Photophobia and photosensitivity both mean that a person perceives light as brighter than it is and/or has a sensitivity to light that may or may not cause pain. In either case, light can trigger symptoms of an existing condition like migraine.
In the context of migraine, photophobia is not a fear of light as its name suggests, but instead describes an abnormal sensitivity to light. Photophobia may be present during and in between migraine attacks.
As someone with chronic migraine, I am always sensitive to light. This sensitivity often manifests itself in different ways and I navigate my life around either fighting or neutralising it. During a full-blown migraine attack, I cannot tolerate any light. No light, no sound, and a cold room with blankets is required at that time.
Before and after an attack, I find ways to alter the light. Here are some tips I follow:
Fluorescent lights are a trigger for me, whether I am walking through a store or sitting at my desk at work. At work, I turn the overhead lights off and use lamps instead to control the brightness.
When I’m in a shared office space, I’ve had conversations about my sensitivities with my colleagues and we’ve been able to discuss alternative options for our group’s needs and preferences.
If turning the overhead lights off is not an option, fluorescent light covers are available to filter the flickering bulbs.
Screens can also trigger light sensitivity. According to a news report by Ofcom, most people in the UK are digitally dependent, with the average person checking their smartphone screens every 12 minutes during the day. In particular, blocking blue light from screens seems to be especially important for those of us with light sensitivity. Screen brightness can be adjusted on phones, tablets, computers, television, and other technology to reduce strain on the eyes.
Tinted lenses may also help reduce light sensitivity. One rose-coloured tint, FL-41, has been shown to be effective in reducing sensitivity to light. A yellow tint may also help with photophobia.
I always wear dark sunglasses when I am out in the sun. I wear lighter tints on cloudy days and indoor glasses when needed. Just remember that wearing dark sunglasses both indoors and outdoors may make your eyes more sensitive to the transition from dark and light. I have different tints that fit outdoor and indoor light for lighter and darker environments.
If you wear corrective lenses, it’s a good idea to keep your opticians appointments up-to-date. Old prescriptions could strain eyes and trigger a migraine.
At home, I can lighten and darken the house how I please. My bedroom can turn into a cave with room darkening shades and blinds. Throughout the house I have shades that filter, darken, and offer a variety of options.
I know where the sun sets and rises and what windows get what light, and when. I use soft light bulbs instead of more vibrant LED bulbs. Just like at the office, I use lamps around my house. They mostly light from behind so it doesn’t sit in my direct line of sight.
I love my variety of glasses, but I also wear hats and hoodies to block additional light. Baseball caps block out light from above but sometimes push against my sunglasses, hurting my nose and sensitive face. Fitted hats give unwanted pressure on my head, so hats are another personal preference.
I always love a good hoodie though. It’s loose over my head but makes me feel protected. It blocks peripheral light and sounds too. Either before, during, or after a migraine attack, I love to be comfortable.
Whether you are at work, at home, or in bed, photophobia can be a problem when it comes to migraine. I am sensitive at all times of the day in different ways. The best way to fight photophobia is by being prepared with treatment, tools, and a plan.
For more information on how to manage photophobia and migraine, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.
UK/MED/19/0129 June 2019