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Sensitivity to light

Migraine Sensitivity to light symptoms — (also known as photophobia)

The majority of migraine sufferers experience the migraine symptom light sensitivity during a migraine attack.

Sensitivity to light can come in different forms:

  • In some, bright lights trigger migraines
  • Others report seeing flashes, flickering lights or glare
  • Many people, have an increase in pain around bright lights

Research on migraine light sensitivity

Research is ongoing to determine why light plays such a large role in migraine pain. Some research suggests that migraine is related to the brain’s inability to control the sensation of glare and light-related pain. This may lead to a cycle of light triggering migraines and then migraines triggering more light sensitivity.

Light sensitivity in blind migraine sufferers

A study published in the February 2010 issue of Nature Neuroscience showed that even blind migraine sufferers experienced a painful aversion to bright light. The study’s authors believe that migraines are related to the part of the brain that identifies light, which is different from the area of the brain that allows us to see. The blind people in the study could identify light, but no other images. Those who couldn’t detect light at all didn’t experience migraine light sensitivity.

Between migraine attacks, migraine sufferers are more likely than others to wear sunglasses in normal daylight and more likely to blink when a camera flash goes off, according to a study published in 2008 in the journal Headache. That same study showed that some sufferers don’t immediately realize that they suffer from light sensitivity. A 2008 study published in the journal Headache found that 26 percent of patients answer “no” when asked if light bothered them during a migraine. However, when those that said “no” were asked if they’d rather dark room, 91 percent said yes, indicating a likely sensitivity to light.

Sensitivity to light is more common in younger migraine sufferers than in older ones.

Age & Percentage who suffer from sensitivity to light

18 to 38 of Agee: 79 percent

60+ of Age: 75 percent


Written by: Otesa Miles | Last review date: November 2010
Brain, Photophobia and autonomic responses to facial pain in migraine, Drummond 1997