U develops glasses for migraines

[/media-credit] Engineering professor and researcher Steve Blair demonstrates his latest project, glasses that aid in preventing migraines caused by light sensitivity.

For years, migraine sufferers have been forced to seek relief in closets and dark basements. But thanks to the efforts of researchers at the U, they might be able to face daylight — with special tinted glasses.

Researchers at the Moran Eye Center discovered specific colors of light are key migraine triggers. For the past 10 years, they have been using tinted lenses to filter out those colors and help patients with severe light-induced headaches.

Two years ago, researchers from the center went to Steve Blair, professor of engineering and physics, to see if those lenses could be transformed into more effective glasses.

“I looked at it and said, ‘Yeah, we can actually do that, and we can implement that technology right into optic lenses,’ ” Blair said.

Since then, Blair has tweaked the glasses a bit. The current model features a wraparound lens, which blocks the offending colors from all directions.

“Many migraine sufferers are sensitive to light,” Blair said. “It’s almost always a mechanism to make headaches worse when you have them.”

Although the original lenses filtered the pain-causing colors in light, wearers were literally seeing through rose-colored glasses that tinted their vision. The new glasses, however, have little effect on vision.

“With the lenses you get the same therapeutic effect … You don’t notice any change in your color perception when you wear the glasses,” Blair said.

The glasses are now in clinical study because researchers want to know how the glasses affect the frequency and severity of migraines.

Jolie Coleman, a colleague of Blair’s at the College of Engineering, said the glasses make a big difference. Coleman suffered light-induced headaches frequently and was one of the early testers of these new glasses. Before getting the trial glasses, she had tried without success to control her headaches by reducing the light in her office.

“One day, I was talking to him about [his research], and I said that I had migraines,” Coleman said. “He asked me if I would be a guinea pig … and wear them to see if they would make a difference.”

The informal trial on Coleman proved to be successful. Blair said the glasses have worked really well for her.

“I can drive in the car on a sunny day,” Coleman said. “I think it basically cuts enough light for me that my headache calms … It just calms my head so that I don’t have to shut myself up in the dark.”

Blair said many migraines today might be caused by modern technology.

“There really are certain colors that are causing these problems,” Blair said. “These colors are emitted prominently by fluorescent lights and computer screens … You probably know people who have problems looking at a computer screen or walking into a bright office … that’s all linked.”

Migraines could become more common as environmentally friendly fluorescent lighting becomes more common. In the meantime, the glasses seem to be calming the pain for many sufferers.

“I don’t know if there’s anything that will really prevent you from having [migraines],” Blair said. “But we really just want to get people back to their normal activities as soon as possible.”