My migraine light sensitivity is rather legendary. Everyone from my family, friends and even this migraine community has heard me talk about or has read what I have written about it. During bad attacks it seems as if the sun is loud and not just exceedingly bright. I love a dark cave of a room during an attack more than anywhere else. It is my safe place.
When I was approached by the Allay company to test the new Lamp for migraine in exchange for my feedback, I was excited to give it a try. This is yet another tool that we can add to our toolbox to fight migraine attacks. I spoke with Dr. Rami Burstein, professor of anesthesia and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and vice chair of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston who explained the history behind the Allay Lamp and its correct use.
Different Wavelengths of Light
During his research, Dr. Burstein and his colleagues found that various wavelengths of light were perceived in much different ways. Blue and red were the most painful and yellow (amber) and white were slightly less painful. However, with green light, the headache pain actually decreased along with other symptoms commonly described by migraine patients (Brain, A Journal of Neurology, 2016) ‘like dizziness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, tightness in the throat, teary eyes, stuffy nose…in patient after patient it decreased the headache and decreased the magnitude of all the autonomic symptoms’. (Migraine World Summit Interview 2020, Dr. Rami Burstein)
For those that suffer with migraine light sensitivity there is a 20% increase in pain symptoms when entering a room that is filled with light. It is not the main trigger, but one that aggravates the pain of an attack. When the light is removed, the pain doesn’t magically disappear, but it does reduce when we go into a dark room. This can be the difference between being at a level 7 attack and dropping to a level 5 on our own personal pain scales.
The Allay Lamp doesn’t hurt to use or have side effects, and it allows us to function. Whether it’s working, reading, cooking or playing a game with the kids, the green light allows functionality due to reduced levels of pain. This happens because we are no longer being exposed to the other colors of light (red, blue, amber and white). But it’s not just any green light that will work.
An Aversion To Light
Photophobia, migraine light sensitivity or as Dr. Burstein refers to it, an aversion to light, is diagnostic of migraine. This means that that if light causes you pain during a headache, you more than likely are experiencing migraine. While we don’t really know why this happens yet, we do know the pathway this follow is from the retina to the optic nerve and then to the cerebral cortex (retino-thalamo-cortico pathway) Nat. Neursci 2010. This pathway is the reason why we feel pain from light during migraine.
How Green Light Therapy for Migraines Works
Regular green light stretches across approximately 80-100 nanometers (nm). Because of its width it can also activate blue and red receptors, along with green, in our retinas. This is why a simple green light bulb from Lowe’s or Home Depot won’t work as a therapeutic light. The light needs to be a very narrow band, approximately 10nm, to only activate the photo receptors in our retinas that are sensitive to green light.
Dr. Burstein has been working on this particular bulb. The first prototype cost $50,000 to manufacture! The second was $12,000, the third $4,000 and the fourth $800. He has been able to manufacture the new Allay Lamp and offer it to patients for $149. And they have a 40 day money back guarantee.
Setting Up My Allay Lamp
The set up for the light was very simple. It arrived in a sturdy white box with the Allay Lamp illustration on the outside. Small magnets hold the box closed and when I opened it, I saw a green graphic ‘welcoming me to the light’. I removed it and found the light was packed in a white protective bag. I removed it from the bag, read the instructions for operation on the back of the green graphic and I was up and running.
The light comes with a small charge to see how it operates, but I suggest charging it fully with the micro USB charging cord provided in the box. You can use it while it charges. If you need a wall adapter, make sure to let them know. With a simple press of the power button, you can start using your green light. If you aren’t feeling very light sensitive, flip the lamp over and the light turns to white (this is very cool!) There is a sensor bar on top to allow you to adjust the brightness to your perfect level.
Putting Green Light To The Test
I had the Allay Lamp for a few weeks before I was able to try it with a migraine attack. My first attempt at using it did not follow the plan set forth in my call with Dr. Burstein (to use it for at least 30 minutes with no other light in the room). The attack came on very suddenly and was very severe. I ended up taking my entire medication cocktail and headed to my room where I turned on the Allay Lamp. I adjusted the level of intensity because even the green light was making my head unhappy in the beginning, just as Dr. Burstein said it might. But I noticed after about 5-10 minutes that my nausea was greatly reduced. Within 20 minutes I was much less debilitated, but I fell asleep before I could really document any other improvements.
My second attack for which I used the Allay Lamp, was another intense attack that required all of my rescue meds just before bed. I went to my room and turned on the Lamp and was able to use it for the minimum 30 minutes. There was a definite lessening of my migraine light sensitivity (my most intense non-pain symptom) as well as a drop in pain. I generally don’t use numbers to identify my levels of pain, but rather focus on whether or not I am functional.
At the beginning of this attack I was not functional and had to retreat to my room and at the end of the 30 minutes with the Allay Lamp, I definitely felt like I was functional again. But, I had taken all of my meds, so did the lamp act as a booster or was this a coincidence? I definitely felt better quicker than I normally do with just taking medication. But it was still a question in my mind.
Answering The Lingering Questions
The third attack was a slower moving attack so I was able to plan my course of action. I retreated to my room, took ginger and Timolol eye drops to treat my attack, used a heating pad on my neck and I continued to work in the light of the Allay Lamp. I spent one and a half hours in the light of the lamp and the attack was almost completely gone at the end of that time span.
The fourth attack was much the same as the third. I took ginger and Timolol and sat in the light of the lamp while working on this blog and some other work for an hour and 45 minutes. The pain and migraine light sensitivity lessened considerably. I have used the Allay Lamp on several other occasions when I felt some grumpiness coming on (early prodrome for me), or when I felt my neck tightening up and I could feel it climbing up towards my eye. On all of those occasions, I felt the Lamp was very helpful in reducing the beginnings of migraine light sensitivity and pain without the need to take medication.
My attacks tend to happen later in the day or towards evening. Part of my job is to be online for live chats Sunday through Thursday with the Migraine Healthline App at 8pm EST. This means that I can’t always be in a completely dark room with no devices when I start using the Allay Lamp. (Don’t tell Dr. Burstein!!) But for me, I’ve found that using the Lamp imperfectly still gives me results. As soon as I finish my work, I turn off devices. Following the instructions of eliminating all other light does make a difference.
While I was given the Allay Lamp to trial with the understanding that I would review it, having had the opportunity to use it, I would purchase this product without question. My migraine light sensitivity, especially during an attack, is off the charts. Having a tool that allows me to reduce the effects of this symptom is invaluable.
The Allay Lamp allows me to continue to work and be productive when what I really want to do is shut out the world and climb into my dark cave. This tool allows me to continue working or hanging out with my kids or reading a book when before I would just lie in the dark. My migraine light sensitivity exacerbates the pain in my head to the point that only a dark room is bearable. But the Allay Lamp has given me other options and I appreciate being able to come out into the light again. Even if it’s green.
Who Can Benefit From Using Green Light Therapy
At this point the research is still ongoing. Migraine and headache patients definitely benefit from using this narrow band of green light. My daughter also has migraine and is currently in college studying biomedical engineering. I’m planning to equip her with one of these Lamps when she heads back to school. She frequently has to delay taking her medication because the side effects make doing homework impossible, but then so does the migraine attack.
I also have a friend, Ambre Emory-Maier, with vestibular migraine who purchased the Allay Lamp after talking with me about my success using it. She says, “the light helps reduce the little head pain and head sensations I have with vestibular migraine. It can settle down auras as well, those that consist of tingling and allodynia. I use it before bed to calm my brain. Combined with my CGRP abortive, it adds to my management and abortive options to avoid medication overuse and suffering. On a side note- the dogs and cats seem to enjoy it at bedtime!”
Having another option that is not pharmacologic will be a game changer for so many. I’d love to see how much this will help pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as young kids. A non medicinal option to treat migraine, that is affordable and doesn’t have to be reloaded each month will be huge.
Where To Get It
You can purchase the Allay Lamp and read about their money back guarantee as well on their website. Everyone I have spoken with at the company has been amazingly helpful and kind. Dr. Burstein was quite kind in giving of his time to explain to me exactly how to use the Allay Lamp for best benefits and to answer all of the questions I had about migraine and light sensitivity. You can use this link to receive $25 off the purchase price.
While I was given this product to try, I would never recommend something that I didn’t find useful, to the community. The Allay Lamp has become another tool in my toolkit that I use with each migraine attack. I’m grateful for the relief it brings from the sometimes crippling light sensitivity I feel with my migraine attacks. If you have tried the lamp or would just like to discuss it, come join us in our private Facebook group. We’d love to hear what you have to say about it.
Updates on Our Reviews of Allay Green Light Therapy for Migraine
Would you like to know how the Allay Lamp is doing for me after many months of using it? I published this follow-up review after using it for 6 months.
Jennifer Bragdon, our skeptical writer with vestibular migraine, tried green light therapy and wrote a her review of the lamp. So many people with VM were curious so she gave it a try and has lots to say about it.
Eileen was given a free Allay lamp in exchange for her honest feedback. This post has not been sponsored by Allay. There are some affiliate links in this article.
Burstein MD, Rami. Personal interview. 15 Jan. 2020.
Noseda, Rodrigo et al. Migraine photophobia originating in cone-driven retinal pathways. Brain A Journal of Neurology. 2016 May 17 doi: 10.1093/brain/aww119
Burstein MD, Rami. Interview by Paula Dumas. The Science of Light Sensitivity and How to Manage It, 23 March 2020, www.migraineworldsummit.com. Accessed 23 March 2020.
Noseda, Rodrigo et al. A neural mechanism for exacerbation of headache by light. Nature Neuroscience. 2010 January 10 doi: 10.1038/nn.2475
Emory-Maier, Ambre. Personal Interview. 2 April, 2020.