Image Credit: AleksandarNakic
woman working in darkened office in effort to control her photophobia and chronic migraine symptoms

Managing Photophobia and Migraine at Home and at Work

Reading time | 3 mins

Published: 15th January 2019 

Last reviewed: 17th June 2022

Photophobia and photosensitivity mean a person perceives light as brighter than it is. They are sensitivities to light that may or may not cause pain. In either case, bright light can trigger symptoms of an existing condition, like migraine. 

In the migraine context, photophobia isn't a fear of light as its name suggests but instead describes an abnormal sensitivity to light. Photophobia may be present during and between migraine attacks.

As someone with chronic migraine, I am always sensitive to light. This sensitivity often changes in severity depending on the situation. During a full-blown migraine attack, I cannot tolerate any light. I need a cold room with a few blankets and absolutely no light or sound.

Before and after an attack, I find ways to alter the light. Here are some tips to reduce photophobia and migraine attacks in the home and office.

1. Manage fluorescent light, screen, and blue light exposure at work

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 shared office space, I’ve had conversations about my sensitivities with my coworkers and we’ve been able to discuss alternate 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 Nielson Total Audience report, the average American adult spends over 10 and a half hours per day staring at a screen. 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-colored 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 stay current with your eye doctor appointments. Old prescriptions could strain eyes and trigger a migraine.

2. Find alternatives to LED lightbulbs at home

Fluorescent lights trigger my symptoms whether I walk through a store or sit at my desk at work. I turn the overhead lights off at work and use lamps to control the brightness.

I've had conversations about my sensitivities with my co-workers when I'm in a shared office space. We've discussed alternate options for our group's needs and preferences.

If turning the overhead lights off isn't an option, fluorescent light covers are available to filter the flickering bulbs.

Screens can also trigger light sensitivity. According to a Nielson Total Audience report, the average American adult spends over 10.5 hours per day staring at a screen.

Blocking blue light from screens seems especially important for us with light sensitivity. To reduce eye strain, you can adjust screen brightness on phones, computers, and television.

Tinted lenses may also help reduce light sensitivity. One rose-colored tint, FL-41, effectively reduces my 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.

Remember, wearing dark sunglasses all the time may make your eyes more sensitive to the transition from dark to light. I have different tints that fit outdoor and indoor light for lighter and darker environments.

If you wear corrective lenses, staying up-to-date with your optician appointments is a good idea. Old prescriptions could strain the eyes and trigger a migraine.

3. Chose clothes that can block out migraine and photophobia-triggering light sources

I love my variety of glasses, but I also wear hats and hoodies to block additional light. Baseball hats block out light from above but sometimes push against my sunglasses, hurting my nose and sensitive face. Fitted hats put unwanted pressure on my head, so hats are another individualized situation.

I always love a hoodie, though. It's loose over my head but makes me feel protected. It blocks peripheral light and sounds too. I love to be comfortable before, during, or after a migraine attack.

The takeaway                                  

Whether 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.

NOTE: The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for managing migraine symptoms. Please consult a professional who can apply best practices and appropriate resources to your situation.

NPS-ALL-NP-00497 JUNE 2022