Special glasses may ease migraine pain

Doctors say vision problems may trigger headaches

Melany Moras suffered her first migraine last spring when she was pregnant.  It lasted an entire weekend.

"I was hiding in my closet because I couldn't really be out. I was dizzy. It was really bad," said Moras.

She didn't want to take medication because of her pregnancy, but she ran into an engineer who offered her a potential solution -- glasses designed specifically for migraine patients.

"It actually helped tremendously. I started feeling better. It reduced my headaches," said Moras.

Dr. Brad Katz is a neuro-ophthalmologist at the University of Utah.  He invented the coated lenses that helped Moras.

"Nine percent of men and 18 percent of women have migraines. It's a huge problem, the most common neurologic disease there is," said Katz.

Eighty to 90 percent of migraine patients suffer from light sensitivity.  Katz said the glasses block wavelengths of light that can trigger the headaches.  He worked with a light transmission researcher to design the frames.

"Even when they put on a pair of glasses, they're bothered by light that comes in from the sides, or the top or the bottom.  This particular frame we've chosen has a more form-fitting frame so that it prevents any ambient light from coming in around the sides," said Katz.

The lenses are non-prescription.

"The change can be dramatic," said Katz.  "Some people refused to give them back."

Clinical trials will begin on the glasses this spring in Utah with a group of about 50 patients.  Several companies already sell tinted lenses for migraine sufferers, but researchers hope to meet the criteria for FDA approval, so they are doing the necessary studies.

If the glasses are proven to be effective, they would be a new drug-free option for migraine patients, including children and pregnant or nursing women.

Sometimes a regular pair of glasses may be enough to ease headaches.  Doctors said needing glasses or having the wrong prescription are both potential headache triggers.

"I say this is their first stop on the headache trail," said Dr. John C. Hart, Jr., a Beaumont ophthalmologist in West Bloomfield, Mich.

Hart frequently sees patients suffering headaches because of a vision problem.

"The age group where we see that the most is the people who are fighting bifocals or reading glasses," said Hart.  "Patients who are in their 40's, and they get the 'long armed disease,' where they used to be able to read here, but now have got to hold it far away."

Headaches are also common in children needing glasses for the first time.  Hart said the culprit is eye strain.

"Eye strain, where you're trying to change the shape of your lens to be able to see at a given distance, is going to give you headaches.  Because basically there's small muscles in your eye that are basically being asked to do more than they can."

Regular eye exams can rule out vision problems as the source of headaches and sometimes uncover a much bigger concern.

"Rarely, but unfortunately, we do see patients with real medical problems; brain tumors or other systemic diseases that we pick up because they got headaches," said Hart.

But for many patients, the solution is relatively simple.

"Headaches are never normal, so if it's just glasses, that's a pretty easy fix," said Hart.

To learn more about the migraine glasses, click here.

For Dr. Hart's website, click here.

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