Approximately 80 percent of those who suffer from migraine headaches report that light makes their headaches worse. This may force them to retreat to a dark room while they wait for their headache to go away.(1)
Now, new research from Harvard Medical School suggests that a specific color band of light may actually help ease light sensitivity as well as the severity of a migraine headache.
The light that we typically perceive as being white is actually a combination of many different color bands of light that mix together to appear white. You can see these colors when you look at a rainbow or see light shining through a prism or crystal.
You may recall the memory technique from school – Roy G. Biv – for the color order red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.
Scientists know that each color of light is a different wavelength. Red light has the longest wavelength while violet has the shortest. Green light falls in the middle of the spectrum.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered that light from a specific wavelength of green light is much less likely to make migraine headaches worse, compared to all other light colors. They also determined that at low levels, this same band of green light can sometimes reduce migraine symptoms.
The researchers asked people who were experiencing migraines how different colors of light affected their headaches. Almost 80 percent said blue, amber and red light at bright levels made their headaches worse. Study subjects who were blind reported that only blue light impacted their headaches.
The only color the sighted test subjects did not complain about was green.
To follow up, the scientists devised a study to measure the electrical signals that different colors of light produced in the retina of the eye and in the cortex of the brain.
They found that green light produced the lowest response in both the eyes and the brain of all light colors.
They were surprised to find "that green light actually reduced their pain by about 20%," according to Science Daily.
The researchers stated that while the pain of a migraine is worse than the light sensitivity for most migraine sufferers, the extreme sensitivity to light is what most often prevents them from carrying out normal tasks.
The team is now trying to develop a cost-effective light bulb that will produce the specific band of green light that was effective against migraines. They also hope to develop sunglasses to block all light other than that band of green light.
But Rami Burstein, Professor of Anesthesia at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study, cautions that the cost for either the light bulb or the sunglasses is “astronomical” at the present time.
Burstein hopes patients will soon benefit from his team’s green light findings.
If you have questions about headaches or light sensitivity, talk to your health care professional.
Reviewed June 7, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
1) A narrow band of green light could improve migraines. Science Daily. Web. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
2) Visible Light. Mission: Science. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
3) Migraine. Mayo Clinic. Web. Retrieved May 30, 2016.