Photophobia and migraine: Symptoms and treatment

The literal meaning of photophobia is ‘fear of light’. Photophobia sufferers are extremely sensitive to light, even though they may not be actually afraid of light. Bright sunlight or even bright indoor lighting can be painful to some people, more than just uncomfortable.

Photophobia sufferers also happen to suffer from excruciating migraines too. Let us explore the link between photophobia and migraine and whether they can be treated exclusively or simultaneously:

What causes photophobia and migraine?

Causes of photophobia


Photophobia can be caused by many different reasons such as meningitis (when the brain’s protective coverings swell up as well as spinal cord), serious injury to the brain, brain disorders which cause problems in walking, eye movement, and balance. It can also be caused by tumors in the pituitary gland too. People who have some mental health problems such as Agoraphobia, Bipolar disorder, Anxiety, Panic Disorder and Depression also are have extreme light sensitivity.

Photophobia can develop after Lasik and other vision related problems, and nowadays, the blue light which emanates from smartphones and computer.

Some antibiotics such as tetracycline, doxycycline, Furosemide and Quinine might be behind photophobia too.

Photophobia and Migraine link


Photophobia and Migraine link

Many sufferers of photophobia also suffer from migraine caused by the light sensitivity. In fact, 80% of patients with migraine have photophobia, and many of them are sensitive to light when they do not have any headache.

A common symptom of migraine is photophobia and vice versa. According to studies, photophobia and migraine are closely related. People who suffer from migraines experience discomfort due to very low levels of light too. Even between migraine attacks, people who are prone to migraine attacks are light sensitive than those who do not have migraine attacks.

Apart from bright lights, pulsing and flickering lights, light glare, repetitive patterns, light from TV, movies and computer screens. Fluorescent lights can also trigger migraines. Many people who have migraines find comfort when they retreat to a darkened room or space.

Treatment for photophobia


If you know the reason why you are suffering from photophobia, you will be able to erase the underlying condition and reduce your sensitivity to bright or low light. You might have to stop your medicine (after consulting your doctor, of course) or seek treatment for your condition.

Many people find relief by using tinted glasses, which could be rose colored. But some people can become even more sensitive to glare/light. People whose photophobia and migraine is caused by blue light from the laptop or computer or smartphone can get relief by using good quality powered or clear lenses which have special coating to combat blue light.

When stepping outside, sunglasses which have UV coating can reduce light sensitivity and thus, reduce migraines. You would have to try on several glasses to find the one which is most effective for you. There are many lens companies who have come up with lenses specially meant to combat blue light.

Sometimes, if you work for long hours on the computer, you might notice your eyes experience pain, sometimes it can happen only in one eye. But after you change to the right lenses, this problem is resolved to a great extent!

Treatment for migraine induced by photophobia

low light environment

Though the easy solution seems to be that you avoid light which causes the migraine, doctors say that living in low light environment or darkness will actually cause the sensitivity to increase. You will find it hard to function normally in unfamiliar environments, which you cannot control.

So what is the way to fight photophobia induced migraine? The answer is to slowly increase the light in your environment, so that you build tolerance to your light levels. One of the ways to do this is to sit near the windows, but avoid glares and flickering lights.

Just as other people who have photophobia feel better when they wear sunglasses or glasses which are tinted, it has been found that people who have migraines feel better when they use tinted glasses too. The best tint for you maybe green, as it has been found to be the color which causes the least migraines.

As you don’t live in isolation, you would have to explain to people in your life about the necessity of dimming the lights when you are experiencing migraine due to light. But you have to do your bit, and try to increase your tolerance too!

How to deal with anxiety, depression and panic arising from photophobia and migraine?

depression and panic

People who have migraine related photophobia also seem to be at a greater risk for anxiety, stress and depression, according to the Journal of Headache and Pain. This could be due to the poor quality of life as a result of migraines which might lead to personal problems and less professional productivity.

People who suffer from migraines and photophobia should be proactive in visiting health professionals and finding out the best coping mechanism for themselves. This might help in controlling symptoms and gaining a better quality of life, increasing their levels of health and happiness.

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