Migraines and Blue Light – Or Maybe Green Light…

A few years ago, concerns about migraines and blue light was riding a wave of research into everything from computer screens to the sun at the beach. But does blue light actually make migraine pain worse? Is it dangerous? Are some types of light better than others? And where does green fit in?

Emerald City - is green a migraine fighter?

Photo courtesy The Western Sky

New Scientist explains how the results of a study in 2010 were later questioned:

Six years ago, Burstein and his colleagues studied migraine in sufferers who are blind, either due to the loss of an eye or retina, or because of retinal damage. They found that people who had some remaining retinal cells had worse migraines when they were in brightly lit environments, and that blue light seemed to have the strongest impact.

The finding caused a flurry of excitement, and the promotion of sunglasses that filter out blue light. But since then, a special class of cells has been discovered in the retina that process only blue light – and seem to be saved from some types of retina damage that can cause blindness. So there was nothing special about blue light in Burstein’s study – it was just that it was the only type of light his volunteers’ eyes could process.

New Scientist 19 May 2016

Blue light can actually be good – or bad – for migraine patients. As a high-energy visible wave, blue light actually helps with alertness, and can elevate your mood. It helps keep your body keep in rhythm with its environment. All these things are very important for migraine patients.

But as you may have heard, too much blue light at the wrong times can really mess you up – put your rhythm out of whack and even damage your eyes. Hence the concern about “screens”, computer screens and smart phones, especially after dark. This has led to the popularity of blue blocking covers and computer glasses. Many operating systems now have built in options to allow you to “warm” screen colours at sunset (for example, Windows 10 now has “Night Light“, iOS has “Night Shift” … I still like the free f.lux. And don’t forget glasses such as Theraspecs).

But the benefits of these software answers are still in doubt – maybe it’s just better to cut down the screen time!

Cutting out blue light to treat migraine took another hit, a new migraine and colour study was done (with some of the same researchers involved from the 2010 study).

In the new study, published in 2016, blue was not the stand-out light at all. Of four colours (blue, red, amber, and green), blue and red both tended to make migraine pain worse to a similar degree, with amber close behind.

Remember, generally speaking, migraine patients avoid light – the colour may make a difference, but they would simply prefer darkness.

So the surprise is not that these colours bothered the migraine patients. The surprise was that green actually decreased the migraine pain.

Yes, a certain type of green seemed to decrease the pain almost as much as the other colours increased it!

So should we all just wear green glasses?

Not so fast. The green light actually did increase some migraine symptoms similar to the way white light does (throbbing and muscle tenderness). And although green was better than most, migraine pain “spreading” was still reported with the green light.

As with many studies, it’s important that this is another step in our knowledge of migraine, not that it gives us an instant answer, so that we can go out and buy a new product that will solve all our problems.

That being said, if you must have a little light in the room during a migraine attack, try green and see if it’s better.

Also, other studies have indicated the benefits of certain tints for sunglasses and contact lenses.

To read the 2016 study, check out Migraine photophobia originating in cone-driven retinal pathways. Don’t miss the New Scientist article for more on migraines and blue light and green light. You might also enjoy Blue Light: It’s Both Bad And Good For You by Dr. Gary Heiting. For a brief article on the study, see WebMD – Giving the ‘Green Light’ to Migraine Relief.

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A Word from Paula Dumas (video)


Get your free tickets here.

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Warning Signs of Migraine in Children

It can be a tremendous challenge to recognize migraine in children. We’ve talked a lot about symptoms in the past, and if you want a quick review, see this infographic – Does my Child have Migraine? and for more detail, 18 Reasons to Suspect Migraine in Your Child.

A few years ago we talked about a study on “Premonitory” Symptoms of Migraine in Children. That is, what are the warning signs that a migraine attack is starting?

Child Migraine: Warning SignsA new study has been done, on the same topic. So let’s take a look.

The new study confirms that it was common in children to have two “warning signs”, although the number varied. In fact, 85% reported two or more. The most common signs were (most common first):

  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Neck stiffness
  • Yawning
  • Changes in concentration

This fits well with what the past study told us. Fatigue was reported in both as a top sign. “Irritability” was in the earlier study, and that would be included with mood changes here.

Of the top three in the earlier study,”face changes” was a commonly reported premonitory sign in children.

These symptoms not only help children and parents know that a migraine attack is starting, they may also help to confirm the migraine diagnosis. In fact, premonitory symptoms were reported in children as young as a year and a half old!

An interesting side note. The most common childhood episodic syndrome associated with migraine was a history of infantile colic. You can read more about migraine and colic here. 31% of these children had had colic.

You can read the full results of the study here: Characterising the premonitory stage of migraine in children: a clinic-based study of 100 patients in a specialist headache service

Note: One of the study authors was Dr. Peter Goadsby, who will be a speaker at the Migraine World Summit 2017. Get your free tickets to view the event online here.

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Migraine and TMD: A Complex Relationship (that should not be ignored)

Although it’s not news that there’s a relationship between migraine and TMD, it might be a surprise just how complex the relationship is.

TMD refers to temporomandibular disorder/dysfunction, actually a group of disorders that affect (but are not necessarily caused by) the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and surrounding muscles, nerves, and tissues. TMD may be caused by an injury or a disease such as arthritis. There may also be a connection with structural issues, and even clenching and grinding of the teeth while you sleep.

TMD and Headache

Illustration courtesy Patrick J. Lynch

TMD is actually very poorly understood, and there is a lot of controversy about what causes it and how to treat it in specific cases. But when you think about the structure of the jaw, joint, and the trigeminal nerve system, which is all connected, it’s not surprising that researchers have been very interested in the connection between TMD and headache disorders. That nerve system may play a key role in starting headache pain in migraine disease. It seems that the way trigeminal pain is processed can become impaired, leading to a worsening of migraine. The new class of drugs (CGRP inhibitors) currently being developed play a role in controlling trigeminal pain messages.

A 2016 study concluded that the connection between migraine and TMD was complicated further because of other physical symptoms, and the presence of bruxism (clenching/grinding teeth during sleep). Researchers concluded that doctors need to treat both headache/migraine and TMD together.

A study earlier this year asked the question – can the presence of headache disorders, such as migraine, actually predict TMD? In other words, even though migraine may/may not directly cause TMD, does the presence of migraine or another headache disorder tell us that the patient has a good chance of getting TMD later on?

The answer was yes. Patients who had no sign of TMD, but who did have a headache disorder, were far more likely to end up with TMD. The headache condition also tended to worsen in patients who eventually had TMD symptoms. Patients frequently ended up with migraine and TMD.

Researchers again affirmed what I mentioned in our last podcast – headache conditions, migraine in particular, need to be treated (Migraine and Generalized Anxiety Disorder). If they aren’t, they may lead to other conditions. One of those conditions is TMD. And what if the presence of new TMD in turn worsens the migraine? That could may migraine more difficult to treat.

The relationship between TMD and migraine is complex. It’s not a simple case of one causing the other. There may be underlying causes of both.

Doctors and patients need to focus on treating both, and being aware of changing and worsening symptoms so they can be caught early. If migraine or TMD are ignored, or just treated with “painkillers”, patients may find themselves with more pain in the end.

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Podcost: Migraine and Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The main article we discussed was Adults with migraines have triple the prevalence of generalized anxiety disorder from ScienceDaily.com. You can read the abstract of the actual study here: Untangling the Association Between Migraine, Pain, and Anxiety: Examining Migraine and Generalized Anxiety Disorders in a Canadian Population Based Study.

Check the Mayo Clinic for more on generalized anxiety disorder symptoms.

I didn’t mention this other article, but there’s an interesting related study, also from the University of Toronto: Research shows dramatic link between inflammatory bowel diseases and anxiety disorder

And the article I mentioned about the Migraine World Summit: The Unexpected Reason You Should Pay Attention to the Migraine World Summit

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