Eye pain is a common complaint among the 15.3% of Americans who suffer from migraine headaches, causing deep, throbbing pain that can be felt in or behind one or both eyes, or can even shift from one eye to the other. Many people who experience migraine eye pain wind up attributing their symptoms to eye fatigue or eye strain, or even a need for new glasses. The confusion is understandable – after all, eye pain is a major symptom of several acute and chronic eye-related diseases. When migraine eye pain occurs, it’s logical for a person who’s experiencing these symptoms to link them directly with an eye disease.
Patients aren’t the only ones who have difficulty linking their eye migraine symptoms with their actual underlying cause. A study published in the Journal of Headache Pain found doctors often misdiagnose migraines for another common cause of eye pain – sinus infections, or sinusitis. In that study, the medical records of 130 migraine sufferers with a past history of sinusitis diagnosis were reviewed. What the researchers found was that, alarmingly, 106 of those patients had migraines that were misdiagnosed as sinusitis, resulting in a delay of treatment and subsequently, prolonged periods of migraine eye pain.
What causes migraine eye pain?
Most people who suffer from migraines know some migraines can be accompanied by visual auras, abnormalities in vision that often precede a migraine headache and which can include blurry vision, tunnel vision and visual disturbances like glare, halo and “zigzag” patterns of light that can significantly interfere with normal vision. Some people have these visual aura symptoms even without going on to experience the typical pain of a migraine headache. So the link between migraines and the eye has been long established. But what causes migraine pain to center in or around the eye?
Eye pain in migraine involves the trigeminal nerves, the major nerve that provides sensation in the face and supports motions like biting and chewing. In an eye migraine, the trigeminal nerve releases chemicals that irritate the blood vessels in the brain’s cortex, a layer of tissue that covers the brain. Irritation causes the vessels to swell and to send pain signals to the brainstem which “recognizes” these signals as pain. The trigeminal nerve originates behind the eye, and several branches surround the eye, which explains why eye pain in migraine is so common.
Involvement of the trigeminal nerve also helps explain why some people with migraines are hypersensitive when touched around the head or face during a migraine attack. In fact, researchers at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found nearly 80 percent pf migraine sufferers experience increases skin sensitivity in the area around the eyes and elsewhere on the face and head during migraine attacks, underscoring the pivotal role of the trigeminal nerve pathway.
The Influence of Light on Migraine in the Eye
The visual symptoms of migraine, or visual aura, are also linked with stimulation of neural pathways. In fact, the ophthalmic nerve – the nerve that enters the back portion of the eye and transmits visual information from the eye to the brain – is actually a branch of the trigeminal nerve. It’s no surprise, then, that overstimulation or hyperexcitement of the trigeminal nerve could have some visual effects.
Given that link, it’s also easy to see how bright lights can trigger migraines, making migraine eye pain and related symptoms much worse. When light enters the eye, it “hits” the tip of the ophthalmic nerve at the back of the eye, triggering reactions in the ophthalmic nerve which, in turn, can cause reactions in the other branches of the trigeminal nerve. Studies have shown this hypersensitivity to light stimulation, or photophobia, exists even in people who are blind, which means it isn’t harsh colors or other visually-observed stimulants that cause these reactions in the trigeminal nerve, but light itself. What makes matters more complicated is that research has also shown people who suffer from eye migraines tend to be more sensitive to light even not having migraine symptoms, which implies an increased risk of developing light-mediated symptoms or conditions like migraine headaches is ever-present.
Preventing Migraine Symptoms by Filtering Light
Of course, preventing the triggering effects of light in patients with migraine eye pain by completely blocking light on a routine basis isn’t possible, but there are alternatives. About 30 years ago, researchers examining the link between exposure to certain wavelengths of light and frequency of migraine attacks found that by filtering out those wavelengths with special FL-41 lenses, patients experienced a significant reduction in migraine attacks. FL-41 lenses work by allowing most of light to reach the eye so vision remains clear and normal, while filtering out the light associated with photophobia, or hypersensitivity to light.
That the ophthalmic/trigeminal nerve pathway should be sensitized to specific wavelengths is not surprising; nerves contain special receptors that are designed to be activated by specific stimuli, and the ophthalmic nerve is no exception. In fact, special cells called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells or IPRGCs play a primary role in light sensitivity even without the “rod and cone” structure the eye requires for actual vision, which helps explain why even blind people can have their migraine symptoms triggered by light. Therapeutic, light-filtering lenses have also been effective in treating other types of light-sensitivity issues, including benign essential blepharospasm, a condition that causes uncontrollable blinking in the presence of certain “types” or wavelengths of light.
Axon Optics is the first online retailer of migraine eyewear. Founded by a neuro-ophthalmologist and photonics researcher at the University of Utah, the company designs and optimizes its eyewear based on scientific evidence gathered from clinical studies on light sensitivity to ensure lenses are responsive to the needs of migraine sufferers and other individuals with light sensitivity. More than a decade of development and research efforts has resulted in glasses and contact lens products that provide superior light-filtering ability as well as better aesthetics compared generic filtering lenses, and features like an anti-reflective and anti-scratch coating help prevent “light bounce” and diffraction that can be especially bothersome to those with light sensitivity. Plus, Axon Optics proprietary lens design also incorporates full UV protection, and both lightweight and standard frames as well as light-blocking gaskets are available to suit a variety of vision needs.
Find out more about Axon Optics and FL-41 lenses.
Axon Optics is the leading provider of therapeutic, light-filtering migraine lenses thanks to its unrivaled dedication to its clients needs. To learn more about Axon Optics and to see the line of Axon Optics therapeutic lenses, explore the website at AxonOptics.com, visit us on Facebook, or view our selection of lenses at our online webstore.
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