Blue Light & Blind Migraineurs.
A recent study at Harvard Medical School on blind migraine sufferers found that those who still had melanopsin receptors experienced pain from light. Melanopsin receptors don’t help you see shapes, but they do react to blue light. Blue light was found to increase migraine pain and activate the trigeminal nerve, which is associated with migraines (study link).
What is Blue Light?
The sun emits a rainbow of light waves. The strongest wave is the violet wave, known as ultraviolet (UV) rays, and it is not visible to the naked eye. The next strongest wave is a blue wave that humans can see, which is known as high-energy visible (HEV) light or “blue light.”
Is Blue Light Dangerous?
Blue light has been implicated as the cause of macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older (study link). Blue light causes oxidative stress and high levels of oxidative stress are associated with migraines (study link). A leading theory is that migraines may be a defense mechanism against any oxidative stress that jeopardizes human survival—going blind would certainly fall into this category (study link).
Can I Take a Pill?
Scientist have recently discovered a compound called opsinamides that blocks the signal sent from the melanopsin receptors after exposure to blue light. The researchers are optimistic that it will help treat migraines, but it will take years of testing and may come with side effects (news link, study link).
Blue Light at Night
According to Harvard researchers, exposure to blue light at night “throws the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack” and may contribute to an increase of sleeping disorders, blood sugar, hunger, depression, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity (Harvard Health). Blue light during the day helps us feel awake and sets our bodies’ schedule to fall asleep at night, which is critical for migraine sufferers (study link).
The Problem with Blue Light at Night
Fluorescents, LEDs, TVs, computers, smart phones, and other electronics that emit blue light disrupt our sleep patterns at night. Additionally, these devices do not provide a constant source of light. They are actually flickering. This flickering from artificial lights has been reported to trigger migraines and is well known for causing eye strain and headaches (study 1, 2). The combination of eye strain, oxidative stress, and sleep disruptions make blue light dangerous for migraine sufferers.
What to do?
- Avoid TV, computers, and bright artificial light two to three hours before going to bed.
- Block blue light on your laptop, TV, smart phone, and other screens by using a blue blocking screen cover or app that blocks blue light such as F.lux. I’ve used F.lux for a long time and it helps me to work longer hours without eyestrain and headaches. Blue light is such a large issue that the next update on the iPhone will allow you to turn this blue light off in the settings menu. Studies that take measures to block artificial light at night have been successful at improving sleep and reducing migraines (Study link).
- Replace all light bulbs, fluorescent lights, and LEDs with blue-blocking bulbs. Old fluorescent lights that start to slow down to the point where you can see them flicker are particularly dangerous.
- Use blue-blocking shades on bright days. This technology was developed by NASA specifically to block blue rays so that the retinas of astronauts could focus, allowing objects to appear sharper and clearer. Blue-blocking lenses are usually orange, yellow, or amber tints, such as NASA’s BluBlockers. TheraSpecs and Axonoptics shades are specifically made for migraine sufferers.
- New research on the destructive nature of HEV light has led to an entire line of clear lenses, contact lenses, and shades that provide varying levels of protection against blue light. This is a huge breakthrough for migraine sufferers that need protection against electronics and artificial light, both indoors and in a professional setting. Just ask your optometrist. If your prescription is not up-to-date, make an appointment immediately because poor eye sight is a major migraine trigger that is aggravated by light triggers.