Concert stage with bright light and sound sensitivity to manage
Migraine,  Parenting,  The Bucket Theory

How to Manage Light and Sound Sensitivity With Migraine: Part 2 – Concerts

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Photo Credit: Eileen Zollinger

Light and sound sensitivity are two of the most consistent problems I have with migraine (read Part 1 here). And not just during an attack but between attacks as well. I have found I need to have some tools in my toolkit to be able to enjoy certain events such as baseball games, movies and especially concerts.

For The Love Of Music

I love music. It feeds my soul in so many ways. One of my biggest regrets is that I don’t play an instrument (I know it’s not too late). I sing in my car with the best of them. There is nothing like your favorite band to lift you up when you are down or to comfort you when you just need to be still. 

My husband loves music as well and we have passed this love down to our daughter. She is passionate about music and actually does play an instrument (guitar, both acoustic and electric). This love of music has led us to introduce our kids to concerts at a somewhat young age. We took them to their first stadium show at Chicago’s Soldier Field to see U2. Our niece joined us and we had 3 kids under the age of 11 at a sold out show of 80,000. It was amazing and awesome. Our daughter looked at me when she read the back of her concert t-shirt and asked if we could go to the show in Pittsburgh too. I knew she was hooked, just like us. 

At the Pittsburgh U2 show

Concerts With Light And Sound Sensitivity

Concerts with migraine can be challenging. The loudness of the music is just one aspect of what we have to navigate to be able to attend and enjoy these shows. There are also the lights, the smells and often smoke from the pyrotechnics and other smaller individual ‘fires’. While we can’t do much about the smoke, we can try to limit the amount we have in our buckets before we attend a concert. And we can assemble a toolkit that can help us enjoy the show and help us manage our light and sound sensitivity. 

The Concert Toolkit

  • Ginger – I love ginger and it has been shown to be as effective as sumatriptan in treating migraine. Read our blog about it. I frequently will take ginger prior to a stressful event in an effort to stave off an attack.  
  • Mack Flightguard Ear Plugs – I have been trialing these for my concerts and they work really well. They will decrease the noise level by 26 decibels, allow you to hear your friends talk next to you and prevent ringing ears after the concert. They will double as flight ear plugs.
  • Flare Audio Isolate Ear Protection Earplugs – These are another pair of ear plugs that work well for concerts.
  • Migraine Shields – I wore these to the final two concerts. They worked really well for softening the light shows and for the bright LED lights in the Overlook Bar at the Rocket Mortgage Field House where we saw The Black Keys. (Get 20% off of Migraine Shields glasses with code MIGRAINESTRONG.)
  • Full migraine cocktail/Rescue meds – I always bring a full migraine cocktail with me. I have a handy Pill Box Keychain that I take with me everywhere. It makes it easy to put my meds in there and a couple of doses of Motrin for anyone else that might need it. 
  • Hydration – This is key. Make sure to hydrate throughout the day. The water at the venues is usually incredibly expensive, so pound the water before you go so you might only need one while you are actually at the show. 
  • Premedicating – Many times I might premeditate with my rescue cocktail before the show. This is depending on how I am feeling before we leave. It’s not uncommon for me to have a little anticipatory anxiety about an event and whether or not I’ll be able to make it. My head will sometimes start to tighten up or get a little feisty. In that case, I try to get out in front of it with medication in an effort to stop a full blown attack. 
  • Baseball cap – This is key for the flashing lights that just won’t stop. You can’t get away from them, so being able to duck your head and hide behind the brim of a hat is perfect. It might not be awesome for your hair, but it’s totally worth it!!
  • Migraine Stick – This is perfect to fit in your pocket to ward off smells and to help an attack if it starts during the show. 

Anticipatory Anxiety

It’s normal to have fear/anxiety about purchasing a ticket for an upcoming event. Fear that you will have migraine symptoms and not be able to go. Worrying about that happening can actually help set you up for an attack. I have started using the Calm app on the day before and the day of events when I have tickets. Sometimes more than once a day. This helps me to stay in the present moment and to not ‘borrow trouble’ or anticipate problems that might happen. I have found it to be very successful in heading off some anticipatory anxiety. Here is the link to our blog about anticipatory anxiety.

The Shows

In the past year I have been to several arena concerts and one at a smaller venue. I went to see Metallica, Mumford & Sons, Rival Sons and Stone Temple Pilots and finally The Black Keys. All of these bands offer a different type of music and vibe. But they all play loud and have blinding light shows. Being super sensitive to light, I try to mitigate the effects of light when I go to a show.

For the first two shows, I wore some inexpensive pink colored sunglasses that I had purchased at Target to filter out some of the light. They worked ok. I mostly just closed my eyes or dipped my head when the light was too bright. A ball cap works great in these instances. For the third and fourth concerts I used my Blutech glasses. I will say that these worked much better.

Light Show or Torture?

Realistically, there is nothing but a blackout sleep mask that will help with some of those really bright white lights. We were in the front row for Rival Sons (Awesome!) And their light show was not painful at all. They used mostly colored lights which don’t seem to hurt as much. Stone Temple Pilots however had bright white lights that flashed out at the audience. After the first couple of songs, it was apparent that this wasn’t going to stop. My husband and I left our daughter and her boyfriend in the front row and moved back to where we wouldn’t be in the direct path of those lights anymore. That helped, but it was still obnoxious.

After moving back and up, I also noticed that looking up at the stage had caused my neck to tighten. Remembering to stretch my neck was key. The lights did trigger ice pick headaches which I had for about an hour, but they were manageable. My nephew is a guitar player and has epilepsy. I feel for him that he can’t go to see his favorite bands due to these types of light shows. My pain was annoying, but it wasn’t a seizure. 

Know Your Limits

Multiple opening bands before the main band that you actually want to see seems to be the new norm for concerts these days. If you think your brain is only going to be able to handle so much, skip the opening acts and plan to only see the band you really love. That limits the amount of light and sound sensitivity you have to manage and also limits the potential for migraine being triggered. And if you are going to Rocket Mortgage Field House in Cleveland, skip walking through the tunnel of LED’s with moving pictures on them. I made that mistake and if it hadn’t been for our daughter, I would have dropped to the floor. The lights and constant movement triggered some serious vestibular symptoms, dizziness and vertigo. Yikes!

Me trying to remain upright in the tunnel while holding on to a pillar

Outdoor Venues

We attend several concerts at Blossom Music Center every year and listen to the Cleveland Orchestra. This is an outdoor amphitheater that is a spectacular place to see a concert. These concerts have the added benefit of being able to bring in our own food and beverages. Obviously this is fantastic! I get to control everything I eat and drink. We also take in our own seating, blankets and anything else that will help us be comfortable while we sit on the lawn and listen to wonderful music.

The only downside is typically the weather. And in Ohio that can be somewhat unpredictable. Most nights end up being absolutely beautiful. But we have been out in the middle of an unexpected shower on occasion. Heat and humidity are the norm here in the summer. And sometimes that can wreak havoc with my head. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! But the music is never too loud and there are never any light shows to contend with. 

Relax And Kick Off Your Shoes

Of all the concerts we attend, outdoor concerts are the most relaxing by far. These concerts require the least amount of effort on my part to manage light and sound sensitivity. How often do you get to go to a concert where you arrive, set up, take off your shoes and settle down for a two to three hour show with your closest 15,000 friends in a backyard like atmosphere with world class musicians?

On occasion, there are fireworks to be navigated. But now that the kids are older we don’t often stay for them. Unless it’s July 4th. And then I employ my bag of tricks. If you have access to a venue like this, take advantage of it. Having the option of taking in our own food and beverages only applies to the Orchestra shows, but we love it. We’ve been doing this since before we had kids and have kept up the tradition since our daughter was five months old. We often attend with my husband’s family and share food, wine and laughter. 

When Migraine Doesn’t Play Fair

Hopefully with some of these tips and tricks, you will be able to better manage your light and sound sensitivity while attending some concerts or other events. However, we all have those times when we know that it’s just not going to happen and we have to cancel, even if it’s at the last minute. And that’s ok. Even the best toolkit and the best prep won’t get us through the worst attack sometimes, and it’s because migraine doesn’t play fair. I get it because I was chronic and mostly intractable for 18 years. If you want to know more about Migraine Strong and how we approach treating migraine, come join our closed Facebook group. We’d love to chat with you about our Treatment Pie and get to know you!!

Learning to manage light and sound sensitivity when you have migraine can be a challenge. Read about techniques for home, away, devices and even theaters. #migraine #migraines

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I began having migraine attacks when I was a teenager, but was never properly diagnosed until I was an adult. This began 18 years where I was chronic and mostly intractable, resulting in a migrainous stroke in the summer of 2014. By implementing the protocols from the Heal Your Headache book by Dr. David Buchholz and the Migraine Strong Treatment Pie, I have been able to reduce my migraine frequency to episodic and maintain that since 2015. The end result of continuing to practice these tools is being able to actively participate in my life as a wife, mother, family member and friend. My goal as a migraine advocate, educator, and wellness coach is to help others gain more control over migraine. Let us know how we can help.

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