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What Causes Headaches with Sensitivity to Light and Sound

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Migraines are the most common cause of headache with light and sound sensitivity. However, understanding what causes migraine headaches, is crucial for effective management and treatment.

Headaches are an incredibly common condition, affecting almost everyone at some point in their lives. While many headaches are harmless, they can sometimes indicate a more serious underlying issue. Understanding what causes headaches, is crucial for effective management and treatment.

In this blog, we will try to explain headaches and its types, with special reference to those caused by sensitivity to light and sound. We will also provide some functional medicine remedies for the same.

Understanding Headaches

A headache is typically described as pain (inflammation) or discomfort in the head or face, often characterized by a throbbing, constant, sharp, or dull pressure.

The nature of headaches can vary widely in terms of pain type, severity, location, and frequency.

Headaches are generally categorized into two types. They are as follows:

  • Primary Headaches: These result from the dysfunction or over activity of pain-sensitive structures in the head. Common examples include tension-type headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. Tension-type headaches are characterized by a feeling of pressure around the head. Migraines involve a severe, throbbing pain accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound and nausea, while cluster headaches occur in clusters over a period of time and come with an intense pain around one eye. All these primary types are linked to brain inflammation and may not necessarily stem from another medical condition.
  • Secondary Headaches: These occur due to an underlying medical condition. Dehydration can cause headaches due to lack of fluids. They may also be caused by sinus infections or overuse of headache medication. Sometimes, they may occur due to more serious underlying conditions. For instance, spinal and thunderclap headaches are caused due to head injury, brain bleed, or sudden spikes in blood pressure.

Sensitivity to Light (Photophobia)

Indian woman photophobia

According to the American Migraine Foundation, Photophobia or light sensitivity is a frequent symptom of migraines. This sensitivity can occur before, during, or after a headache and is often triggered by artificial light.

Blue light, i.e. lights from digital screens, CFL, LED etc., in particular, is a common trigger. People suffering from photophobia often find relief in dimly lit or natural environments during a migraine attack.

Photophobia is typically exacerbated by visual stimuli like flickering lights, repetitive patterns, glare, bright lights, and prolonged screen use. People with migraines are typically more sensitive to light than others between migraine attacks.

Wearing glasses with blue light filters, and reducing exposure to bright lights can help manage this sensitivity.

Sensitivity to Sound (Phonophobia)

Loud or prolonged noise exposure can trigger migraines and other headache types, particularly tension-type headaches.

This condition, known as phonophobia, involves an increased sensitivity to sound, which can worsen headache pain and negatively impact quality of life. Common triggers range from loud music at a concert to the noise from construction work.

Phonophobia is often linked to hyperacusis; a condition where normal environmental sounds are perceived as excessively loud and painful. When the pulse you feel on the side of your temples is stronger (increased temporal pulse amplitude) it indicates higher blood vessel pressure. This is frequently observed in individuals with noise-triggered headaches.

Migraines can also be exacerbated by the dilation of blood vessels around the skull, which stimulates trigeminal sensory nerves that are in the head and enable us to feel touch, pain and temperature.

The sensory nerves then releases Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide (CGRP) which is a chemical that helps transmit pain signals, thereby further increasing brain inflammation and pain. Persistent loud noise exposure can cause nervous system hyper-arousal, leading to headaches. In today’s context, over-usage of earphones / headphones is also a common trigger.

Desensitization therapy, commonly used for anxiety disorders, involves gradual exposure to headache triggers like loud noises to decrease head pain or the frequency of headaches in the future.

Other migraine triggers include caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, cheese, weather changes, irregular sleep, stress, and hormonal changes.

Other Common Causes of Headaches and Migraine Triggers

There are several other factors can also trigger migraines. First, there are dietary factors such as caffeine, alcohol, chocolate and certain cheeses. Then there are environmental factors like weather changes and exposure to allergens. And lastly, lifestyle factors such as irregular sleep patterns, stress and hormonal changes are some of them.

High cortisol levels and hormonal imbalances, such as Estrogen dominance, can lead to headaches, particularly in women. Imbalances in brain chemicals, like having too much glutamate (a chemical that excites nerve cells), can also lead to headaches and mood problems.

Headaches can also result from structural issues like cervical spine problems, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, and dental infections. Even minor head bumps or hidden dental infections can throw things out of balance, contributing to headaches.

Functional Medicine Approach

Functional medicine views headaches as symptoms of deeper imbalances or dysfunctions in the body, rather than isolated issues. The conventional approach relies on over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, paracetamol, triptans or harsher drugs which are not really effective. On the contrary, the functional approach is a holistic approach that focuses on identifying and addressing root causes (primarily the inflammation within the body) rather than merely treating symptoms.

Some of the key strategies employed by functional medicine to correct headaches are as follows:

  • Dietary Adjustments: Identifying and avoiding inflammatory food triggers like gluten, dairy, sugars, processed foods. Along with performing gut cleanses can reduce inflammation and alleviate headaches.
  • Nutritional Supplementation: Using supplements like Zinc, Magnesium, Vitamin Bs & D, can help reduce headaches. Magnesium deficiency is particularly linked with migraines. Many people suffer from it and supplementing it can reduce or prevent migraine attacks by blocking pain and inflammation signals to the brain.
  • Detoxification: Removing heavy metals and other toxins from the body to restore balance and reduce migraine triggers.
  • Enhancing Mitochondrial Function: Improving cellular energy production to combat inflammation and boost overall health.
  • Lifestyle Interventions and Stress Management: Improving sleep hygiene, staying grounded, and managing stress effectively are crucial for reducing the frequency and the severity of headaches. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, and guided imagery can help alleviate tension. Natural remedies like Epsom salt baths, stress-reduction techniques like meditation and biofeedback therapy can also help. It can help manage increases in breathing rate, pulse, heart rate, temperature, muscle tension, and brain activity associated with headaches.
  • Hormonal and Neurotransmitter Balance: Managing hormonal imbalances, especially Estrogen dominance, and correcting neurotransmitter levels to prevent headaches.
  • Addressing Chronic Inflammation: Identifying and treating sources of chronic inflammation, such as infections, gut imbalances, leaky gut and toxic exposures.

One of the most crucial steps in managing primary headaches is identifying triggers. Keeping a headache journal can be highly beneficial.

Note the details of each headache, including potential triggers, duration, intensity, and accompanying symptoms. This information can help healthcare providers make accurate diagnoses and develop effective treatment plans.

Secondary headaches often require treatment of the underlying medical condition. For instance, managing high blood pressure, treating sinus infections, or addressing medication overuse can alleviate headache symptoms.

Diagnostic imaging like CT scans or MRIs should be reserved for cases as a last resort where other diagnostic methods are insufficient, as it exposes the patient to the potential risks of radiation exposure.

Headaches with sensitivity to light and sound can significantly impact daily life. Understanding the underlying causes and triggers is essential for effective management.

Through a combination of environmental adjustments, stress management, and a functional medicine approach that addresses root causes, individuals can find relief and improve their quality of life.

If headaches persist or interfere with daily functioning, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider to explore further diagnostic and treatment options.

Our team of functional medicine experts at is well equipped to diagnose and identify the root cause of your headache, and devise a functional medicine treatment plan for its reduction or prevention. Get in touch with us at Wellfinity.

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