February 19, 2020

Study suggests that “distractions” like background noise make it harder for migraine sufferers to concentrate

One of the hallmarks of a severe migraine headache is a person’s sensitivity to light.  Often, when someone is suffering from one of these debilitating headaches, he/she seeks refuge in a darkened room, limiting as much light as possible, as well as avoiding any distractions.  Migraine sufferers can spend hours in the room, waiting for the pain to dissipate and adjusting to their environment again.  It can be so bad that some people must leave work to avoid the light and ride the migraine out.  Most individuals who have migraines note that light makes the headaches worse, and sometimes, it is that very light exposure that causes a migraine to occur.  But, why exactly is there a connection between light and the onset of a migraine? Two Scottish researchers set out to find out why and if this relationship really exists.

The research team divided study participants into two groups: one group had never suffered from migraines, while the other group consisted of individuals who experienced chronic migraines.  The participants were asked to focus on a small white light, while light noise played in the background.  This light noise was akin to the television static that comes on when the cable is out or programming is discontinued.  The researchers noted that when the background noise was not on, the healthy participants, as well as the migraine sufferers could each find the white light with little to no problems.  In this instance, those living with migraines did not complain of any difficulty or pain.  When the background was turned on, however, those migraine sufferers had a very difficult time finding the white light when compared with the healthy participants.  It is important to note that those who were prone to migraines were not suffering from any at the time of the study.

The researchers concluded that people who suffer from migraines recognize visual cues better when there are no distractions around, such as the background noise in the study.  What was surprising to the researchers is that this was true even when they were not suffering from migraines.  They concluded that migraine sufferers are likely at a disadvantage when they are attempting to focus on a particular object or details in a cluttered environment.  Unfortunately, our environment is chock full of objects, noise, lights, etc. that may prevent these individuals from being able to focus.  This may explain why being in a dark room devoid of distractions allows an individual with a migraine to focus better and relax their eyes, contributing to some pain relief.

This also may the reason people with migraines find it so difficult to maintain employment and will often file for Social Security Disability. The work environment often involves noise, light, other people’s perfumes, etc., so it’s no wonder migraine sufferers have such a tough time on the job.

If you suffer from migraines, you may benefit from decreasing the amount of distractions present in your environment – be it at work or at home.  Additionally, when a migraine hits, it is prudent to escape to a quiet, darkened room to ease the adjustment to all that is present around you. If your migraines are so bad that even these measures do not help you, it may be time to file for Social Security Disability.

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