Are Migraine Patients “Visually Impaired”?

Do you ever feel like your senses are just overloaded?  This is actually a common complaint when someone is in the middle of a migraine attack – there’s too much noise, too much light, too many smells.

Visual Noise and Migraine

But it has been suggested that people with migraine are more sensitive all the time.  There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that migraine impacts us even when we’re not having a migraine attack.

A study published this spring, An inability to exclude visual noise in migraine, is adding to our understanding of just what migraine does to some patients all the time.

The study, published in the US journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, built on earlier studies to look into how migraine patients process visual information.  The researchers used two tasks – a motion coherence task and a motion equivalent noise task.  These are common scientific tests which check patient’s ability to interpret moving dots on a screen.

The study determined that migraine patients had trouble filtering out visual noise.  That is, they couldn’t focus in on certain visual information the way the non-migraine patients could.

An earlier study in the UK had the same results, and in that case the researchers found an even worse problem in patients with aura (see Visual Noise Selectively Degrades Vision in Migraine).

This type of impairment has been studied in other conditions such as schizophrenia and autism.  But there are also concerns that this trouble with visual noise may cause problems with reading comprehension.  If this is a serious problem in migraine, it could be even worse in patients who experience “visual snow” and other ongoing auras.

If further studies continue to demonstrate this impairment, it could tell us a number of things.  First, it could clarify which parts of the brain and neurological systems are impacted by migraine.  But it could also show how migraine impacts all of life.  There may be symptoms of migraine that doctors could watch for, or test for.

If you have migraine, do you have trouble with “cluttered environments”?  What types of background “noise” in life bother you the most (ie visual, light, sounds, etc)?

For some thoughts on one of the earlier studies on migraine and visual noise, see Visual ‘Noise’ May Overexcite Those With Migraine

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7 comments… add one
  • sara Jun 4, 2014

    This is interesting and makes sense as I need sunglasses even on days that are not bright and sometimes in the house. I’m also wondering if the same type of study has been done on ADHD as my son is very sensitive to overstimulation and on his IEP testing and IQ test was very high except in reading comprehension where he scored very low. He gets frustrated reading due to this. I’m wondering if there’s a correlation there as well.

  • Carlynn Jun 6, 2014

    I also find this interesting, strangely so because I recently requested a baffle-board be situated directly in front of my desk. I had recently be relocated from an area which had plain walls and little in the way of furniture etc to an extremely (visually) busy office and this new location appeared to trigger many more migraine episodes.

    Also, like Sara (who commented earlier) I need sunglasses on days that others would consider “dull” yet I perceive “glare” on even the “dullest” of days for others. Finally, shopping malls/large department stores are a visual nightmare for me with all the reflective surfaces (marble, mirrors, tiles, chrome racks etc.) and the “glaring” light – either natural or artificial.

    As I said, this is very interesting to me and I truly hope the boffins are on to something here!! 🙂

  • Gail Jun 6, 2014

    I agree, my vision gets worse every year and now I am having trouble with double vision. I have to wear glasses and I black out the sides of the glass so the light refraction doesn’t bother me.

  • jessie Jul 1, 2014

    I have aura without headache which started later in life. I find this article very interesting — the researchers seem to be onto something. I have never been able to go to libraries — all the books seem to run together — it’s like my mind can’t just look at one book at a time. Of course, people wearing a certain type of striped shirt also drives me crazy. However, I don’t have trouble reading.

  • paul white Dec 23, 2016

    yep struggle at times to decipher anything.. like my brain turns off. all foggy and between the visual light displays and the sound confusion it is horrible.. i live in a forest to get away from sounds….. the smallest sound can drive me crazy.. my organisational skills have dropped way off too….. with a migraine everything gets hard to do…i have had them for 30 years now all the time (3 times a fortnight) and headaches inbetween…. i see weird things floating in the air and dark shadows flitting across my vision and long shards of light that block my vision ……. i use disprin forte and immigran nasal spray and oxygen to relieve my symptoms ….

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