the side so the corner of eyes get no protection from the flashes. Photo flashes are a nightmare too unfortunately (my whole family is into photography so there is always 3-4 cameras going). 🙁

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    Oh, Tamara, that sounds tough. And now daylight saving time is over, which means it’s dark so early all of a sudden.

    I hope you’re able to stick to daylight driving whenever possible.

    As far as the flashing cameras go: I finally said something the last time that was happening around me, and several other people were like, “Yeah, actually…me, too. I hate the flash.” And the photographers just started taking photos with natural light. Miracle!

    Take care; I hope you’re feeling good today.

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Douglas
    1 year ago

    You hit home with this. I also used to enjoy driving at night, preferring it even. Now, if I remove my TheraSpecs while in the car at night you can watch my face melt and listen to my speech start to slur as the migraine starts. Put the glasses back on and the relief is immediate. I refer to it as my “stupid human trick”.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    Oh, goodness, Douglas. That sounds so frightening and–at least to a fellow migraine patient–darkly funny. I hope you just keep those glasses on your face. :-/

    I hope you’re feeling as well as possible today. Thanks for the comment!

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

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