Posted on 04/15/2021
When you have migraine, light hurts. Every piercing ray is too bright. The glowing sun. Evil fluorescent lights. Inescapable electronic screens. Even ordinary lights around the house. Lights leave us reaching for the off switch and pulling the shades closed tight.
We are often stuck in a dark room for hours or days. Our time is lost, disappearing into the black hole of migraine. After ten years of chronic migraine, I know this routine all too well. And with a new condition affecting my retinas as well, my photosensitivity is heightened.
Given all this, I am intrigued by recent research regarding green light and its effect on photosensitivity. The research shows that migraine pain is intensified by certain colors of light, particularly red and blue wavelengths. However, green light is thought to calm the brain and reduce migraine pain by about 20 to 25%.
This research was conducted by Dr. Rami Burstein of Harvard University, who started studying headache in the 1990s and now studies why people with migraine experience light sensitivity. Dr. Burstein says green light helps other symptoms related to photosensitivity, including anxiety and brain fog. Check out Dr. Burstein’s fascinating interview from the 2020 Migraine World Summit.
In an interview with the American Headache Society, Dr. Burstein explained “there is a direct wire that goes from the retina into the part of the brain, the thalamus, that converges with neurons that are active during migraines.”
Put another way: “The pathway begins in the eye as light signals come in. Surprisingly, however, it ends right in a group of neurons (nerve cells) that tell the brain a headache is happening. When the light signals travel on that pathway and hit that group of neurons, they make the headache more painful.” (Allay Website Science Page).
Green light is thought to be calming and less painful, because it produces smaller electrical signals that are less irritating to the brain.
Dr. Burstein is not alone. Other researchers have also been exploring green light therapy. In 2019, NPR reported a study with a significant reduction in the number of monthly migraine attacks for a small sample of people after using green light therapy for two hours daily for 30 days. The researchers conducting that study think green light may stimulate the body‘s natural opioid production.
Dr. Burstein and his team developed the Allay Lamp, a rechargeable lamp that emits a narrow-band of green light for at-home green light therapy. The Allay Lamp is fully dimmable and easily portable. You can take it with you from room to room, using green light therapy whether you are taking a bath, cooking, or traveling. When you flip the lamp upside down, instead of emitting green light for therapy, it emits a warm, white light.
It is currently selling for $149. I have included a $25 off coupon code here and at the bottom of this page. The lamp has a 40-day “risk-free“ policy. If you do not like it, you can return it and get your money back, including free return shipping. But if you are like me, you will like it.
You could also try reading by the light of the lamp. The makers of the Allay Lamp have come out with a new desk version of the lamp specifically for this purpose (currently selling for $89).
The Allay Lamp instructions state that the lamp should be used without any other light source (including screens!) and for at least 30 minutes at a time. To get the best results, they recommend use of the lamp for two hours or longer. Also for best results, instructions that come with the lamp say to use the lamp on the dimmest setting possible for you. This means the lamp shines just enough light needed for you to see and move around safely.
Flip the lamp over to switch from warm white light (left) to green light (right)
You can find generic green light bulbs at the needed wavelength for at-home green light therapy. However, it is important to get a light bulb that does not flicker. Dr. Burstein has distinguished the Allay Lamp from other green light bulbs, noting it does not flicker. He has said this is important because flickering light can further aggravate photophobia and migraine pain. According to their website, the Allay Lamp also does not emit any red or green light wavelengths. Many generic green light bulbs do.
Last year, I tried a generic $25 green light bulb (530nm wavelength). I have no way of knowing if the bulb flickered or emitted colors other than green. These would not have been perceptible. But I found that the bulb was exceedingly bright (at 550 lumens), even with a lamp shade. I quickly stopped using it.
A company called Norb is currently selling a green light bulb for $19.99 on Amazon that it claims does not flicker and is pure green light. I have not used this bulb and cannot verify these claims. It is 800 lumens, which is extremely bright, though it can be used in a lamp with a dimmer.
In practice, I find it tricky to use the Allay Lamp daily as my only light source for 30 minutes to two or more hours at a time. It can be hard to be in a room with no other light source but the green light, especially if you are up and moving around during the day.
When I have a severe migraine attack and need to be in bed, I am in the dark with the Allay Lamp for hours. However, my eyes are closed during much of this time, and I have wondered whether the lamp is as effective. I emailed Allay to ask this question. The company is very responsive to emails (email@example.com).
They told me that while they do not have research, they have seen “preliminary information” that using the lamp with eyes closed and during sleep can be “helpful and beneficial.“ I likewise find the lamp helpful, particularly when combined with migraine medications during a severe attack.
I have gotten into a regular habit of using the lamp in the evenings. I leave it on my nightstand and turn it on while I get ready for bed, meditate and talk to my husband before going to sleep. The green light is calming and seems to help me fall asleep faster. My husband finds the light calming as well. My nightly routine with the lamp is usually at least 30 minutes of time. Still, I figure that even if I do not use the lamp for the full recommended time, some time is better than no time.
The lamp is making life with migraine more bearable, calming my anxiety and sensitivity to light for a little while each day. While the lamp is not erasing the pain completely, it is a tool I will continue to use regularly and for longer periods of time. Though I requested and received a free lamp to try in exchange for an honest blog write up, I would gladly purchase the Allay Lamp.
What I especially like about green light therapy is that it is not a medication but is something I can use unlimitedly without side effects. I am all too familiar with counting pills, with making difficult and daily decisions about when and whether to take a medicine or use a treatment. How many tools can you count in your migraine toolbox that can be used as often as you want, without limit?
We need light. It is good for our mood and circadian rhythms. It is not good for us to be in the dark. Neuro-ophthalmologists and my own headache specialist have explained that avoiding or blocking all light too much can actually increase our photosensitivity.
Given that the Allay Lamp is a one time purchase and can be used unlimitedly, it is relatively inexpensive when compared with so many of the other devices and treatments in which we have all invested. Green light therapy is not an instant fix, but it is another weapon, another tool you should consider adding to your arsenal.
Coupon: Receive $25 off your $100+ purchase of an Allay Lamp by clicking here. (If you use my code, I will receive $25 as well.)
Get our latest articles and prayers in your inbox!