Visual Cues Found to Be Influencing Migraines

Unfortunately, only for the worst

The fact that people suffering from migraines tend to prefer more quiet, darker places is a widely known fact. Whenever headaches become unbearable, migraine sufferers look for the darkest room available, and spend the next couple of hours with as few distractions as possible. Anecdotal tails about how the presence of light and excessive visual stimuli make matters worst prompted the attention of researchers from Scotland, who took a keen interest in uncovering the mechanisms connecting the two. They have indeed managed to find a connection, and a fairly clear one at that.

The main conclusion of the new study is that people who tend to suffer from migraines actually process visual cues better than if there are no distractions around. In an unexpected twist, the research team found that this was also true when these individuals did not actually have migraines. Their brains appear to be more primed for picking up, or focusing on, single visual cues when there is no “light noise” around. This was demonstrated in carefully devised scientific experiments, in the research group's lab.

In the study, the team asked a number of volunteers to focus on discovering a small circle of white light inside a sea of light noise. The background resembled the effect TVs show when there is no signal. That fuzzy, black and white noise is apparently very confusing for those that have migraines more often. When the test subjects were asked to find the white circle without the background turned on, both sufferers and those who never complained of migraines performed similarly. However, when the noise was added, those prone to headaches performed significantly worst. At the time of the study, they were not suffering from actual migraines, the team adds.

“Our visual environment is generally very busy and full of objects, many of which are important at some times but not at others. Normally, we can attend effortlessly to those items of interest and often do not even notice others. [Migraine sufferers] may be at a disadvantage when searching for details, especially in cluttered environments,” explains Diplom-Ingenieur (FH) of Optometry and lead study researcher, Doreen Wagner. The expert is also a PhD student at the Glasgow Caledonian University Vision Science department. Details of the work appear in the April issue of the scientific journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.

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