How Light, Color Impact Patients Experiencing Migraine Headaches

Light Exposure Provokes Negative Emotions, Adverse Physical Reactions During Migraine Attack

Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, have reported that exposure to light can cause migraine sufferers to experience changes in mood and negatively impact a range of physiological parameters including heart rate, breathing, fatigue, nausea and congestion. The findings advance our understanding of the role of light in inducing adverse physical sensations and negative emotions that are frequently reported by migraineurs. Lead author Rami Burstein, PhD, summarized “We found that exposure to different colors of light could make patients experiencing a migraine feel irritable, angry, nervous, depressed and anxious. These patients also reported feeling physical discomfort, including tightness in the chest or throat, shortness of breath, light-headedness and nausea.” The findings were published online earlier this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the study, light of varied colors was shown to 81 frequent migraine sufferers and 17 subjects who had never had migraine. The migraine headache cohort was exposed to light both during and between migraine attacks. In that group, all light colors provoked adverse physiological sensations, and all colors except green induced negative emotional responses. The control group reported no adverse reaction to the light exposure. Dr Burstein observed “We now have a physical explanation of why migraine patients have negative reactions to light. And now we are working on ways to use this information in hopes that soon migraine sufferers will be able to avoid not only the pain but also the negative emotions and physical discomfort that light creates for them.”

Read more about the study findings here.

The journal abstract may be read here.

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