Living with chronic migraine and photophobia

By Caitlin Richardson, who lives with chronic migraine

8th February 2023

I’m Caitlin, I am 22 years old and have been living with migraine for the past six years. I first developed symptoms when I was 17 and felt extremely worried. I had no idea what I was experiencing and couldn’t put a name to it. It was, of course, a very worrying time and through my recent diagnosis it all now makes a little more sense.

Developing migraine at 17

I first started experiencing headaches and a nauseating feeling when I was 17 and leaving secondary school. I had never even had a headache before – so what was going on? I went from nothing to having symptoms every day. Not long after, I kept seeing floaters in my vision along with double vision and double edges and I had an extremely difficult time in light… even if it wasn’t bright. This was and is still my biggest symptom of migraine and something I have found ways to deal with.

I invested in a pair of strong polarised and mirrored sunglasses which have now become something I can’t live without. They were extremely helpful in reducing the streaks and dots I was seeing in my vision. They also helped with my headaches as they stopped for a while.

However, soon after I finished my university studies, my symptoms began to flare up once more. I was once again confused as this time it felt a bit worse. Even indoors in the light, I was struggling to keep my eyes open without feeling extreme pain and dizziness. This would lead to me feeling rather unwell and once again, getting more headaches.

Caitlin smiling on holiday

My migraine diagnosis

It’s always important to check things through so after speaking to numerous doctors I was diagnosed with migraine. Before my diagnosis, I feel I was ignorant towards the word ‘migraine’. I had no idea this was a long-term and rather severe medical issue. I always assumed it was just another word for a headache and something that just happens now and again to people. But through my diagnosis and research, I now know it’s so much more than that. It is a condition affects lives. And it doesn’t just present in the form of headaches, but abdominal pain, the dizziness I experience, sickness and for me most of all, sensitivity to light (photophobia).

Managing my photophobia  

Photophobia is an unusual word and once again, something I hadn’t heard of until getting it diagnosed by a doctor. Not as the word suggests, it isn’t a fear of light – it’s an intolerance to light. This was the answer I needed to help me start finding ways to help ease the pain in my eyes. And these tips are what I want to share:

  • I wear sunglasses all of the time now whenever I am out and about. Sometimes indoors if it gets really bad. It felt odd to do this at first but it helps me ease the pressure that builds and causes pain. Even at night, I will go out rocking my aviators! I find traffic lights and road signs very bright in the dark.
  • I have also branched out into wearing tinted glasses with different coloured lenses. I had times of feeling self-conscious in them as they are quite big and bold but they are very important to me and anything that looks unique, in my opinion, is cool! At the moment I have red, blue and yellow which I wear for indoor use. The different colours, I find, being different strengths help in differing situations. The red, for me, takes out the most light whilst blue works better at night.
  • Wearing hats also helps to remove a good amount of light to ease photophobia and prevent my migraine attacks from happening. Eye masks work as well.

Everyone is different and has different ways of coping with migraine. It is something that, once dealt with, can become manageable but it isn’t always easy to find a solution. However, as someone who has chronic migraine and didn’t have an answer for years – there is a way life can still go on after a diagnosis and you can still do all the things you enjoy.

Always reach out and help people who have migraine and take the time to educate yourself about it – increasing understanding and raising awareness is so important. And remember… keep your friends close, but your sunglasses closer!