Do Scents Make You Sick?

By Pat Anson, Editor

One in three Americans suffers adverse health effects – such as migraines and asthma attacks – when exposed to air fresheners, cleaning supplies, perfume and other scented consumer products, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne polled over 1,100 Americans in an online survey and found that nearly all were exposed to fragranced products at least once a week at home, work, or in public places such as stores or hospitals.

Almost 35% reported adverse health effects such as breathing difficulties, migraine headaches, asthma attacks, skin rashes, dizziness, nausea, and other medical problems. For half of these individuals, the problems are so severe they are potentially disabling, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"This is a huge problem; it's an epidemic," said Professor Anne Steinemann of the University of Melbourne School of Engineering, who is an expert on the health effects of environmental pollutants.

"Basically, if it contained a fragrance, it posed problems for people."

The study found that fragranced products may affect the bottom lines of many businesses. Over 20 percent of respondents said if they entered a store or business and smelled an air freshener or some fragranced product, they would leave as quickly as possible. And more than twice as many customers would choose hotels and airplanes without fragranced air than with fragranced air.

In the workplace, over 15% of respondents said they became sick, lost workdays or even lost a job due to exposure to fragranced products. Over half said they would prefer fragrance-free workplaces and health care facilities.

Even hygiene is impacted by fragrances. Nearly one in five said they are unable or reluctant to use toilets in public places because of the presence of an air freshener, deodorizer or scented product. And 14 percent said they would be reluctant to wash their hands in a public restroom because the soap might be scented.

“Adverse effects resulting from exposure to fragranced products, such as in workplaces and public places, raise concerns about liability,” said Steinemann. “For instance, individuals can suffer acute health effects, such as an asthma attack, if they enter a restroom that uses air fresheners. If they are unable to access a restroom due to the presence of an air freshener, then that poses a potential violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Two out of three survey respondents were not aware that fragranced products often emit hazardous air pollutants such as formaldehyde, and 72% were not aware that even so-called natural, green, and organic fragranced products emit hazardous air pollutants.

“Fragranced product manufacturers are not required to disclose all ingredients in their formulations. This lack of disclosure can impede efforts to understand and reduce adverse effects associated with potentially harmful compounds,” Steinemann wrote. “Further, we lack knowledge on which specific chemicals or mixtures of chemicals are associated with the adverse effects, and this is an important area for research.”

The study findings are published in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health.

Experimental Drug Reduces Migraine Days by Half

Pat Anson, Editor

An experimental injectable drug reduces the number of migraine days by 50 percent or more in patients who suffer from chronic migraine, according to the results of a new study released by drug makers Amgen and Novartis.

The Phase II study of AMG 334 -- also known as erenumab – involved 667 patients who suffered an average of about 18 migraine days per month.  A reduction of 50% or more in monthly migraine days was observed in four out of ten patients taking a 140 mg dose of erenumab. Patients taking a 70 mg dose had a 40% reduction in migraine days compared to a placebo drug. 

Significant improvements were also noted in quality of life, headache impact, disability, and pain interference compared to the placebo.

“Chronic migraine patients lose more than half of their life to migraines with 15 or more headache days a month, facing intolerable pain and physical impairment,” said Stewart Tepper, MD, a professor of neurology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. “As a neurologist, these findings are exciting because they demonstrate that erenumab could serve as an important new therapy option for reducing the burden of this often-disabling disease.”

Erenumab is not an opiate and falls under a newer class of medications – known as fully human monoclonal antibodies -- that target receptors in the brain where migraines are thought to originate.

“Erenumab is specifically designed to prevent migraine by blocking a receptor that is believed to have a critical role in mediating the incapacitating pain of migraine,” said Sean Harper, MD, executive vice president of Research and Development at Amgen, which is co-developing the drug with Novartis.

“The results from this global chronic migraine study are exciting because they support the efficacy of erenumab for a patient population that has had few therapeutic options.”

Results from two Phase III studies of erenumab for episodic migraine are expected later this year. If positive results are achieved, that could lead to a new drug application with the Food and Drug Administration.

"This is an exciting time in the treatment of chronic migraine, which has a profound impact on the lives of those who suffer from the disease," said Vasant Narasimhan, Global Head of Drug Development and Chief Medical Officer for Novartis. "These important data further support the efficacy of AMG 334 in patients who currently have limited therapeutic options."

Under its agreement with Novartis, Amgen holds sales rights for erenumab in the United States, Canada and Japan, while Novartis would sell the drug in Europe and the rest of the world.

Migraine is thought to affect a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. It affects three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound. About half of people living with migraine are undiagnosed.

Many Multiple Sclerosis Patients Misdiagnosed

By Pat Anson, Editor

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that attacks the body’s central nervous system, causing pain, numbness, difficulty walking, paralysis, loss of vision, and fatigue. Patients diagnosed with MS face enormous physical, emotional and financial challenges coping with a disease that cannot be cured.

Many also discover that they don’t actually have MS.

A new study published in the journal Neurology looks at 110 patients who were incorrectly diagnosed with MS when they actually suffered from more common and treatable conditions such as migraine and fibromyalgia.   

One third of the patients were misdiagnosed for a decade or longer, most took unnecessary and potentially harmful medication to treat a disease they didn't have, and some even participated in clinical trials for experimental MS therapies.

About a third suffered from “unnecessary morbidity” – morbid thoughts of death.

"Misdiagnosis of MS is common; patients may experience common MS symptoms, such as numbness and weakness with a variety of different conditions, many that are more common and less serious than multiple sclerosis," says the study's senior author Brian Weinshenker, MD, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic.

"With the advent of treatments for MS, many physicians feel pushed to reach an early diagnosis, and may be less strict than they should in requiring more specific symptoms or objective neurological findings before making a diagnosis of MS.”

Unlike other chronic illnesses, there is no specific biomarker or blood test for MS. The nerve damage caused by MS is also associated with a wide range of symptoms, many of which are also caused by other conditions such as Lyme disease, lupus, fibromyalgia, and Vitamin B12 deficiency.

Some diagnostic tests for MS, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can also be misinterpreted.

“Nonspecific MRI abnormalities that can mimic those of MS are very common in healthy individuals, and widespread use of MRI as a diagnostic tool increases the rate of misdiagnosis," said Weinshenker.

The 110 patients included in the study were identified by MS subspecialist neurologists at Mayo Clinic, University of Vermont, Washington University and Oregon Health & Science University.

Twenty two percent of the misdiagnosed patients actually had migraine; 15% had fibromyalgia; 12% had a nonspecific condition flagged by an abnormal MRI; 11% had a conversion or psychogenic disorder; and 6% had neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder.

"This study suggests significant and long-term unnecessary risks for these patients," said lead author Andrew Solomon, MD, a neurologist at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. "While there may be different reasons for misdiagnoses by subspecialists and nonspecialists, this study suggests that we all make mistakes, and I think we can all do better.”

A previous survey of MS specialists found that more than 95% had seen at least one patient in the past year that was misdiagnosed with MS by another provider.

Some treatments for MS carry serious side effects. One drug, taken by 13 percent of the misdiagnosed patients in the current study, can cause a potentially fatal brain infection. Other patients suffered from the discomfort and inconvenience of daily injections; others experienced side effects from medications or lacked treatment for the conditions they actually had.

There are also enormous financial costs involved. The cost of medications to treat MS in the United States now exceeds $50,000 a year.

"Premature diagnosis of MS should be avoided," says Weinshenker. "When in doubt, physicians often can defer a diagnosis if it is not clear that there is a serious neurological problem or if a patient is stable. Physicians should request a second opinion when they are unsure but concerned that it might be harmful to delay a definitive diagnosis of MS."

Weinshenker and Solomon hope their study will encourage better education of clinicians on the proper use of MS diagnostic criteria and to further studies on how to recognize patients incorrectly diagnosed with MS.

Updated Device Helps Prevent Migraines

By Pat Anson, Editor

A new pocket-sized wearable device is available to help treat and prevent migraine headaches.

Cefaly Technology has released the Cefaly II, an updated version of the Cefaly I, which is worn over the forehead like a headband and uses small electrical impulses to stimulate the trigeminal nerve, which has been associated with migraine headaches.

The Cefaly II is much smaller and fits in the palm of a hand. Like its predecessor, the device is worn on the forehead, but is held more securely in place by a magnet. Because of its smaller size, the manufacturer believes the Cefaly II will be more accessible and easier to use.

“This compact device is so easy to tuck in a pocket or purse and I am hopeful it will further increase compliance and bring an even larger reduction in migraine attacks to patients,” said Dr. Pierre Rigaux, Chief Executive Officer of Belgium-based Cefaly Technology.

“Now that the device is so small, it’s a big deal because patients can have their Cefaly II with them wherever they go, which means they’ll be able to use it more readily, at their most convenient time.”

cefaly technology image

cefaly technology image

The Cefaly II uses a magnet to attach itself to a self-adhesive electrode worn directly on the forehead. The rechargeable, battery powered device sends tiny electrical impulses through the skin to desensitize the upper branches of the trigeminal nerve and reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Patients have full control of their daily 20-minute session and can ramp up the intensity to their own comfort level.

In a small study of 20 migraine sufferers, published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, the Cefaly I provided "statistically significant" pain relief and an 81 percent reduction in the number of migraine attacks. Patients in the study also said they used significantly less migraine medication.

The electrode and output of the Cefaly II is identical to the Cefaly I, according to the company.

Here’s a company produced video of how the Cefaly II works:

The Cefaly II is only available by prescription and costs $349, with a 60-day money back guarantee. The device can be ordered online by clicking here. The Cefaly I will no longer be offered, but the electrodes for it will be available for another 5 years. Cefaly Technology has sold about 20,000 of the devices in United States and 80,000 outside the U.S.

Migraine is thought to affect a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. It affects three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound.

My 50 Years with Chronic Pain

By Carol Hansen, Guest Columnist

I am a 71 year old woman living with chronic pain.  When I was in my 20’s I started having severe migraine headaches, at least two per month.  It was hard to do anything. They lasted at least 3 days, leaving me wiped out!

I also cared for my grandparents in my home until they died. My grandmother also had migraines when she was younger.  She shared with me that when I got older my headaches would go away and she was correct.

I had some aunts that had fibromyalgia, which at that time no one knew what it was.  I knew my grandmother’s pain level was high, because she was on opiates.  Her doctor gave her a high dose so she was hooked on these medications. 

Doctors used to prescribe a lot of pain medication, thinking that was all they could do for pain patients. Even then they did not want to deal with us. I was always afraid of pain medication because I observed my grandmother’s life.  After my grandparents passed away our lives naturally changed.

We enjoyed time with our young family.  Still my migraines were very hard on me and fibromyalgia slowed me down.  Yet I still had bluebirds and was a Sunday school teacher, along with a full schedule helping teachers and caring for my children.

In 1981, I was trying to start the heater in our camper when the camper blew up, leaving me with third degree burns. The company that repaired our camper had left all the gas lines disconnected.  More stress, and we filed a lawsuit.  This added to my migraines and my fibromyalgia was very painful.

In 1983, my wonderful husband died leaving me with teenagers.  My body reacted in what I thought was an unusual way.  I felt as if I couldn’t stay still. I had to be moving all the time and at night sleep didn’t come.  This went on for at least two years, while increasing fibromyalgia pain. 

After my husband died I felt that if I had a business it might help me through the grief.   After much thought I started a small business, it is now 30 years old with multi-layered experiences.  Because of my unique business I was asked by two magazines to write a monthly article which I did. 

My church asked me to lead a group and host a family of 7 immigrants (boat people from Vietnam). I was in charge of them for several years.  As much as I loved the family, I had to use tough love and slowly stopped helping them to let me go and begin their own lives, as families should.  Knowing this family is a wonderful story that added happiness to our lives. I did all this through my pain.

My neck was so bad I was losing the use of my left arm. There was more pain and it was getting harder to deal with my business.  During this time I met a second wonderful man.  We saw each other for 6 years before we married. 

I saw a doctor about my neck pain.  When the camper exploded, I hit the back of my neck on the counter edge.  I didn’t know at first that I had hurt my neck because the burns were so bad.  My neck had a dent in the vertebrae’s and was collecting calcium deposits. Over time I ended up having three surgeries on my neck.  They couldn’t get all the calcium out because it was too close to the spinal cord and I could have been paralyzed.

Right after one of the surgeries I ended up back in the hospital with mononucleosis and hepatitis.  It made healing much harder and the pain became chronic along with fibromyalgia.  I saw a rheumatologist in Seattle.  We tried Lyrica and Cymbalta, but I had terrible side effects. 

I was asked to take part in a University of Washington fibromyalgia study that lasted several months.  I roller skated 4 miles around Green Lake every day. I was in great shape and was doing this through all the pain. I tried biofeedback and swimming twice a week.  I also have a TENS machine, but that only helps while you’re on it. 

I tried everything to help the pain.  My rheumatologist recommended I take oxycodone three times a day.  They helped me but it was not a time release so it would not decrease pain evenly.  When OxyContin became available, my doctor suggested I try it. I now take OxyContin three times a day.  He also gave me the oxycodone for breakthrough pain.  I started this program in the early 1990’s and have been on the same dose ever since, never asking for more or stronger medication.  It helps control about 75% of my pain.  Sometimes I forget to take the medication and I hurt a lot.  This medication is not addicting like the pills my grandmother took.  I am not addicted, I am dependent!

I have had several other surgeries, including two that failed.  One surgery was on my left foot and the doctor left my foot deformed; he is no longer practicing.  In 2013 I had a total knee replacement and it was a complete failure. I have problems going up and down stairs, and it is now my biggest pain area.  I am also diabetic and have osteoarthritis in my hands and hips. 

My pain is very chronic, there is no way to exercise or do other things recommended by the CDC. I’ve already tried them. The pain medication is the only relief I will ever have.

In 2001, we moved from Seattle to northern Idaho.  No doctor there wanted to deal with a new pain patient, so we were traveling 800 miles round trip back to Seattle every 3 months. Then my doctor retired. The doctor that replaced him left for another clinic because he didn’t want to deal with my doctor’s patients.  The doctor that took his place said she would not prescribe pain medication.  I got a letter saying they did not want me as a patient – even though I was a great patient staying with the same doctor for many years. In fact, they kicked out ALL pain patients from that clinic!

I did eventually find a pain clinic near us. So far they are keeping me on the same program as my retired doctor had me on.

The CDC, FDA and the Obama administration are telling doctors to take pain medication away from us. They are lumping pain patients in with addicts and causing horrible problems.  Doctors don't want to deal with us. Whatever happened to "Do No Harm"? 

Carol Hansen lived in Idaho. She invites people to learn more about chronic pain by reading "Opioid Epidemic Myths" and this Petition2Congress.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us.  Send them to:  editor@PainNewsNetwork.org

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Migraines Linked to Low Levels of Vitamin D

By Pat Anson, Editor

Low levels of Vitamin D have been associated with fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other chronic pain conditions. And new research suggests the “sunshine vitamin” may play a role in preventing migraines.

Researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found that a high percentage of children, teens and young adults with migraines appear to have mild deficiencies in vitamin D, riboflavin and coenzyme Q10. The latter is a vitamin-like substance found in cells that is used to produce energy for cell growth and maintenance.

"Further studies are needed to elucidate whether vitamin supplementation is effective in migraine patients in general, and whether patients with mild deficiency are more likely to benefit from supplementation," says Suzanne Hagler, MD, a Headache Medicine fellow in the division of Neurology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. She presented her findings at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society in San Diego.

Hagler studied a database of patients with migraines who had their blood levels checked for vitamin D, riboflavin, coenzyme Q10 and folate, all of which have been linked to migraines in previous and sometimes conflicting studies.

Many of the patients were put on migraine medications and received vitamin supplementation, if their blood levels were low. Because few received vitamins alone, the researchers were unable to determine if vitamin supplements by themselves were effective in preventing migraines.

Hagler found that girls and young woman were more likely than boys and young men to have coenzyme Q10 deficiencies. Boys and young men were more likely to have vitamin D deficiency. Patients with chronic migraines were more likely to have coenzyme Q10 and riboflavin deficiencies than those with episodic migraines.

Vitamin D helps control levels of calcium and phosphate in the blood and is essential for the formation of strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D also modulates cell growth, improves neuromuscular and immune function, and reduces inflammation

Sources of Vitamin D include oily fish and eggs, but it can be difficult to get enough through diet alone. Ultraviolet rays in sunlight are a principal source of Vitamin D for most people.

Danish researchers found that exposure to sunlight may delay the onset of multiple sclerosis (MS). Patients who spent time in the sun every day during the summer as teenagers developed the disease later in life than those who spent their summers indoors.

Low levels of serum vitamin D were found in over 1,800 fibromyalgia patients in a recent meta-analysis (a study of studies) published in the journal Pain Physician. Researchers at National Taiwan University Hospital found a “positive crude association” between chronic widespread pain and hypovitaminosis D.

Pain News Network columnist Crystal Lindell began taking Vitamin D supplements when her blood levels were found to be very low. Within a few months she was feeling better, exercising more, and losing weight. You can read Crystal’s story by clicking here.

New Treatments Offer Hope to Migraine Sufferers

By Pat Anson, Editor

Findings from several new clinical studies could pave the way for new treatments that could someday prevent and lessen the severity of migraines.

Migraine is thought to affect a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. Although there are many treatment options available, most migraine sufferers are not fully satisfied with their effectiveness.

Teva Pharmaceuticals (NYSE: TEVA) is developing a new injectable drug – called TEV-48125 – that is designed to be injected monthly in chronic migraine sufferers who have headaches at least 15 days per month.

"Chronic migraine affects about 1 percent of all adults, yet less than 5 percent of those people receive a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment," said study author Marcelo Bigal, MD, of Teva Pharmaceuticals. "Most people who receive preventive medication for chronic migraine stop using them, and one reason for that is the drugs can take a long time to become effective.”

In findings published online in the journal Neurology, Bigal reported that TEV-48125 was effective in reducing the length of headaches three to seven days after the first injection. The drug contains an antibody that blocks the calcitonin gene-related peptide that plays a role in migraine pain.

Teva’s Phase II study involved 261 people with chronic migraine who were divided into three groups; one group received a monthly shot for three months with a low dose of TEV-48125, the second group received a high dose and the third group received a placebo shot. Participants then used an electronic diary to record the number and length of their headaches.

After one week, the average number of headache hours went down by 2.9 hours for people taking the placebo, 9.1 hours for people taking the low dose of TEV-48125 and 11.4 hours for those taking the high dose.

After two weeks, the number of days with moderate or severe headaches, fell by 0.8 days for patients getting the placebo, 1.3 days for the low dose and 1.5 days for the high dose of TEV-48125.

“If these results can be confirmed with larger studies, this could be exciting for people with migraine," said Bigal.

Amgen Injectable Migraine Drug

Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) and Novaratis (NYSE: NVS) are also developing a monthly injectable drug --- called erenumab – which contains an antibody that blocks a peptide receptor that is believed to transmit migraine pain signals.

In a Phase II study, 667 chronic migraine patients were injected with a placebo or two different doses (70 mg or 140 mg) of erenumab. At the start of the study, patients were experiencing about 18 migraine days per month.

Patients who received erenumab at either dose experienced an average 6.6-day reduction in migraine days, compared to a 4.2-day reduction in those who receive a placebo. Less than five percent of the  patients treated with erenumab had a side effect, such as injection site pain, upper respiratory tract infection and nausea.

Erenumab is currently under evaluation in several large global, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials to assess its safety and efficacy in migraine prevention. Amgen expects results from a Phase III study of erenumab in the second half of 2016. Depending on the findings, that could result in an early new drug application to the Food and Drug Administration.  

Clinical studies presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society also highlighted some promising new migraine treatments.

Alder BioPharmaceuticals presented data showing that a single injection of a drug called ALD403 reduces migraine for up to six months. In a recent Phase II study of patients with chronic migraine, ALD403 significantly reduced migraines by 75 percent in up to a third of patients. 

“A 75 percent reduction in migraine days for these patients means a reduction of 12 or more migraine days each month,” said Jeffrey T.L. Smith, MD, Senior Vice President at Alder. “This equates to giving patients back roughly two weeks of their lives after a single administration.”

Researchers at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine reported results from a placebo controlled study on the efficacy of ubrogepant in treating a single migraine attack. Patients who received ubrogepant reported a reduction in headache severity from severe or moderate to mild or none within two hours.

Ubrogepant is free of known cardiovascular risk and may provide an important treatment option for patients who suffer from cardiovascular disease. 

Migraine affect three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound. About half of people living with migraine are undiagnosed.

A Pained Life: Teaching the Reality of Pain

By Carol Levy, Columnist

Excedrin, which makes an over-the-counter pill for migraine sufferers, has a wonderful TV ad.

A sufferer wanted to show her mother what she sees and experiences when she has a migraine. Excedrin developed a simulator that does exactly that (click here to see it).

The mother puts on the device and sees the visual disturbances her daughter sees when she has a migraine attack. As she removes the device the mother turns to her daughter, hugs her and says, “I'm so sorry. I didn’t know.”

How wonderful, I thought. If only...

If only there was a way to simulate the pain of constant, intractable chronic pain.

If only there was a way to get our message across, and in a visceral way.

Too often we are told, even by medical professionals:

“It can't be that bad.”

"I had a sprained ankle so I get your pain.”

“It's all in your head. You just don't want to (go out, work, be a part of the family, the community, the world, etc.)”

It is common for a pain sufferer to write in the comment section of articles on chronic pain the following:  

“I wish doctors would have chronic pain, even if only for a day or two so they would get it.”

When I had the worst of my trigeminal neuralgia, I could not tolerate any touch to my forehead on the affected side. This meant I could not wash that part of my face or my hair. As a result I would get a big buildup of soap and dirt in the area which, because of a facial paralysis and my eye not being able to close well, caused eye infections.

The only way to clean the area was to put me under general anesthesia. The nurses and doctors were wonderful about it, the doctor having shampoo in his locker in case I forgot mine.

When someone asks me about the pain and they say outright or make expressions indicating they don't believe me, I trot out my general anesthesia anecdote. Then they get it. After all, why would a doctor or a patient take the risk of anesthesia without a real need to do it?

I recall a TV show, maybe it was Doogie Howser, MD, where medical students went through a simulation of what it is like to be a patient. They were given cloudy glasses to feel the disorientation of being unable to see clearly. They also put pebbles in their shoes to feel the discomfort of severe pain when you are trying to get around.

I had hoped maybe they did actually do this at a medical school somewhere, but no matter what words I put into Google Search, I could not find anything. The closest are programs where actors are hired to portray various illnesses to help teach students better diagnostic skills, insight and empathy.  But no actors had the role of being in chronic pain.

How can we teach the students?

I didn’t realize when I started writing this I would feel so frustrated by the question.  I guess I expected I would find a pithy answer.

Unfortunately, part of the answer is that students come from the general population, which often cannot accept the level of pain we feel. So they bring that skepticism and disbelief with them.

It would be unethical to put them in actual pain.

But maybe if we could show them the impairment, if we could find a simulator to allow them to feel the frustration of being unable to tie a shoe, go out in the slight breeze without the triggering of exquisite pain, or even walk, we too might too hear a “I'm so sorry. I didn’t know.”

And wouldn’t that be wonderful.

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” 

Carol is the moderator of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness.” Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Green Light Reduces Migraine Headache

By Pat Anson, Editor

Many people who suffer from migraines will tell you that bright light can trigger a horrible headache.

But researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston have found that a narrow band of green light can significantly reduce light sensitivity – known as photophobia – and reduce headache severity in migraine sufferers.

"Although photophobia is not usually as incapacitating as headache pain itself, the inability to endure light can be disabling," said Rami Burstein, PhD, Vice Chair of Research in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine and Academic Director of the Comprehensive Headache Center at Beth Israel Deaconess, as well as the John Hedley-Whyte Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School.

"More than 80 percent of migraine attacks are associated with and exacerbated by light sensitivity, leading many migraine sufferers to seek the comfort of darkness and isolate themselves from work, family and everyday activities."

Five years ago, Burstein and his colleagues made the surprising discovery that blue light hurts migraine patients who are blind. The finding prompted research that found photophobia could be alleviated by blocking blue light. However, because that study involved only blind patients, who cannot detect all colors of light, researchers devised a way to study the effects of different colors of light on headache in patients who are not visually impaired.

In the first study of its kind, published in the journal Brain, Burstein and colleagues found that a narrow band of green light worsens migraine significantly less than other colors of light, and that low intensities of green light can even reduce headache pain.

The researchers asked 43 patients experiencing acute migraine attacks to report any change in headache when exposed to different intensities of blue, green, amber and red light.

As the intensity of the light increased every 30 seconds, patients were asked if their headache intensified. Nearly 80 percent of patients said their migraines got worse when exposed to white, blue or amber light, while green light was found to reduce pain in 20 percent of patients.

Researchers then measured the magnitude of the electrical signals generated by the retina (in the eye) and the cortex (in the brain) of patients in response to each color of light. They found that blue and red lights generated the largest signals in both the retina and the cortex, and that green light generated the smallest signals.

Researchers also used laboratory rats to study neurons in the thalamus, an area of the brain that transmits information about light from the eye to the cortex. These neurons were found to be most responsive to blue light and least responsive to green light, explaining why the migraine brain responds favorably to green light.

"These findings offer real hope to patients with migraines and a promising path forward for researchers and clinicians," said Burstein.

Burstein is now working to develop a more affordable light bulb that emits "pure" (narrow band wavelength) green light at low intensity, as well as affordable sunglasses that block all but this narrow band of pure green light. Currently, the cost of one such light bulb is prohibitively high ($360 to $500, according to this research) and the technology to block all but pure green light in sunglasses is also very costly.

Light therapy – also known as infrared or laser therapy – is also being used to treat pain from aching joints, muscles and low back pain. Red and green light are also used as a treatment for skin disorders such as acne, aging spots and wrinkles. The theory is that light therapy increases circulation and stimulates the growth of collagen in skin.

About a billion people worldwide suffer from headaches caused by migraines, which affect three times as many women as men.

Migraine affects about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound. About half of people living with migraine are undiagnosed.

What Does a Migraine Look Like?

By Pat Anson, Editor

Sometimes there’s an aura. Or bright lights. Or blurred vision.

About a billion people worldwide suffer from headaches caused by migraines, which affect three times as many women as men. Most non-sufferers understand the headache part, but explaining what a migraine looks like isn’t easy – which is why the makers of Excedrin invented a simulator to help people better understand  migraines and the impact they can have.

"Migraines are more than bad headaches – the pulsing pain can be debilitating, and the associated symptoms like nausea and extreme sensitivity to light and sound, really impact people's lives," said Dr. Elizabeth Seng, a New York based psychologist.

GSK Consumer Healthcare brought together several migraine sufferers and had them explain the symptoms they most often experience during a migraine episode, including aura, sensitivity to light and blurred vision. The symptoms were then replicated with the simulator and conducted in a controlled environment from everyday life – like riding the subway or going to a restaurant -- to give non-sufferers the chance to safely experience the full range of migraine symptoms

Many found the experience unsettling and nauseating, as you’ll see in this short video that Excedrin recently began airing on TV and over the Internet:

Excedrin partnered with Andy Cohen, a best-selling author, TV personality, producer and migraine sufferer, to help spread awareness about the impact migraines can have on relationships with friends, spouses and co-workers. He hopes the simulator will help non-sufferers better understand the migraine experience.

"Growing up with migraines, I experienced firsthand how debilitating an episode can be and how much it can affect relationships with loved ones," said Cohen. "In my experience, both personal and professional, I've seen how migraines can become a third party in relationships – creating tension in, sometimes, already murky waters."

Migraine affects about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound. About half of people living with migraine are undiagnosed.