U ophthalmologist and engineer develop eyewear to help those with light sensitivities avoid debilitating headaches.

The original post from the John A. Moran Eye Center can be viewed here.

People suffering from migraines now have a more effective option for managing light sensitivity thanks to eyeglass lens technology developed by scientists at the University of Utah.

Migraine headaches are a leading cause of disability, impacting around 47 million working-age Americans each year, with women four times as likely to experience them than men. Debilitating attacks triggered and exacerbated by light sensitivity can derail career and family life with pain, nausea and depression.

“Whether it’s yourself, a friend or a family member, we all know someone who has sought out a dark room to try to deal with the symptoms of migraine,” said neuro-ophthalmologist and scientist Bradley J. Katz of the John A. Moran Eye Center. “I have seen these patients in my practice over the past 29 years, and as a researcher, I have worked to understand light sensitivity in order to develop therapies that can help improve their quality of life.”

Katz said approximately 80% of patients with migraine report light sensitivity during attacks, and 49% report that following headaches, light sensitivity is the most bothersome symptom.

But not all wavelengths of light cause the problem: research has shown light-sensitive cells in the eye, known as intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, are most activated by specific wavelengths of light at the blue-green end of the visible spectrum and at the red-orange end of the spectrum, whereas green wavelengths in the middle are the most comfortable.

FL-41 tinted lenses have been on the market for years and partially filter problematic wavelengths. While FL-41 lenses predominantly filter blue light, Katz pointed out they do not filter the red-orange wavelengths, and wearers see the world through a rose-colored hue.

Katz has spent a decade collaborating with colleagues and industry to develop a next-generation technology, now available as Avulux Migraine & Light Sensitivity Lenses. The lightly tinted lenses block higher percentages of the problematic wavelengths of light while transmitting the more comfortable wavelengths. Wearers also view colors normally.

Katz anticipates up to 80% of migraine patients will find Avulux eyeglasses reduce not only their light sensitivity but also the severity of their headaches. The lenses are the first to have been tested in a clinical trial and received FDA confirmation of classification to be marketed as general wellness tools. 

“I recommend lenses with filters to my patients,” said Moran Eye Center neuro-ophthalmologist and scientist Kathleen Digre, former president of the American Headache Society and a colleague of Katz who has co-authored research with him. “They have no side effects, and many find they prevent some headaches.”

 Steve Blair, a professor at the John and Marcia Price College of Engineering, designed the light filtering characteristics of the lenses and developed the first prototypes of Avulux lenses. The university’s Technology Licensing Office helped Blair and Katz patent and commercialize the new lenses, initially through their startup Axon Optics in 2010, and both now hold equity interest in Avulux. The eyeglasses are available online and through select retailers with or without a prescription. They will be available at Moran Eye Center optical shops beginning in July.

Kaiser Permanente is conducting a separate clinical trial of the Avulux lenses to evaluate effectiveness along with the amount of medication participants need to use during an episode of migraine while wearing the eyeglasses.