A migraine can cause severe throbbing or pulsating pain usually on the side of the head and is often accompanied by light and sound sensitivity, nausea and vomiting. These can last hours or days (usually between 4 and 72h). A warning signal, known as an aura, often occurs prior to the migraine coming on, where visual disturbances or tingling sensations in the face, arms or legs may occur.
Migraine is the third most common disease in the world, affecting around 1 in 7 people worldwide. It is more prevalent than asthma, epilepsy and diabetes combined. Migraine also affects 3 times as many women as men, likely due to hormonal difference. It is estimated to cause the UK population to lose 25 million days of school or work each year, leading to a cost of £2.25 billion per year.
The cause of migraine has been perplexing for neuroscientists and neurologists for a long time. It is certain that there is a genetic basis, however this does not fully explain their occurrence. It has been thought that changes in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve (a pain pathway) may be involved, as well as imbalances in brain chemicals, such as serotonin, which regulate pain in the nervous system.
Migraines can also be a triggered by a number of things, including:
- Hormonal changes in women, such as before or during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause,
- Drinks, such as alcohol and coffee,
- Sensory overloads, such as loud noises, strong smells, bright lights, etc.,
- Weather changes, such as changes in barometric pressure or weather,
- Sleep changes,
- Medications, etc.
Treatments for migraine often involve painkillers, anti-sickness medicines, acupuncture, botox or even transcranial magnetic stimulation (a non-invasive procedure which uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain).
A new study from the University of Arizona has found that green light therapy may help migraine patients. The study involved 29 patients, 86% had episodic migraine (up to 14 headache days per month) and 63% had chronic migraine (15 or more headache days per month). The patients selected had tried previous traditional treatments, but these did not work for them (such as oral medications and botox).
Throughout the study, the patients were exposed to white light for 1-2 hours a day for 10 weeks, followed by a 2-week break. The patients were then exposed to green light in the same way. Their experience was measured using regular questionnaires and surveys, to track the number of headaches, their intensity and quality of life (ability to work, sleep, focus, etc.).
Throughout the green light therapy, patients reported a more than 50% reduction in headache days per month, and a 60% reduction in pain intensity (from 8.0 to 3.2 out of 10). They also had shorter headaches, better sleep, and could exercise, do chores and go to work. There were no reported side effects from the green light therapy.
These results are extremely promising, and the researchers of the study are going to continue investigating green light therapy to eventually add it to the treatment options for migraine patients!
Source: Martin, L.F. et al. (2020). “Evaluation of green light exposure on headache frequency and quality of life in migraine patients: A preliminary one-way cross-over clinical trial”. Cephalalgia. SAGE Journals
Featured image: Best Health, E. Cooper (2017).