If you suffer from migraine headaches, you’ve probably been there. You have a major migraine headache and all you want to do is to cover your head with a pillow and block out all light and sound. Why is that? An abnormal sensitivity to light is described by the medical term “photophobia”, and an abnormal sensitivity to sound is described as “phonophobia”. It is very common for migraine sufferers to develop photophobia and/or phonophobia during a migraine attack, meaning that the sensation of light and sound will greatly increase their pain. It is also common for migraine sufferers to think one of the few solutions to their headache is to find a dark, quiet, place to lie down and go to sleep until their headache goes away.
How light and sound are related to migraine pain
During a migraine episode, blood vessels in the head are thought to expand, and increase in size, contributing to the pain associated with migraines. This can also affect certain cranial nerves, and result in increased sensitivity to light and sound. The normal light and sound that normally doesn’t bother you, can suddenly become a major source of distress.
For unknown reasons, in some people, exposure to bright light or reflected sunlight may even be a trigger for a migraine attack, and almost everyone in the midst of a migraine will find a dark, quiet room the most soothing place to be.
What is the treatment for increased sensitivity to light and sound?
There are a number of things that can help when you are experiencing increased sensitivity to light and sound that is associated with a migraine. First, and most important is to follow the recommendations of the healthcare provider that is treating your migraines. This may be to prevent a migraine attack from getting worse, or to prevent them from happening in the first place. Second, it is important to try to avoid the things that may have been identified to cause your migraines, known as “triggers.” Sometimes the only other thing you can do is to seek out a dark and quiet place. This helps explain why headache pain is the single greatest cause of lost productivity at work, as well as the greatest cause of lost work time. It is hard to be productive in a dark, quiet room.
That is why effective treatment, as prescribed by your healthcare provider, is so important. It is surprising that approximately 50% of people who suffer from true migraine headaches never seek medical attention for them, and treat themselves with over-the-counter medications, and a dark quiet room. Sometimes, depending on the frequency and pattern of your migraines, the best treatment is to do whatever you can to decrease the number of migraine attacks, and to lessen the severity of the attacks. This is how your health care provider can be a big help to you. Many different treatments exist to prevent a migraine attack, or to stop an attack at the first sign that one is coming. Many people with migraines may find that a combination of treatments works the best for them. However, it is important to never combine medications or even herbal treatments with medications on your own. There can be significant danger in doing that. Finding the best treatment, or combination of treatments, can take time and patience, and good communication with your health care provider. However, it is time well spent if it gets you out of the dark, quiet room, and back to a productive place.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2008). Headache: hope through research. Retrieved 6/20/08 from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/
Robert, Teri (2005). Living Well With Migraine Disease and Headaches. New York: HarperCollins