Light sensitivity, also called photophobia, is a common migraine symptom. Fortunately, those who understand photophobia can quickly identify this issue and address it before it gets out of hand.
What Is Photophobia?
Photophobia refers to severe, abnormal light sensitivity. It is not a disease; instead, photophobia typically occurs due to an eye infection or irritation. Or, photophobia is an underlying symptom of migraines or other illnesses.
Light is one of many migraine triggers, and research indicates that photophobia has been reported in all forms of migraines, along with many neuro-ophthalmic disorders. This research also shows that up to 80% of migraine patients experience photophobia during a migraine attack, and up to 60% of migraine attacks are triggered by light or glare. Furthermore, unilateral photophobia has been linked to cluster headaches, severe headaches that affect one side of the head.
On the other hand, people who do not experience migraines may cope with photophobia due to other medical conditions. Photophobia is sometimes associated with blepharospasm, a medical condition that causes involuntary spasms involving the eyelid muscles, and it has also been linked to dry eyes. People who have a light eye color may be more prone than others to photophobia, too.
In addition to being a common migraine symptom, photophobia is sometimes used as part of a migraine diagnosis. Yet not all people who cope with photophobia experience migraines, and photophobia may affect people at different frequencies. In certain instances, people experience photophobia every day. Comparatively, in some cases, people experience migraines without photophobia.
Among those who deal with migraines and photophobia, there is a correlation between the brightness of light and the amount of discomfort that a person experiences during a migraine attack, according to the American Migraine Foundation (AMF). Also, the wavelength of light (color) may play a role in photophobia and migraine pain. The amount of time a person spends in light may impact his or her migraine light sensitivity as well.
What Causes Photophobia?
The exact cause of light sensitivity in the brain is unknown, AMF notes. Yet recent research provides insights into different areas of the brain that may be responsible for photophobia relative to migraines.
The retina allows light to travel to the brain via visual pathways, and it helps form vision. At the same time, the melanopsin system senses light. This system may also cause brightness, and since it is linked to the brain’s trigeminal system, may contribute to photophobia and migraine pain.
Neurological conditions such as pituitary tumors and meningitis have been linked to photophobia, too. Thyrotropin (TSH) secreting adenomas, pituitary tumors that secrete TSH and cause excess production of thyroid hormones that may lead to hyperthyroidism, can cause photophobia and other vision problems. Meanwhile, some research has connected meningitis to photophobia, as well as revealed that meningitis may also be a symptom of photophobia.
How Is Photophobia Diagnosed and Treated?
Initially, a doctor examines factors that may contribute to photophobia. Since photophobia often occurs due to migraines, blepharospasm or dry eyes, a doctor may perform different assessments to determine if an individual is coping with any of these issues. Depending on a patient’s symptoms, additional tests may be required to provide an accurate photophobia diagnosis as well.
If a doctor determines that a patient is dealing with photophobia, various treatment options are available. In some cases, a doctor requests a patient wear tinted lenses; these lenses can be worn both indoors and outdoors and may help treat light sensitivity. For example, a study was used to assess the impact of colored sunglasses to relieve the visual symptoms of photophobia. Among photophobia patients who experienced visual symptoms, 85% reported a reduction in symptoms after they wore colored sunglasses of one or more colors. Although additional research is required, this study suggests that the use of colored sunglasses and other forms of light-mitigation therapy may help treat the visual symptoms of photophobia.
For patients who are coping with migraines, blepharospasm or dry eyes that leads to photophobia, treatment options vary. Migraine treatment generally involves the use of medications, and if a patient is dealing with chronic migraines, he or she may require Botox or surgery to address photophobia and other migraine symptoms. Blepharospasm is often treated using Botox or other injectables, oral medicines or surgery. For those coping with dry eyes, eyedrops or drugs to reduce eyelid inflammation may be necessary.
What Is the Best Way to Treat Migraine Light Sensitivity?
Photophobia is problematic for many migraine patients, and the best way to alleviate migraine light sensitivity is proper migraine diagnosis and treatment. Once a patient meets with a doctor, he or she can explore medication and other migraine treatment options. Then, a patient and his or her doctor can develop and implement an action plan to address photophobia and other migraine symptoms.
Migraine treatment may require trial and error, and a patient may need to try multiple medications before he or she finds a medication that delivers migraine pain relief. Sometimes, a patient may continue to experience migraine pain related to photophobia, even after he or she has used different medications for an extended period of time. At this point, a patient may be dealing with chronic migraines and must be diagnosed properly.
If a patient receives a chronic migraine diagnosis but finds that his or her medications are ineffective or cause intolerable side effects, additional help is available. In fact, Dr. Jonathan Cabin of The Migraine Institute helps chronic migraine patients coping with photophobia and other migraine symptoms. As a board-certified head and neck surgeon with dual subspecialty training in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, Dr. Cabin possesses unique expertise that helps him safely and effectively treat chronic migraine patients. Plus, Dr. Cabin tailors each migraine treatment to his patient, ensuring that a patient can achieve long-lasting treatment results.
Schedule a Migraine Treatment Consultation with Dr. Cabin Today
Dr. Cabin is happy to meet with a chronic migraine patient to analyze his or her symptoms and offer a custom treatment recommendation. To learn more or schedule a free migraine treatment consultation with Dr. Cabin, please contact us online or call us today at 310.461.0303.