Like many other migraineurs, I suffer from photophobia, a sensitivity to light. My photophobia is constant, and gets worse as my pain gets worse, but since I've been living with this particular migraine since November, the photophobia has been particularly stubborn as well.
Also like many other migraineurs, I cannot tolerate fluorescent lighting. Part of the issue is the color of the light itself: the fluorescents at my office are tinted a warmer yellow, which I can live with, as opposed to the horrendous (and cheaper) blue-white found in many stores. These fluorescents not only immediately worsen my migraine pain, dizziness and nausea, but also have an unpleasant tendency of sending me running to the nearest bathroom with soupey poopies within 15 minutes. If my office had this blue-white lighting, I would have had to leave my job already.
Unfortunately, the tint is not the entire story. The imperceptible flicker of fluorescents is enough to drive the sensitive migraine brain wacko. This makes it a particularly difficult problem to deal with. Many of us cope by wearing sunglasses, or tinted glasses, but this is not always a viable option for me since I work in a field where I regularly meet with clients and consultants, so wearing sunglasses to these meetings would not be appropriate. It also doesn't do anything for the flicker, really, just gives our eyes a break from the brightness of the lighting.
What is a migraineur to do?
Fortunately, the woman in charge of office services at my office is also a migraineur, so she was able to help me get the fixtures over my cube turned off. This makes it possible for me to get through a workday without being miserable. It does nothing, however, for the fluorescents in our conference rooms or in the rest of our office.
Some months ago, I came across mention of the use of Nike Maxsight tinted contact lenses as a way to ease light sensitivity in Dr Alexander Mauskop's Headache NewsBlog. This reference simmered in the back of my head for a while, and I have since come across other mentions of the use of contacts to address light sensitivity. The Migraine Girl asked in an entry about MigraLens and Irlen contacts specifically for combating fluorescent lighting sensitivity.
After much Googling, I finally scheduled an appointment with my ophthalmologist when I discovered that his office carries the Nike lenses. I'll also note here that Nike discontinued these lenses a few months ago, but I figured I could at least schedule the appointment and talk with the eye doc and see if he had any suggestions. Who knows, the Nike lenses could be my saviors, and I would just order them in bulk from an internet supplier.
I went in for my appointment two and a half weeks ago with my eye doc, and explained my problem. He thought for a few minutes, then came out with a surprising statement - he had a few ideas, and he wasn't sure what would work but he was willing to work with me until we found a reasonable solution. He specializes in contact lenses, so I felt somewhat confident in his statement. He had some trial Nike lenses at his other office that he would look through to see if he could find any for me, and he would also dig up some other trial tinted lenses - just regular cosmetic FreshLook lenses with a slight tint - for me to try.
By the end of that week, he had the Nike lenses ready for me. He scheduled a two-week follow-up appointment with me, to give me time to try out the lenses.
First reaction: they make me look like some sort of demonic beastie (migraine beastie, maybe?). The ones I tried are the grey-green tint, which actually wash my eyes out to black. A very strange effect, but one I would put up with if they solved the fluorescent lighting problem. I would even put up with the startled coworkers.
Unfortunately, I only made it a few days with the lenses. I discovered my brain started to freak out after wearing them for about six hours. The tinting in them was too strange a color for all-day wear. (Imagine the color of bug lights - that's what color these lenses made everything.) This tint was especially pronounced on cloudy days, and we have a lot of those here in the Pacific Northwest. I also had a run of several severe migraine days, which may or may not be related to the lenses. They did help out a lot with sunlight though, when worn under my regular sunglasses, so it wasn't a total loss.
I had my follow-up appointment with my eye doc today. He offered me another, much more expensive option, which is prosthetic lenses. With these custom lenses, he can control exactly how much light is allowed into my eye, and I will not see any sort of a tint. He took some measurements of my eyes for these lenses and told me my pupils seem to dilate more than they should (not surprising - they also dilate unevenly depending on the severity of my migraine).
I feel these are a better option for me than the Nike lenses, but custom = expensive. He's taking a look into pricing for me and his office will call before they order them. The price tag should come in somewhere under $1000 - I may be able to get some medical insurance coverage for this, but it's not likely. (My vision insurance is basically only enough to cover my annual exam.)
I will be seeing my new headache specialist in just under a month, and I plan to pick his brain about this, at least because I want to see if he'll write a letter of medical necessity. He may have some other ideas too, who knows. The nice thing about these lenses is that they will reduce the amount of light entering my eyes in the periphery, which I think may help quite a bit with the fluorescent lighting issue. It won't solve it - really, nothing short of avoidance or removal will - but it's something.
Before I make this much of an investment, I will be doing some thinking about this. A part of me had hoped that my migraines would resolve somewhat quickly so I wouldn't have to deal with the photophobia/fluorescent lighting issue. But that is not likely to happen, and I need to find some ways to make my life more livable in the meantime.
Crazy idea? Maybe. As a side note, more blog space will be devoted to the fluorescent lighting issue in the future, on the advocacy side of things. Stay tuned for updates.
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