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A Word or Two on Migraines
Do you experience headaches every day, and they vary from moderate to severe? That’s a migraine in a nutshell.
Migraines usually cause severe throbbing or pulsing on one side of the head. They are typically accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to both sounds and light. Normally, a migraine comes in four different stages:
- Prodrome (subtle changes in your health and behavior, e.g., mood swings, constipation, neck stiffness, etc.)
- Aura (visual or auditory phenomena, numbness on one side of your body, difficulty speaking)
- Attack (symptoms listed in the previous paragraph)
- Post-drome (feeling drained, confused, or even elated after the attack has passed)
What Triggers a Migraine?
Several different things can cause a throbbing headache. Usually, they are split into two groups: external and internal stimuli.
Among the external stimuli that can lead to migraines are:
- Food and drinks
- Food additives
- Weather changes
- Sleep pattern changes.
Internal stimuli affect us from within our bodies. They are as follows:
- Hormonal changes (in women)
- Various physical factors (exhaustion, intense sexual activity, etc.)
- Powerful sensory stimuli, e.g., pungent smells or blinding light
Of course, migraines affect everyone, from all age groups and both sexes. However, there are some details you need to take into consideration. For example, if you’re a woman, you are three times more likely to have a migraine than a man. To make matters worse, migraines can intensify during pregnancy or menopause.
People who have a medical history of migraines in their family will more than likely get one at some point in their lives. And while they do affect people of all ages, the most intense migraine period occurs during your early thirties.
What Is Green Light Therapy?
Green light therapy is a non-pharmacological approach to migraine treatment that has become quite popular recently. Most people with a basic knowledge of migraines, however, find it strange. After all, a person afflicted with this condition is sensitive to light, so logically, you would want to avoid bright lights until you feel better. Why would you treat a condition with something that has a direct negative effect?
Well, it all comes down to the electrical signals that specific lights generate in our retinas and our brains’ cortex regions. Blue and red lights, for example, tend to generate the strongest signals and have the most effect on our eyes, directly intensifying headaches. Green light, on the other hand, generates the weakest signals, so it’s less likely to intensify migraines.
The general idea behind green light therapy is simple, but that doesn’t mean you can just buy a green light bulb or lamp and call it a day. You’ll need a special narrow band of light, and it has to be of a specific intensity. Most importantly, you have to be exposed to that light alone for a certain amount of time. No other light source should be present since it can have a negative effect and worsen the pain.
Why Do Some People Rally Behind Green Light Therapy?
Using alternative treatments for migraines is nothing new. Some individuals turn to acupressure or attend yoga classes. Others simply book a massage when they can afford it. Most other therapies revolve around eating specific foods or applying essential oils. As expected, none of these treatments can definitively get rid of a migraine, and their actual health benefits are still unknown due to a lack of proper research.
Light therapy, in general, has a lot of potential because of its application. First off, it’s completely patient-controlled, so we don’t need an expert administering anything, and we can increase the intensity at will. Next, it’s non-invasive. When using light therapy, we’re not ingesting or injecting anything. It’s essentially just some light pointed directly at us. Also, this type of therapy will cost you next to nothing. So, if it’s successful, we can save hundreds of dollars on medication and treatments.
But the biggest benefit of green light therapy, in particular, is that it shows no adverse side-effects. According to a few studies, the green light does not exacerbate migraine headaches as much as the light of other colors.
Green Light Therapy Studies
Over the years, scientists and medical experts have conducted several studies involving green light therapy and migraines. Some of these have been published as recently as 2019. And while there are still no definite conclusions, some of the findings have been fascinating.
Two Types of Studies
Scientists have focused on two primary areas of green light therapy research. The first area dealt with acute pain relief. During these studies, experts would test different colors and how they affected the test subjects’ pain.
The second area of green light research focused on preventive therapy, i.e., using green light to reduce the risk of developing a migraine. Since this second type is rather new, there have been no early results as of June 2020. With that in mind, we will focus on the studies that dealt primarily with pain relief.
The 2016 Study
In 2016, the medical journal Brain published a multinational study dealing with green light therapy and migraines (1). Patients were exposed to different-colored lights — mainly red, blue, green, and white — for a certain amount of time(1).
The doctors would then note their objective findings and combine them with the patients’ subjective reports for a complete overview(1). The results showed that green light exacerbated migraines to a lesser extent than other colors(1). Moreover, patients reported feeling better, and some even experienced a decrease in photophobia(1).
The 2017 Study
A study involving rats came out in 2017 (2). Researchers exposed three groups of rats with neuropathic pain to different lighting:
- Group 1 was in an enclosure with green LED lights.
- Group 2 was exposed to natural light and contact lenses that allowed the green spectrum wavelength to reach them.
- The last group was in an enclosure with contact lenses that blocked out all green light.
The results of this study showed that rats exposed to green light benefited more than those that didn’t receive any green light(2). These beneficial effects lasted for four days after the last exposure(2). Most importantly, none of the three groups suffered from any side-effects(2).
The 2018 Study
A year later, the medical journal Pain published a study on light sensitivity and its effect on migraines (3). During the study, patients were exposed to red, blue, green, amber, and white lights(3). The numbers were largely in favor of green light therapy(3). Roughly 80% of migraine patients saw their symptoms worsen with non-green lights, and 16% of the time, these lights would trigger a headache(3). On the other hand, green light managed to exacerbate headaches 40% of the time, and in only 3% of all cases did it cause a headache(3).
The 2019 Study
One of the most recent studies also involved human test subjects. The patients were instructed to sit in a room with a low-intensity green light for up to 2 hours. They weren’t allowed any other lights to avoid tampering with the results. And since the scientists wanted the light to enter the patients’ eyes, they instructed each subject to perform different tasks so they wouldn’t fall asleep.
As of 2020, the results of the study have not yet been published. Some preliminary reports, however, show that the patients experienced a slight pain reduction. Researchers speculate that patients might benefit from the therapy more if the exposure time is shorter and less restrictive.
Should You Try Green Light Therapy?
Sadly, none of the studies have yielded any conclusive evidence that green light therapy works. There’s an upward trend, and preliminary results are promising. However, we still don’t know how to apply this treatment properly.
Interestingly, when browsing your favorite online retailer, you can find lots of green light lamps that claim to be effective against migraines. However, we don’t have nearly enough research on this subject to know if such lamps will work or not. So, we suggest that you stick to regular migraine treatment until more data comes out. Also, consult your doctor on the potential benefits (as well as risks) of green light therapy before buying anything.
Lamps aren’t the only product out there that people use to treat migraines. Recently, lots of glasses with green lenses have been appearing both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. Some of them even come with all-green frames that match the exact shade of the lens. But do these glasses work?
The short answer to that is — we don’t know. Buying glasses with all-green lenses might be a bad idea since such a lens is too dark to see anything. Of course, they might work if you’re resting at home since they’re blocking out all other colors from coming through. However, if you use these glasses too much, your eyes will go through something called dark adaptation. In short, they will adapt to the darkness and become even more sensitive to intense light.
Overall, we don’t know enough about green light therapy to conclude if it’s effective or not definitively. However, with more research on the way, we’ll have the answer to that question is a matter of years. If you’re interested in using green light as a migraine reliever, we suggest you combine it with your current treatment. More importantly, discuss this process with your doctor in detail before you flick on that green light.