People can get migraines or headaches for a variety of different reasons such as hormonal factors, stress, or a particular food or drink. However many people seem to forget that another key trigger can be their vision.

For example, some people who are more light-sensitive find that contrasting colours or repetitive patterns can trigger migraines – this could include black words on a white background, stripes on a shirt, the lines on an escalator or flickering lights. This is because these patterns can overexcite the visual part of the brain, overloading it and in some cases triggering migraine.

Professor Bruce Evans, Director of Research at the Institute of Optometry says:

 Vision-related migraines are most often suffered by children, teenagers and young adults, as the brain’s sensitivity can decrease with age. The good news is that if your migraines are triggered by visual factors then your optometrist may be able to help prevent some of the migraines. For example many optometry practices will have a piece of equipment called an ‘intuitive colorimeter’ which they can use to prescribe glasses with coloured lenses which patients can put on when they are exposed to visual triggers. Research using brain imaging (fMRI) indicates that the coloured filters quieten down the over-activity in the visual part of the brain.”

If you are worried about their headaches or migraines:

  • If you find that you experience headaches after looking at a computer, reading, or doing other close up work, your headache may be vision-related so seek advice from your optometrist
  • Children who come home from school complaining of headaches may be experiencing eye strain; seek advice from your optometrist if you notice this in your child
  • If you experience migraines try to keep a diary of when you’re getting them to help you identify triggers. If you notice that your migraines come on when you are exposed to fluorescent lights (for example in an office or supermarket), flickering lights or stripes, then they may be vision-related
  • For people who have problems working in offices or other environments that have fluorescent lighting; try to get more natural light as some people have found that this helps with their vision-related migraines