Light hurts: How to use glasses to help with photophobia
What is photophobia?
Photophobia is a very strong sensitivity to light and is common in migraine. Migraine photophobia can precede (and potentially trigger) a headache. However, it can also occur during a headache or between headaches.
Is photophobia only linked to migraine?
No! many eye problems can be associated with photophobia. If you recently started having photophobia and eye pain you should definitely seek for medical advice.
What type of light are people with migraine most sensitive to?
Blue spectrum light has been identified as the type of light that most people with migraine react to. This light is in sunlight; indoor light (fluorescent, compact fluorescent, and LED); and displays on smart phones and computers. Wearing polarized sunglasses outside can minimize discomfort from sunlight. However, even though it’s tempting to wear sunglasses inside, this might actually make a person more light sensitive over time.
Can special indoor lenses help with photophobia?
Sometimes ophthalmologists, optometrists and other health providers prescribe tinted lenses or “filters” to help people with a variety of health problems cope with indoor glare. These filters are designed to block the amount of light coming into the eye and/or block certain light wavelengths. Filters come in different forms. Sometimes they are separate eyeglasses with coloured lenses that fit over a person’s existing eyeglasses. These are called “fit-overs”. Sometimes prescription eyeglass lenses are custom tinted or a special filter coating is directly applied to the lens surface. Gray, green, and brown filters are commonly used to reduce glare. For people with low vision and glare problems, yellow, red, and orange filters are often used.
Could it be that my eyes are dry?
People with migraine tend to have more problems with dry eyes or symptoms that could evoke dry eyes. Dry eyes can contribute to blurry vision and to photophobia. Trying simple hydrating eye drops could help. Discuss this with your optometrist or ophthalmologist.
What about FL-41 lenses?
The rose-coloured FL-41 tint was first developed to decrease eye discomfort under fluorescent lights. In an early study, children experienced less migraines when they wore FL-41 lenses. Researchers have proposed that photophobia in migraine results from a series of complicated interactions between the eyes and brain. Special IPRGC cells in the retina are activated by blue light waves at a very specific frequency. It is believed that FL-41 filters reduce photophobia (and in some cases migraine) by preventing this specific frequency of light from reaching the eye.
Where can I find FL-41 tinted glasses?
FL-41 tints can be applied to any existing plastic prescription lens, provided there is no other coating on the lens. They can also be incorporated into a new prescription lens, applied to a non-prescription (or “plano” lens), or produced as non-prescription fit-overs.
Some companies offer FL-41 tinted glasses online.
For questions about filters in general or FL-41 filters in particular, speak with your ophtalmologist, optometrist, or neurologist to see if they are right for you.
Katz BJ, Digre KB. Diagnosis, pathophysiology, and treatment of photophobia. Surv Ophthalmol. 2016;61(4):466-77.
Kinard KI, Smith AG, Singleton JR, Lessard MK, Katz BJ, Warner JE, et al. Chronic migraine is associated with reduced corneal nerve fiber density and symptoms of dry eye. Headache. 2015;55(4):543-9.