Light and sound sensitivity with migraine have plagued me for years and I have had to learn to manage both conditions during attacks and in between. This is not an uncommon problem to have. While approximately 85% of people with migraine report sensitivity to light during an attack and about 80% sensitivity to sound (Harriet & Schedt, 2014), almost the same percentages report the same sensitivities in between attacks. The migraine population is coping with migraine symptoms, sometimes on a daily basis.
Managing At Home
To manage light and sound sensitivity during a migraine attack at home is fairly straightforward. I will typically take my migraine cocktail. A triptan would have the added benefit of helping to reduce both these migraine sensitivities while alleviating the attack, but I have to avoid them. I’m fortunate that my daily light and sound sensitivity has been reduced since I started taking Namenda as part of my preventive treatments. To reduce the effects of my light sensitivity during an attack, I head to my bedroom and close all of the room darkening blinds which helps. I can’t usually handle ear plugs during an attack, so I usually resort to a pillow, ice pack or heating pad over my head. I tend to stay in this place until the attack has passed or is reduced in severity.
Managing Away From Home
What is the best way to manage light and sound sensitivity if a migraine attack happens when we don’t have the luxury of hiding in our safe place? The American Migraine Foundation cautions against living in increasingly more darkened environments. It warns that limiting your exposure to light will actually make you more sensitive in the long run and make it harder to adjust to environments you don’t control. The same can be said for sound. While we might want to shut out the noise completely, the better approach is gradual exposure to low levels of sound to allow our brains to adjust incrementally.
The natural response to managing light or sound sensitivity with migraine is to block it out. Reaching for a pair of sunglasses to shield us from light, even while indoors is a common way to try to mitigate the effects of unwanted light. But those sunglasses will actually prolong and worsen our light sensitivity. Many companies are now addressing this issue by making special migraine glasses. These lenses filter out the specific wavelengths of light that cause eyestrain, negatively impact sleep and trigger migraine. Wearing these glasses do not negatively impact or prolong our light sensitivity. They ultimately help us manage our migraine light sensitivity. I use a pair of Migraine Shields glasses, especially when I am blogging or spending lengthy amounts of time working on the computer. I find them to be very soothing when I need to spend long hours on the computer. Get 20% off with the code MIGRAINESTRONG.
There are other adjustments that I make on the computer to make it easier to accommodate my light sensitivity. I use f.lux on my laptop and it is always set to warm colors no matter the time of day. This allows me to limit the amount of blue light on my computer all of the time. It drives my family crazy when they look at it. However, when I look at their screens, my eyes and brain feel the difference right away and there is almost always an immediate sense of pain.
My phone is set up the same way. Dark mode is on for every app and I use Night Shift as well with my brightness turned way down. My husband is always asking how I can see anything on my phone, but to turn the brightness up or the Night Shift off is too painful for me. I realize I have said devices cause me pain if they are too bright or set up for ‘normal’ people. I realize that to some that might sound ridiculous. But probably not to those of you reading this. You probably understand exactly what I’m saying. You are my peeps!!
Sound sensitivity is somewhat along the same lines. We tend to avoid the truly noisy places that overwhelm us, at least on a daily basis. But life happens. In a city, we are exposed to construction, traffic, and just the hive of activity that is hard to escape. A good pair of ear buds can mask some of this noise and still allow us to hear enough of what’s going on around to be safe. Others with very bad tinnitus wear a special type of hearing aid to help mask the ringing in their ears.
However, if you work in an environment that is noisy, you have to figure out how to acclimate yourself to the hustle and bustle of that noise gradually, without constantly being triggered. Or to limit the exposure by adjusting where your office or cubicle will be located. This requires the assistance of your manager and possibly human resources. Migraine is recognized as potentially needing accommodation due to impairment under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Check out what the Job Accommodation Network has to say about accommodating employees with migraine in the workplace.
Down To Practicalities
What are some practical ways to manage light and sound sensitivity when you are dealing with migraine? I have found a few items that have worked for me over the years. I use some of these on a daily basis. Or when we have a family outing to see one of our favorite Marvel movies. My Migraine Shields glasses, a pair of ear plugs, sitting on the aisle for a quick getaway and always avoid the 3-D movies. If you are averse to smuggling in your own head friendly snacks, have a bite to eat before you go. If I take some chips for myself, I compensate by buying snacks for the kids.
In the last year, I have been putting together a tool kit especially for concerts. This is a significant problem to solve for someone with migraine with light and sound sensitivity. But some things are worth trying to figure out a way around. The second part of this blog will be out in a couple of days. It will list what I have found to be most helpful in managing concerts! Check back or sign up for our email list to automatically receive our new blogs in your inbox!
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- Harriott AM, Schedt TJ. Migraine is associated with altered processing of sensory stimuli. Curr Pain Hedache Rep (2014) 18:458