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Photophobia: Dealing with Painful Light Sensitivity

Photophobia is a symptom many individuals deal with as part of their migraine. Personally my own photophobia is pretty bad. There are a number of ways people with chronic migraine can deal with photophobia. Although those of us with chronic migraine are not the only ones who are faced with the challenge of photophobia; there are other conditions as well that cause photophobia. Some people use dark sunglasses, or the sunglasses specifically made for light sensitivity such as TheraSpecs. Many people create some version of a migraine cave to avoid light altogether during a migraine. A lot of individuals also use hats with wide brims in combination with sunglasses to help reflect as much light as possible. Each person suffering from this affliction will find their own creative way to block out or deal with the light.

Migraine cave

I have mentioned in a previous article The Migraine Cave that my husband bought insulation panels that he cut to fit inside the window frames to block out light for almost the entire house! It was amazing and helped tremendously. However, this was not his first attempt at trying to make our home more light sensitive friendly for me. It was quite some time before he discovered the insulation panels he used for all of our windows. His first attempt was creating a cave of my own in our bedroom. In his first attempt, my husband made his own version of blackout curtains for our bedroom. He used a thick solid black material on the outside, a white piece of thermal material facing outside the window along with one of those foil emergency blankets you can buy for camping or in the outdoors department of most stores. The foil blanket on the inside of the other two layers of material served two purposes; it would guarantee that absolutely zero light comes through the window and provided the extra bonus of blocking out the majority of the thermal heat generated by direct sunlight or the temperature outside. It was much later when it became necessary to consider extending my cave beyond the bedroom, so that it would not feel so much like a prison cell being trapped in one room and I could maintain our household while he was abroad.

Sunglasses… wins and the fails

I have tried a ton of different sunglasses over the years to try and cope with my own light sensitivity. I have tried mid tint and dark tint sunglasses along with many variations of tint with polarized lenses. For the longest time I used the outdoor TheraSpecs inside while I was at work. As wonderful as these glasses are I do understand that for some individual’s the price becomes a factor in being able to obtain them or similar competitor brands that have sprung up since the release of TheraSpecs. My husband found a website for safety glasses and picked me up a pair of shade 5 torch cutting glasses that were inexpensive and for the general purpose of walking around outside or doing things within the house they were fantastic. I could walk outside midday with no cloud cover and not even have to squint my eyes. While that sounds like a win, we quickly discovered a major flaw with using a cutting lens style glasses for sunglasses. Cutting lenses are green in color. What that means is that it cancels out some colors, such as red, which becomes a safety issue when driving. While I was able to see traffic and read speed limit signs just fine. On the other hand the lenses cancelled out the coloring of letters on the Amber alert signs posted all over most major highways. The sign could be covered with text but through the glasses the sign was blank. The other more dangerous thing the lenses cancelled out was red light; meaning not only traffic lights but also automotive brake lights as well. That being the case, as much as I enjoyed how dark the glasses were, I absolutely do not suggest using them in a vehicle unless you are a passenger and not the driver.

A side note on light sensitivity

If your photophobia is not only associated with a migraine, talk to your eye doctor about it. There are other medical conditions as well as side effects from medications that can cause photophobia. If you are unsure about it being related solely to your migraine or not, it does not hurt to ask your doctors about it to be sure nothing else is going on.

Have you ever tried any remedies for your photophobia if you suffer from it too? Have you found anything different that has helped you?

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.


  • Marie1359
    1 year ago

    Thank you for an informative post! I’ve been prone to migraines since I was a teen but now that I have Lyme photophobia is a problem. The biggest trigger is with flickering light. Being in a car in daylight is a huge problem, no blindfold blocks it out completely. Pain killers have become ineffective for migraines, even oxycodone. Anybody heard of pain meds losing their effect and is their an alternative treatment? You mentioned shade 5 torch cutting glasses, do they help with flashing lights?

  • Mrs.Doyle
    3 years ago

    LED lights are my nemesis! More and more they are the only lights in public places. Sunglasses may cut the brightness but can’t eliminate the ultra high speed flicker. If I’m someplace that also has windows or skylights I try to stay close to the natural light as a buffer. At home we use “Rough Use” incandescent bulbs. They are still legal and made for places LED wouldn’t hold up and CFL breakage would be dangerous, like in mills, large machinery, etc. They are easy to find on Amazon. My best solution came when we needed a new TV and couldn’t find one that was not LED. I have an IT genius husband and he pointed out we just need to go into settings on the TV and turn off the “backlight” I was able to make other adjustments I never thought of, like customizing the sound through the equalizer. Higher pitched sounds pester me so we turned those down a couple notches, turned the bass up a couple and so much easier to enjoy a show now (the higher the number the higher pitched the sound)

    iPad, iPhone, cellphones, tablets use LED because it is light weight, bright, cheap, etc. unfortunately there isn’t a backlight to turn off on these, so limiting my time, adjusting brightness, color (look under settings>accessibility > display accomidations on iPhone/Pad) You can also get screen protectors but they are hit or miss and fussy to apply.

  • Amanda Workman moderator author
    3 years ago

    So many helpful tips!!!! Thank you so much for reading my article and taking the time to comment with the things you and your husband have found to help you! I didn’t know that was possible with the tv! It would be great for my household because my husband is hard of hearing on deeper gone but not the higher tones. So we could lower those and then when he has the tv volume up I wouldn’t want to smack him! Lol.
    Amanda Workman (moderator & contributor)

  • Tamara
    3 years ago

    I’m not super bad unless it’s a long flare so I am super lucky. My problem is trying to find sunglasses that I can wear that stop glare from the sides. Driving in sun is killer because of the flashes you get in the corner of your eye from cars passing you. Photo flashes also kill me and is hard to deal with since we are a big picture family.

    I also have an EXTREMELY narrow face so none of the adult glasses fit me, I need high level prescription with prism and have astigmatism that makes everything more complicated and expensive. And of course no benefits.

    I love my black out curtains and glad your husband was willing to darken the whole house for you. Hopefully one day (soon!!) everyone’s migraines will magically disappear ….

  • trigeminalgal
    2 years ago

    I buy what my one nephew calls old lady glasses at the drug store. The brand I usually get is fitover and they go on right over my prescription eye glasses and have side panels. My other nephew who has Lyme induced headaches wears them without glasses underneath because they block so much glare. They come in different colors and different levels of tint.

  • Amanda Workman moderator author
    3 years ago

    I’m lucky I don’t have to deal with prescription glasses but my friend lisa does need prescription and she uses TheraSpecs (they will put your script in the glasses for you). There is a great brand of fishing glasses (yes fishing) that are polarized so you can see the fish and have a removable foam attachment to the lenses so that no light or dust gets through them; that brand is Wiley-X.

    I honestly have a harder time driving at night because of the headlights and traffic lights etc. they kill me in a hurry. It’s interesting that the day time is worse for you!

    I did not have luck with black out curtains, maybe a bad brand or two though! Thank you so much for reading my article and taking the time to comment!

    Amanda Workman (contributor & moderator)

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