People who suffer from migraines may frequently report an increased sensitivity to light in addition to a pounding headache. The combination of these intense migraine symptoms may be truly debilitating. While it is true that some foods may serve as migraine triggers, there may be some truth to the idea that computer and phone screens may also contribute to these attacks. Can blue light cause migraines? Read on to learn about the connection between a migraine attack and your screen.
How Does Light Sensitivity Affect Migraines
Photophobia refers to an abnormal and extreme sensitivity to light.2 The term may be used interchangeably with photosensitivity and is a common symptom of a migraine attack that is frequently used to diagnose a migraine.1,2 Everyone has some level of light sensitivity or discomfort. Consider how your eyes need to adjust from going from a dark room into the bright sunlight. This is usually a quick adjustment but for those who are hypersensitive, abrupt changes in light levels, bright fluorescent lights, and even natural sunlight can exacerbate a pounding migraine headache.2 Many people who suffer from these debilitating headaches mention that bright lights serve as a trigger for their migraines.2
The brighter the light is, the more discomfort can be felt by those who are experiencing photophobia.1 The wavelength or color of the light may also be a factor of discomfort; blue light can cause more trouble for individuals than other colors of light.1
Blue Light and Migraines
While bright light is generally a cause for irritation, blue light is typically the most painful hue for migraine sufferers.2 It’s also the color that is most commonly emitted by screens on our computers and smartphones. The blue light from these electronic devices may trigger migraine attacks.3 Many migraine specialists recommend limited screen time to those who routinely experience severe headaches and light sensitivity.3
Strategies for Blocking Blue Light
Simply avoiding blue light may not be an option for all people. If you experience migraines and work on a computer, frequently check your smart phone, or are surrounded by fluorescent lights, you will be affected by blue light. There are, however, some strategies for managing or blocking this particular hue of light so that it is less harmful or less likely to trigger an attack.
People who suffer from migraines may find some relief by filtering blue light through yellow, orange, or red lenses.2 Newer smartphones and tablets often have built-in screen settings that allow the user to adjust the amount of blue light emitted. Software can be downloaded to adjust the level of blue light from a computer screen and a tint can be applied to glasses that filters out the blue wavelength of light.3 These blue light glasses are becoming increasingly common as non-prescription glasses and can be purchased to block out that specific wavelength and relieve a migraine trigger.
Another solution to blue light that causes migraines is to invest in lightbulbs that emit green light, which is the only wavelength of light that is shown not to aggravate migraines.2 In fact, Harvard Medical School researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have found that exposing migraine sufferers to a narrow band of green light significantly reduces photophobia and can reduce headache severity.4
Dr. Burstein made a surprising discovery that blue light even affects migraine patients who are blind.4 This revelation prompted the idea that abnormal light sensitivity during a migraine could be alleviated by blocking blue light.4 In the study, Burstein and colleagues found that at low intensities green light can even reduce headache pain.4
Other strategies that can help you manage the effects of blue light include: taking regular breaks from the computer so as to not have sustained exposure to blue light; working in a properly lit area so the blue light isn’t as glaring to your eyes; and keeping your computer screen clean.
Light sensitivity is just one the symptoms of a migraine attack. While it is important to know how to manage your own photophobia so that it doesn’t affect your life, you should pay close attention to your other migraine symptoms and triggers as well. Things like changes in the weather and seasonal allergies may cause you to experience a pounding headache.
While being aware of your triggers is important, you should consult your doctor to determine the best course of treatment for your migraines.