What To Know About Migraine Glasses - Medically Reviewed

What To Know About Migraine Glasses

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Rudrani Banik

One of the most common migraine symptoms is light sensitivity. For some individuals, flashing, bright, flickering, fluorescent or colorful lights can also act as a migraine trigger. Migraine glasses can be a helpful solution for some people who experience difficulties with light sensitivity.

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed or confused about migraine glasses, you aren’t alone. We will explain how they work by breaking down the science.

Before we discuss migraine glasses, we need to understand the relationship between light and migraine.

Light sensitivity, or photophobia (comes from Greek, literally meaning “fear of light”), is one of the symptoms in the diagnostic criteria for migraine.

Photophobia affects up to 80 percent of people with migraine and can occur both during and between attacks.1 People with photophobia are extremely sensitive to bright light, changes in light, glare, flickering light and certain patterns or colors of light.1 People with migraine are not only bothered by light but studies have shown that 30-60% of attacks are triggered by glare or light.1 For example, fluorescent light or blue light from computers or phones are troublesome for many people with migraine.1

In a Spotlight on Migraine podcast interview on Migraine and the Eye, neuro-ophthalmologist Dr. Rani Banik explained why people with migraine have light sensitivity. Part of the reason has to do with the trigeminal nerve.

“The cornea, which is on the very surface of the eye, is very rich in nerve endings, and these nerves are basically branches of the trigeminal nerve,” said Banik.

“So when light hits the cornea, it can activate those trigeminal nerve endings. And if that trigeminal pathway is primed for migraine, it’s almost like your nerve endings tend to be hyperexcitable — different wavelengths of light can trigger a migraine attack.”

Different wavelengths of light can trigger a migraine attack. What does that mean? To explain, we’ll first need a brief science lesson.

Remember ROYGBIV? Not only can the acronym help us remember the colors of the rainbow, it can also help us picture the visible light spectrum and understand wavelengths of light. Red is on one end of the spectrum and has the longest wavelength.2 Violet, at the other end of the spectrum, has the shortest.2

This matters because the shorter wavelengths of light (blue, indigo, and violet) are known to trigger migraine more than other wavelengths.3 Blue, indigo, and violet measure in the 400 to 500 nanometer range.2

There are specific cells in the retina, called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) that are believed to be triggered by these shorter wavelengths of light. Activation of ipRGCs is believed to be involved in the pain pathway of light sensitivity.

Now that you’ve learned a little bit about the different wavelengths of light and why light sensitivity occurs, we can explore the various types of migraine glasses and frequently asked questions.

Migraine glasses are designed to filter out or block certain wavelengths of light to help ease photophobia.

There are many options for migraine glasses with different types of lenses and degrees of tint. The most common lens is FL-41, which gives it a pink-rose color.

FL-41 stands for fluorescent 41. FL-41 tints typically filter or block wavelengths of light in the 480 to 520 nanometer range, which primarily targets blue light but also a bit of green.4 However, the amount of light that is filtered by the tint can vary based on the manufacturer, the material of the lens and how the tint is applied.5

The FL-41 tinted glasses may be useful for people who have photophobia between migraine attacks or attacks triggered by light.6 FL-41 glasses can also be helpful for people who have sensitivities to fluorescent lights since they filter about 80% of those wavelengths of light.6

In one study, the FL-41 tint helped reduce migraine frequency by more than 50 percent in children but was not found to be effective during an attack.6,7 However, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness.

There are several companies that make migraine glasses. While most companies utilize a FL-41 tint, there are variations in the percentage of the tint. A higher percentage deeper tint typically means the lens blocks a higher percentage of those wavelengths of light.

While we’ve primarily discussed FL-41 tint, there is one other type of lens on the market: Avulux Migraine and Light Sensitivity Lenses®. These lenses are sold by Avulux and by Axon Optics. (In 2023, Avulux announced they acquired Axon Optics.)

Researchers compared a lens that filtered light wavelengths of 480 nanometers (blue) against another lens that filtered 620 nanometers (red).8 The study found that both glasses reduced headache impact scores (HIT-6 scores) over two weeks.8 It should be noted that some of the study authors had conflicts of interest in this study.

Based on these results, Avulux created a new type of lens that filters blue, amber and red light, while allowing green light through. According to the Avulux website, these lenses are specifically designed to absorb up to 97% of the potentially harmful wavelengths of light, while allowing the beneficial wavelengths of light in.9

In 2020, a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study with 78 people compared the new Avulux lenses to placebo lenses among people with episodic migraine.10 Researchers did not find a difference in the two- and four-hour pain reduction between the groups.10 However, in analyses after the study, the authors found a reduction in headache pain among individuals with a baseline pain score of 2 or greater who wore the Avulux lens, as well as reports of less light sensitivity compared to the placebo lens.10

Most insurance providers will not cover the cost of migraine glasses, but it is worth checking to see if you have coverage. If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Spending Account (HSA), you may be able to use those funds to pay for migraine glasses. Most manufacturers have a 60-day return policy.

If you wear prescription glasses, you can still utilize migraine glasses. Some companies will make your glasses specifically with your prescription. You can also ask your eye doctor to add an Fl-41 tint to your glasses. Some companies offer migraine glasses that will fit over a pair of prescription glasses.

Blue light blocking glasses are designed to only filter blue wavelengths of light. According to the Mayo Clinic, blue light blocking glasses lack evidence that they are effective.11 Also, The American Academy of Ophthalmology does not recommend any blue light blocking glasses during computer use.12

Wearing sunglasses, especially polarized sunglasses, can help with light sensitivity and decreasing glare. However, frequently wearing dark sunglasses inside can actually put you at a disadvantage. By wearing dark glasses all of the time, your eyes could dark-adapt, and you could end up being more light-sensitive in the long run.3

While many companies say their glasses are safe for indoor and outdoor use, there are a few options for migraine sunglasses.

According to their website, TheraSpecs uses the FL-41 tint on dark, polarized lenses. They say the combination helps with bright sunlight and outdoor glare.

According to the SomniLight website, they have outdoor FL-41 lenses that are rated UV400, which also block harmful ultraviolet rays.

There are no head-to-head studies comparing migraine glasses. Even so, what works well for one person with migraine might not for another.

Because migraine glasses can be an investment, you might want to know what other users think about certain brands. This medically reviewed article on Migraine Again compares a few brands and The Dizzy Cook reviews migraine glasses in this blog.

Numerous companies are creating glasses specifically for individuals with migraine. However, it’s important to note that the Association of Migraine Disorders does not endorse any of these products. Some of the companies offering migraine glasses include Avulux, Axon Optics with Avulux lenses, MigraLens, Neurolux, SomniLight, TheraSpecs and Zenni.

Light sensitivity is a common migraine symptom and changes in light can trigger an attack for some people. Wearing migraine glasses might not prevent a migraine attack, but they can relieve photophobia. If you are sensitive to light, migraine glasses could be a great tool to add to your migraine toolbox.

  1.  www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3485070/ Digre KB, Brennan KC. Shedding light on photophobia. J Neuroophthalmol. 2012;32(1):68-81. doi:10.1097/WNO.0b013e3182474548
  2. science.nasa.gov/ems/09_visiblelight/
  3. Noseda, R., Bernstein, C. A., Nir, R. R., Lee, A. J., Fulton, A. B., Bertisch, S. M., Hovaguimian, A., Cestari, D. M., Saavedra-Walker, R., Borsook, D., Doran, B. L., Buettner, C., & Burstein, R. (2016). Migraine photophobia originating in cone-driven retinal pathways. Brain: a journal of neurology, 139(Pt 7), 1971–1986. doi.org/10.1093/brain/aww119
  4. www.theraspecs.com/blog/what-is-fl41-for-light-sensitivity/
  5. www.theraspecs.com/blog/fl-41-glasses-vs-other-blue-light-glasses/
  6.  Albilali A, Dilli E. Photophobia: When Light Hurts, a Review. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2018;18(9):62. Published 2018 Jul 30. doi:10.1007/s11910-018-0864-0
  7. headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1526-4610.1991.hed3108533.x?sid=nlm%3Apubmed
  8.  www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5510464/ Hoggan RN, Subhash A, Blair S, et al. Thin-film optical notch filter spectacle coatings for the treatment of migraine and photophobia. J Clin Neurosci. 2016;28:71-76. doi:10.1016/j.jocn.2015.09.024
  9. avulux.com
  10. www.jocn-journal.com/article/S0967-5868(23)00095-4/abstract
  11. www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/are-blue-light-blocking-glasses-a-must-have
  12. www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/are-computer-glasses-worth-it

Molly O’Brien is a freelance Journalist and Communications Specialist originally hailing from the Seattle area. After graduating summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, Molly traveled coast-to-coast working in local news. Molly was diagnosed with episodic migraine before the age of four, then turned chronic in her mid-twenties. Disease progression has severely impacted every facet of her life as she tries to balance migraine disease, a career, parenthood, and everyday life.

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