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Friday, June 8, 2012

Migraine Awareness Month - Post # 8: Let There Be Light!

Today's prompt for the Migraine Awareness Month Blogging Challenge is:
"Most Migraineurs have issues with light sensitivity. What do you do to cope with it?"
I am lucky because I don't have extreme sensitivity to light.   I do have some photophobia and am affected by light when I am in a migraine.  Light is one of my many migraine triggers.

Photophobia does not mean that I am afraid to have my picture taken.  It simply means "sensitivity to light."  Many migraineurs need to sequester themselves in a dark room, wear dark sunglasses or cover their eyes when they are in the headache phase of the migraine.  For me, there is no pain from being in the average lighted environment. I can get by with wearing regular sunglasses or shielding my eyes from ambient light with a brimmed hat.  BUT if I am in the prodrome through the post drome phases, I am very sensitive to bursts of light like strobe lights from a camera, fireworks or light show, and even the light that filters through the leaves as I drive down a country road.

Here are two examples where I am exposed to strobe light in commercial buildings.  The first occurs at the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University. My husband and I have season Spartan basketball tickets. We sit in the upper deck.  For some reason, the management of the facility allows strobe flash lights in the rafters of the Breslin Center which are activated when a professional photographer from, say, ESPN, shoots pictures during a game.  I always bring a baseball hat and glasses to a game just in case. But one time, it was so bad that I asked at the ticket office if they could move us to seats where the strobes would not be as visible (or painful).  They still use strobe lights and I am still working on them to change this.

The second occurs while in the tunnel of the concourse at the Detroit Metro Airport McNamera terminal.  The tunnel goes under the tarmac and connects concourses C and B with the main concourse.  The lights start out as a simulation of the aurora borealis, but then progresses to lightning.  I wrote to the airport management and sent them links to articles about strobe light and its negative relationship with epilepsy (may trigger a seizure) and migraine. Since then, it doesn't seem quite as bad.  While looking for a link to a video of the tunnel lights (Here is a link to a YouTube video),   I discovered that there is now a "pause" button on each end of the tunnel so people like me can pass through the tunnel safely.  I am not sure if my correspondence had anything to do with it, but I like to believe in the power of advocacy.

Light as a Trigger: As I drive down the tree-lined roads of my neighborhood, the blipity blipity blip of the sunlight through the trees can be a trigger for me. If I am already walking down the road to migraine-ville, it feels like someone is poking me in the eye.  A fluorescent light gone bad can bring on a migraine in the blink of a light. I was in a meeting at the superintendent's office (I work for a school district) and I was the only one who could see that the fluorescent light bulb was blinking. I said something to the super and the assistant super. "Does that flickering light bother you?"  "What flickering light?"  The super called maintenance right then and asked to have the light fixed.  What a great boss! Live shows and even TV shows (like DWTS) will occasionally have strobe lights during the performances.  I just cover my eyes to avoid getting a migraine and ask my hubby to tell me when it's safe to watch. I also discovered  while I was writing the dissertation that it bothered me if I scrolled through my list of citations in my reference manager too quickly. Because  I keep a migraine journal, I know that  if I record a TV show on the DVR, I can get a migraine when I fast-forward through the advertisements. Now THAT'S a bummer!

Research: In the fall of 2010, I participated in a research study at MSU (published in 2011 in Cephalalgia) on the use of different colored lenses to ameliorate migraine pain.  There were two phases to this research.  The first phase involved the selection of the right color lens. I viewed a striped object through a colorimeter that allowed me to see the object through different lenses within the color spectrum.  The lens I chose was an aqua green. It seemed to quiet the object and keep it from jumping around. The second phase of the research involved spending 90 minutes in the f/MRI tube.  Mind you, until this time, the only way I could get past my claustrophobia during an MRI was to take Valium.  I toughed it out and took one for the team.  During my time in functional MRI, I was asked to view the same striped object as before - as well as additional objects - to see if different colored lenses changed the cortical hyper-activation in my brain.  The research was done with 10 other participants, and found that precision-colored lenses helped reduce this hyper-activation by 70%.
"The specific characteristics of activation we recorded could provide a potential biomarker for identifying those migraine patients suffering visual cortical hyper-activation," he said. "This biomarker could prove useful not only for further evaluation of tinted lenses but also for studying the effectiveness of drugs to prevent migraine headaches."
Unfortunately in my case, it did very little. But I DID get past my fear of the MRI, and helped advance the knowledge about migraine treatments. 

Let there be light?  Well, maybe in measured quantities. 

 Photo from

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