How Sunglasses are helping fight Migraine

by James on 9 August 2010

Can sunglasses fight migraine attacks?  Yes, but it does matter what kind you buy.

My sunglasses are old.  They’re disintegrating.  They’ve been stepped on, squashed, scratched – it’s time for something new.

So I started looking around, and I realized that the kind of sunglasses I need are not sold for $10 in a mall kiosk.  It took me a while to get over the initial shock of the price, but then I realized that it was my health I was talking about, and that the investment was worth it.

What kind of sunglasses are best for the migraine or chronic headache patient?  It’s not an easy question.  And once again, as with most migraine treatment, the answer is very individual.  But starting with basic quality sunglasses is a step in the right direction.

Basic Sunglasses

Sunglasses for Migraine

Once again, you’re not going to get these for $10.  Start thinking in the $100-$200 range… but then again, quality has nothing to do with the logo on the arm of your new shades.  So don’t pay extra just to be cool.

First, look for quality.  We don’t want cheap plastic sunglasses with some paint on them to make the room look dark.

Next, look for UVA/UVB protection.  "100% UV" protection is a little vague for me – I’d rather have some specifications, so ask if you’re not sure.  Many sunglasses now have UVA/B/C protection, but since we’re not exposed to much UVC light (unless you’re in the tanning salon) it’s not a priority.  Still, that’s usually a sign of quality.

You’re probably also going to want polarized sunglasses.  If you’ve never used polarized glasses, you’ll really be looking at the world differently when you first put them on.  The cut down the glare – like glare off of the hood of your car.  Fishermen have used them for years to cut down on the water glare.  (Of course, if you need to see glare, these aren’t for you.  If you’re skiing, for example, you need to watch for those ice patches)

What about the tint?  First of all, gray and beige/brown tints are popular simply because they tend to give you the most "real" colours.  More on tints below.

One more option is photochromic sunglasses.  These are the kind that darken in bright light.  They’re not for everyone, but if you want to wear them all the time, and are running in and out of the house, it might be an option to consider.

For the cost/quality combination, check out Smith Optics.  I find their website rather confusing, but you can also find many of their products on amazon.

Migraine Sunglasses?

Studies have been done using different types of sunglasses or contacts that block out certain wavelengths of light.  For example, some found that a rose tint helped cut the migraine symptoms.  Another study found that an optimal tint (not focused on one colour) was better.

The catch is that results tend to be very individual.  Until we have more information, your best bet is either to go to a specialist or simply find the tint that you feel is the most comfortable.

The Irlen Institute, for example, is one group that uses colour to alleviate symptoms of various conditions, such as migraine.  You can read more at their website.

There are options available to you, but be sure to at least invest in a pair of quality sunglasses.  Get a good case, protect them, and wear them.

After that, consider tinted contacts, or visiting a specialist and getting tested.  Ask about precision tinted lenses (PTLs) for migraine.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim August 10, 2010 at 9:09 am

Great article James! Sunglasses are extremely important for me as I tend to be photophobic to some degree all the time because of chronic daily headaches. I have been using optical grade sunglasses for the last 7 years or so. They last longer than the cheap ones you can buy off the rack for $10 and they provide me with greater protection. I actually have two pairs of sunglasses that I use on different days. For me I have found that gray tinted sunglasses are best on bright, sunny days while brown tinted lenses are best on overcast days. Both pairs are polarized to cut the glare. I never go anywhere without my sunglasses.

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Stephanie August 10, 2010 at 9:21 am

My eye doctor suggested I put a rose tint on my regular glasses I wear all the time. He said it alleviates the flickering of the overhead flourescent lights in my office that cannot be seen by the eye but is registered by the brain. He said that such lights can cause a lot of eye strain. So I thought I would give it a try. The tint is so light you can only tell it is there by putting the glasses on a pice of white paper. It has really helped reduce the glare in my office and the resuling eye strain. Also, when I do have a headache, the lights are not so bad.

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Maria August 14, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I’ve worn sunglasses for year to protect my eyes from glare which is a major trigger for my migaines. I focus on wearing sunglasses with a high “infrared light protection” rate as well (70%+). I was given this advice from a Chemist years ago and it has worked for me. A lot of sunglasses, even expensive ones, do not have infrared light protection.

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david.holgate August 25, 2010 at 8:54 am

I have used “Eagle Eyes” sunglasses for years they cut out glare and blue light, lens have an amber tint to them.

excellent if glare gives you a migraine they are not expensive either.

david

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Janet January 10, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I tried the coating that darkens when you go outside and they did not darken NEARLY enough despite the optician’s implying they’d be equivalent to sunglasses. I had to take them back. It was excruciating trying to wear those things outdoors. I’d caution anyone with migraines NOT to get those.

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Marie September 30, 2013 at 9:53 am

I disagree. First of all you can get the photochromic lenses that get very dark outside. I have been buying them for years, and you have a choice in outside darkness. I have tried the semi dark and the very dark.

Secondly I suffer from debilitating migraines, and they are life savers for me.

Everyone is different when it comes to migraines. Unfortunately not one method works for everyone.

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Sam September 3, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Precision tinted glasses have been shown to be highly effective at reducing migraine attack frequency and severity, but very few people have access to an eye-care professional with the advanced equipment necessary to customize tint to each individual patient. FL-41 rose-tinted glasses have also proven to be quite effective at doing the same job, but can be widely produced and distributed. Actually, a new, clear coating that more effectively blocks the light that can trigger and exacerbate migraines is undergoing clinical trials right now. Read more about it at: http://axonoptics.com/what-causes-migraine-headaches/light-sensitivity-triggers-migraine/

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Jennifer June 27, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Hate to break it to you all but polarized lenses are NOT any better at cutting glare than the regular sunglasses. I’ve compared my cheapo $12 unpolarized sunglasses to expensive polarized ones and found NO DIFFERENCE. I had other people try them on and compare (while passengers in a moving vehice — to compare glare from sunlight and off of other cars, etc.) and everyone agreed there was no difference between the polarized and unpolarized sunglasses. IMO it’s a complete myth. (we did verify that my sunglasses were infact unpolarized and the other ones were indeed polarized–so there is no mistaking it)

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James August 4, 2012 at 7:28 am

Hi Jennifer – thanks for your comments!

I’m not sure what brands you tried, but I’ve tried polarized and unpolarized and I’ve found a significant difference. For me, the polarized sunglasses are so much better that I would never want to go back!

But there may be quite a difference between brands. I ordered mine from Smith Optics, and really like them.

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katy October 1, 2013 at 3:27 am

I can’t wear sunglasses because it makes me feel dizzy or because I am just not use to wearing them .the ends of rims of glass feel heavy . Sorry if this doesn’t make sense to you.

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Steve Turner June 25, 2014 at 10:40 am

My wife gets severe headaches and has been using sunglasses from a company called MigraShades, migrashades.com. The lenses are specially made for people who suffer from headaches, dark and geared for indoor as well as outdoor use. She has used them every day for the past three years and they really help to screen out unnecessary light. I would recommend them highly.

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