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Migraine Relief Possible with Colored Glasses


Some migraine sufferers see the world through colored glasses, and for good reason: precision tinted lenses offer them migraine relief. Now scientists think they may know why colored glasses are effective.

Colored glasses are made for each patient

Migraines are chronic headaches that can cause debilitating symptoms that last for hours or even days. Some migraines are preceded or accompanied by auras, such as flashing lights, and sufferers often experience nausea, vomiting, and hypersensitivity to light and sound.

Migraines can be triggered by a variety of factors. Some common triggers include sensory stimuli (bright lights, smells), hormonal changes in women, stress, certain foods, and changes in sleep patterns.

A research team composed of researchers from Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Essex, the United Kingdom, turned to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify why colored glasses provide migraine relief for some patients. The focus of their investigation was on specific visual stimuli known to trigger migraine attacks.

Visual patterns utilizing a variety of vertical lines can be very uncomfortable for people who suffer with migraine. According to the researchers, “when viewing the stressful pattern, all the migraine patients reported illusions and distortions and claimed that viewing the pattern for some time would trigger a migraine attack.”

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For the study, people with migraine were tested and prescribed precision ophthalmic tints (POTs) with a colorimeter, which measures the absorbance of different wavelengths of light. Previous research has indicated that about 42 percent of people who have migraine with aura experienced a 50 percent reduction in migraine frequency when they wore POTs.

Once the investigators determined the best hue and chromaticity of light that was most comfortable for each study participant, each subject looked at stressful striped patterns that were illuminated with their individually chosen colored light settings. The researchers then used this information to create effective POTs for each study participant as well as two sets of gray and colored lenses with different properties that were used as controls.

Eleven migraine sufferers (7 with aura, 4 without aura; age range 29-49 years) and 11 age- and sex-matched migraine-free controls then participated in the fMRI portion of the study. All the participants were exposed to various striped patterns that were known to trigger distortion and discomfort. The migraine patents reported a 70 percent reduction in discomfort when using the POT lenses and about 40 percent relief when using all of the lenses.

Findings on fMRI showed that when patients used the POTs, there was specific suppressed cortical activation in area V2 in the visual area of the brain (occipital cortex) that also extended to other visual areas. According to Jie Huang, PhD, associate professor of radiology at Michigan State University, “the reduced cortical activation in V2 by the POTS may have been responsible for the POT-induced suppression of the illusions and distortions.”

In short, colored glasses, when customized to each migraine sufferer, can normalize activity in the brain. Using fMRI, researchers observed hyperactivation in the brain of people with migraine when they saw intense patterns, and they noted that tinted lenses significantly reduced the effect.

Huang J et al. Cephalalgia 2011; Doi:10.1177/0333102411409076