Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) can cause headaches or trigger migraine in some people. However, some research suggests green LEDs may help with migraine symptoms and headaches.

Exposure to LEDs occurs frequently in everyday life, including from computer and TV screens, smartphones, and vehicle headlights.

This article looks at the potential risks and benefits of LEDs for headaches and migraine, headache prevention tips, and when to contact a doctor.

A person with LED lights shining on them, which can cause headaches. -2Share on Pinterest
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LEDs may cause headaches and migraine in some people. They may create a flicker effect which may trigger headaches or migraine. Dimming LEDs may increase this flicker effect.

The flicker of LEDs may be greater than other lighting sources. Although the flicker may not be noticeable to the human eye, it may cause side effects, including headache and migraine.

Liquid crystal display (LCD) screens, which may use LEDs for backlighting, flicker 60 times per second. In some people, particularly those with photosensitivity, this may cause headaches and eye fatigue.

According to the National Headache Foundation, photophobia, which is an increased sensitivity to light, is a common symptom of migraine. In some people, LEDs from computer and TV screens may trigger a migraine attack.

LEDs may be amber, red, green, or blue. The color people see does not match the actual color of the light. The “white” light we see from LEDs is usually a combination of colors.

The color of LEDs may make a difference in how they affect headaches and migraine. A 2016 study suggests certain LED colors may cause headaches due to their effect on the retina and light-sensitive nerve cells in the brain. Blue light is usually the most painful light for people.

According to a 2016 study, white, blue, amber, and red light worsens migraine considerably more than green light. Its authors state that blue and red light may cause the most sensitivity in people with migraine.

The findings of a 2021 small-scale study suggest green light may help improve migraine. The study involved 29 people with either episodic or chronic migraine. Researchers exposed the participants to white and green LEDs for 1-2 hours per day for 10 weeks and compared the results.

They found that exposure to green LEDs significantly decreased the number of headache days, improved quality of life, and reduced the intensity and duration of headache attacks, with no reported side effects.

Symptoms people may experience after exposure to LEDs include:

Photophobia may make people more likely to have an increased sensitivity to LEDs. Bright artificial light and changes in light levels may also worsen pain in people with migraine.

Migraine is a common cause of photophobia. Other causes include:

If LEDs trigger migraine, the following tips may help:

  • wearing tinted glasses, especially those with an FL-41 tint
  • wearing glasses that block blue light or have red lenses
  • getting exposure to green light
  • wearing sunglasses when outside in direct sunlight
  • talking with a doctor about medications, such as triptans or nonsteroidal drugs
  • getting preventive treatment for migraine to help reduce photophobia
  • getting enough sleep
  • treating any mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, which may worsen light sensitivity
  • aiming to work close to natural light sources, such as a window
  • avoiding flickering lights or glare

It is important that people do not regularly stay in dark environments to try and avoid symptoms, as this may increase light sensitivity.

Treating migraine may help reduce photophobia and the effects of LEDs. Immediate treatment for migraine may include:

  • resting with the eyes closed in a dark, quiet room
  • placing a cool compress on the forehead
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • taking over-the-counter pain relief medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • taking nausea-relieving drugs

For short-term relief, the following medications may be suitable:

For chronic migraine, taking a medication called atogepant (Qulipta) daily may help with prevention.

Doctors may also prescribe other oral medications to treat chronic migraine, such as:

  • antidepressants such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline, or venlafaxine
  • medications to lower blood pressure, such as metoprolol or verapamil
  • anti-seizure medications such as topiramate, valproic acid, or gabapentin

People may be able to ease discomfort from LEDs by:

  • treating or preventing dry eyes, which may increase light sensitivity, with artificial tears
  • reducing the usage of LED-lit devices, such as computer screens, smartphones, and TV screens
  • wearing glasses that block blue light or using filters on lighting fixtures
  • turning on filters to block blue light on devices
  • avoiding using bright screens in dark surroundings
  • wearing nighttime driving glasses to reduce glare from headlights

If symptoms do not improve, or exposure to LED lighting is causing frequent headaches or triggering migraine, people can contact a doctor.

Blue, red, white, or amber LEDs may cause headaches or trigger migraine in some people. People who have photophobia may be particularly sensitive.

Green LED light may be the only color that does not cause or worsen headaches. It may even help reduce migraine and headache symptoms.

Using filters to block blue light, getting exposure to green light, and trying preventive steps against migraine may help reduce headaches from LEDs. If they continue to cause headaches or migraine, people can contact a doctor to discuss a treatment plan.