The Use of Tinted Glasses to Ease Migraines

(RxWiki News) Customized tinted glass may help prevent or lessen migraines.

For many people who have migraines, light and other visual stimuli can cause, or worsen, headaches. The specific visual trigger varies from person to person.

  • It may be a bright spotlight. Or it could be light flickering from fluorescent bulbs or even through trees while traveling past them.
  • The “visual stress” can also be caused by looking at various light patterns. An example of such a pattern is black lines against a white or lighter background (called pattern glare).

In short, people with migraines are often hypersensitive to light. Visual stimuli increases activity in the visual cortex of the brain, which may cause neurons to misfire. Even blind people can be affected. This indicates that the neural pathway involved is not necessarily the one that forms images.

Wearing sunglasses can provide some migraine sufferers with some relief. A better bet might be eyeglasses that have been tinted to block certain wavelengths of light to help “normalize” brain activity. When customized in this way, they are called precision tinted eyewear.

Not a new idea

People have been interested in tinted lenses for migraines and other light-sensitive conditions for more than two decades. Yet, there are only a few of published studies.

Here is what some of them have found:

  • A small study1 looked at children wearing glasses with a rose tint for four months. It found they had significantly reduced migraines. The frequency went from 6.2 to 1.6 episodes a month. Yet, blue-tinted lenses had no long-lasting benefit.
  • Among a series of British studies, one2 in 2002 found that adults had fewer migraines when they wore lenses with a customized “optimal” tint.
  • In a 2012 study3, migraine sufferers looked at certain patterns to see if it had any effect. It found that high-contrast colors or stripes patterns reduced “hyper excitability” in the brain’s visual area when they wore precision tinted glasses. They reported decreased visual stress as well. The study, though, did not evaluate actual headaches.

Tinted lenses are also being studied and used for a variety of other conditions that have a visual stress component, including:

  • Photosensitive epilepsy
  • Blepharospasm (uncontrolled muscle contractions of the eyelids)
  • Various reading problems
  • Motion sickness

A rosy outlook?

More research is needed to confirm the benefits of tinted lenses in preventing or reducing migraines. But if you suffer from headaches related to visual stimuli (or other light sensitivity issues), there’s no harm in trying them to see if they can help.

  • An eye care specialist may be able to find out if you have visual triggers that you are unaware of and suggest lenses that may help.
  • The simplest option is to experiment with sunglasses of different hues that are light enough to allow you to see well indoors.
  • Many people find that rose tints work best. The glasses can be worn in situations where an attack may be triggered, or during a headache episode to reduce its severity.

Keep in mind that no single intervention works for all migraine sufferers. It will depend on many factors—what your triggers are and the quality and tint of the lenses. In some cases, wearing the “wrong” tint might worsen symptoms.

Ready-to-wear lenses

Some online companies sell rose-tinted “FL-41” lenses that block blue-green light.

  • This FL-41 tint was originally developed to reduce sensitivity to fluorescent light. And there’s some evidence that it helps.
  • There are also frames that fit over your regular frames. Or you can send in your own glasses to get them tinted.

The companies acknowledge that not everyone with migraines will benefit and offer limited money-back guarantees.

Customized lenses

Custom lenses can be more precise than ready-to-wear.

  • An eye care specialist tests you using different color filters to see which one reduces visual stress the most.
  • The prescription is sent to a lab where the selected color is reproduced as a tinted lens.
  • A device called the Intuitive Colorimeter allows users to select from thousands of different hues to find the most precise match, though relatively few eye practices in the U.S. have this instrument.
  • Alternatively, you can have lenses made after being tested with Irlen spectral filters, a method originally developed for people with certain types of perceptual processing problems that affect reading.

Customized lenses and test testing can be costly but may be a worthwhile option to help with your migraines.

 

References:

  1. P. Good. Headache, September, 1991.
  2. A. Wilkins. Cephalalgia, November, 2002.
  3. S. Haigh. Cephalalgia, January, 2012.