Courtesy of Migraine World Summit Group

An Expert Explains How to Cope with Eyes Sensitive to Light

Wondering how to deal with light sensitivity? You’re not alone. Eyes sensitive to light, also called photophobia, is one of the most common and most debilitating Migraine symptoms.

Other common causes include computer fatigue, allergies, certain medications, and other neurological conditions. If you’re dealing with light sensitivity and watery eyes, it is probably aggravated either by something in your environment (like an allergen) or by your habits  (like working too long without a break.)

Curious about how to deal with light sensitivity? Wondering if there’s a link between LED lights and headaches? These tips for coping will help reduce the impact – without keeping you stuck inside all day.

1 – Wear tinted glasses

All light is not created equally. “It’s not the intensity of the light that’s really critical, it’s the wavelength of the light,” said Dr. Bradley Katz, a neuro-ophthalmologist and professor at the University of Utah, USA. “It’s the colors that are within the light that seems to be irritating to people with Migraine and other light-sensitive conditions.”

Research shows blue light is probably the most painful while green light may have a soothing effect. Dr. Katz founded Axon Optics, a company specializing in a tint called Spectrashield FL-41. These rose-colored lenses block the blue wavelengths of light that are the most painful, and they can be a real lifesaver.

“Some people have trouble going to school or going to work or participating in family activities. It can really be life-changing for some people to have a way to mitigate their light sensitivity,” Dr. Katz told Paula K. Dumas during an episode of the Migraine Again podcast.

2 – Adopt the 20/20/ 20 rule for eye strain

Computers and screens are hard to avoid, but you can take steps to help prevent eye strain. It’s natural to stare while absorbed in work or activity, but staring combined with the blue glow from the screen can leave eyes sensitive to light, extra tired, and feeling dry or watery.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends the 20/ 20 /20 rule to prevent eye strain and fatigue (1). For every 20 minutes spent on your computer, rest your eyes for 20 seconds by looking at something 20 feet away. This gives your eyes a break.

If you have the option, get up and move. Roll your shoulders and take a big breath. Maybe try to do something else for a few minutes. This will help your whole body re-energize while your eyes get a break.

3 – Choose your lighting wisely

When choosing lights for your home and workspace, look for lighting that won’t aggravate your eyes. “In my experience, it’s been fluorescent lights that seem to be the biggest trigger,” said Dr. Katz.

Do LED lights cause headaches? Yes, they can.

“A close second would be LED lighting,” said Dr. Katz, “and then also, some of the gas discharge lamps that you see in big box stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s or Walmart.”

If you can, try to light your indoor space with natural lighting, incandescent bulbs, track lighting, or desk lamps with warm pink, white, or peach bulbs. Light from the orange or red end of the spectrum will cut some of the painful blue light and will help minimize glare.

LED lights trigger migraines for some people, because they don’t emit a steady stream of light.

“Incandescent bulbs tend to be less bothersome to people, because they’re like a mini sun almost, whereas fluorescent lights, LED lights, and other artificial lights are very spikey in terms of emitting very strongly at some wavelengths and then not emitting at all at other wavelengths,” said Dr. Katz. LED lights may be better for the environment, but they could leave you worse off with LED causing headaches.

4 – Add dark green vegetables to your diet

Be like Popeye and sneak in those dark leafy greens. Research shows that the carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein, found in dark green vegetables like spinach, kale, and collards, can help reduce symptoms of light sensitivity (2).

Adding these foods to your regular diet helps boost the overall health of your eyes and helps prevent eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration.

5 – Watch out for allergens

Allergies can affect your eyes, too. Even seasonal pollen allergies, or hayfever, can leave the eyes sensitive to light, watery, and itchy. Depending on where you live, be mindful of your time spent outside near grass or trees if you are sensitive to pollen.

It’s also a good idea to check with your local Allergy Tracker online or in the paper. has one under their Health menu. You can even set up alerts to get an e-mail notification when high pollen days are expected in your area.

How to Deal with Light Sensitivity

If you’re wondering how to deal with light sensitivity, you’re not alone. It can be debilitating, oftentimes making many of your favorite activities more difficult. Eyes sensitive to light are often painful and can come with blurred vision or head pain. Use these expert tips for coping with light sensitivity to bring some relief (and peace of mind). Improving your light sensitivity very well may improve your quality of life

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