A Survey Sheds Light on a Common Migraine Symptom
When it comes to migraine symptoms, depending on someone’s experience, many things can come to mind, such as flashing lights of aura, nausea and vomiting, and debilitating head pain. But for many, light sensitivity is one of the most disrupting symptoms because it keeps people confined to environments they can control.
Last fall, TheraSpecs Company, a producer of tinted glasses designed to filter out the light which can worsen light sensitivity or trigger an attack, released a report on the subject, called "The Impact of Light Sensitivity." I was able to have a conversation with Gregory Bullock, the Marketing Manager at TheraSpecs and the designer of the survey.
The impact of light sensitivity
Though the impact of migraine is often studied, TheraSpecs wanted to look at the impact of light sensitivity specifically. The company surveyed 385 people with multiple conditions including migraine, fibromyalgia, post-concussion syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and eye-related disorders. Light-sensitivity, in terms of the survey, refers to when people have a lower threshold to light. It can include “the triggering aspect of light where exposure … to any type of lighting … trigger symptoms of a condition,” explains Bullock, as well as photophobia, which includes the painful aspect of light sensitivity in migraine and other chronic conditions. This is different from temporary light-sensitivity that anyone can experience, for example—when you leave a dark room and go outside on a sunny day. The impacts found were large. Almost half of respondents had experienced light sensitivity for over ten years, and 81% cited light sensitivity as a trigger for pain or other symptoms of their condition.
Feeling less alone
One intention of the report was to help those with light sensitivity and photophobia feel less alone. For example, the 84% of respondents said they avoid going into stores and public places. The activities that those with light sensitivity miss out on are often things that others take for granted: “We’re not talking about [people with light sensitivity] wanting to go hike Mount Everest … these are daily activities that they are missing out on … because of their sensitivity to light.”
Spreading knowledge and awareness
The report was also meant to spread awareness, with the hope that readers would be able to make a connection between light and their symptoms if they hadn’t beforehand. Though many in the migraine community have had attacks for years and have acquired a fluency in how light affects their condition, for others it may not be so clear-cut. For example, Bullock points out that those with post-concussion syndrome or traumatic brain injury may not connect the dots right away since often the injury—and symptoms—are new.
The hope is that the survey results, and a greater understanding of light sensitivity in general, can go beyond the individual in spreading awareness. One example that Bullock brings up is “getting [workplaces] to think about how light can actually affect people in the office.” He also mentions that some people are already catching on; for example, technology has started to embrace features that make devices more accessible: “A lot of smart phone manufacturers are building in blue light filters.”
A better future lies in better understanding
How does TheraSpecs Company hope to be a part of the advancements in technology for light sensitivity in the future? They hope to help further understand it. “We want to get to that point where [light sensitivity] is a regular thing that people really think about. I think it’s starting to get there. With our survey, hopefully, that’s a spark for people to really understand that. We’ve certainly shared it with a lot of people who have different roles and perspectives, and I think that it’s hopefully changing minds.”
Many of the findings were made into an infographic, that can be found on theraspecs.com.
You can read the full report here.
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?