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How to Manage Photophobia and Migraine at Home and Work

Woman working in darkened office to control her photophobia-triggered migraine symptoms
Getty Images / AleksandarNakic

Photophobia (light sensitivity) and migraine can be tricky to navigate around work and home environments - especially when one condition triggers another.

Thankfully, you can take several practical steps to manage both conditions wherever you are. Today, Sarah Rathsack shares six tips for reducing photophobia-triggered migraine attacks, hopefully making your work and home spaces more comfortable.

Photophobia and photosensitivity mean a person perceives light as brighter than it is, causing symptoms that range from discomfort to severe pain. Bright light can also trigger symptoms of migraine attack.

In the migraine context, photophobia isn't a fear of light as its name suggests but instead describes an abnormal sensitivity. Photophobia may be present during and between migraine attacks.

As someone with chronic migraine, I am always sensitive to how bright the environment is. This sensitivity often changes in severity depending on the situation. During a full-blown migraine attack, I need a cold, dark room with a few blankets and no sound.

Before and after an attack, I find ways to alter the room’s brightness levels. Here are some tips to reduce photophobia and migraine attacks in the home and office.

Managing migraine triggers such as fluorescent bulbs and blue light exposure at work

1. Talk to your colleagues about finding practical solutions or compromises

Fluorescent bulbs trigger my symptoms whether I walk through a store or sit at my desk at work. I turn the overhead lights off and use lamps to control the brightness.

I've had conversations with my co-workers about my migraines and sensitivities when I'm in a shared office space. We've discussed alternate options for our group's needs and preferences.

If turning off the overhead bulbs isn't an option, fluorescent light covers are available to filter any flickering.

2. Reduce exposure to blue light by adjusting screen brightness across all your devices

Screens can also trigger light sensitivity. According to statistics taken in 2023, the average American adult spends over 7.4 hours per day staring at a screen.

Blocking blue light from screens may prevent photophobia-triggered migraine attacks at work. You can adjust screen brightness on phones, computers, and television to reduce eye strain.

3. Explore tinted lenses to reduce light sensitivity

Tinted lenses may also help reduce light sensitivity and migraine attacks in the office or outside. One rose-colored tint, FL-41, effectively reduces my photophobia – and therefore, my migraine attacks!

I always wear dark sunglasses when I am out in the sun. I wear paler tints on cloudy days and indoor glasses when needed.

Remember, wearing dark sunglasses for prolonged periods may make your eyes more sensitive when transitioning from darkness to bright indoor and outdoor environments. With guidance from your optician, experiment with different tints to fit outdoor and indoor lighting.

4. Have regular check-ups with your optician

If you wear corrective lenses, staying up-to-date with your optician appointments is a good idea. Old prescriptions or undiagnosed vision problems can strain the eyes and trigger a migraine.

Making photophobia-friendly adaptions around the house

5. Invest in some blackout curtains and find alternatives for LED lightbulbs

Managing photophobia and migraine can be a 24-hour job, and I still have to take action at home to make life more comfortable. At home, I can lighten and darken the house how I please. My bedroom can turn into a cave with room-darkening shades and blinds. I have curtains that filter, dim, and offer various light and shade options throughout the house.

I know where the sun sets and rises and what windows get light during different times of the day. I use soft bulbs instead of more vibrant LED bulbs. Just like at the office, I use lamps around my house. They mainly illuminate from behind, so the glare doesn't sit in my direct line of sight.

6. Chose clothes that can block out migraine-triggering light sources

I love my variety of glasses, but I also wear hats and hoodies to block additional glare when outside. Baseball hats block out the sun from above but sometimes push against my sunglasses, hurting my nose and sensitive face. Fitted hats put unwanted pressure on my head, so hats are another individualized situation.

I always love a hoodie, though. It's loose over my head but makes me feel protected. It blocks peripheral light and sounds too. I love to be comfortable before, during, or after a migraine attack.

The takeaway

Whether at work, at home, or in bed, photophobia can be a constant trigger for migraine. I am sensitive at all times of the day in different ways. The best way to fight migraines induced by bright lights is by preparing yourself with treatment, tools, and an action plan.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

NPS-ALL-NP-01002 MAY 2023

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