Migraines & Sensitivity To Light? 3 Medical Conditions You’ll Want To Rule Out

If your eyes are sensitive to light and you have debilitating headaches which you believe are migraines, you may be interested in getting a pair of light sensitive sunglasses. However, it's important to get a proper diagnosis for your light sensitivity and headaches to rule out causes other than migraines and/or conditions that are comorbid to migraines. That way, you can get the appropriate treatment and the best sunglasses for the condition that ails you. Here are a few uncommon conditions that can feel like migraines that may be relieved by wearing light sensitive sunglasses.

Occipital neuralgia 

The occipital bone is the curved part of your skull in the back of your head. The nerve that runs along this bone is called the occipital nerve. Occipital neuralgia is the pain of this nerve.

The symptoms of occipital neuralgia include severe throbbing pain on one or both sides, sensitivity to light, and pain behind the eye(s). Since these symptoms are some of the same symptoms of migraines, some people believe they have migraines because it's a more commonly known condition. 

The main difference between occipital neuralgia and migraines is that the pain from occipital neuralgia is often triggered by a touch to the affected region, such as putting on a hat or hair brushing, whereas migraines are not. In fact, when determining a diagnosis of occipital neuralgia, a doctor will push on the occipital nerve to get a pain response. Treatment for occipital neuralgia typically includes taking medication, using cold packs, and wearing special sunglasses to help alleviate headaches. 


Hydrocephalus is a condition in which there is a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain. You may have heard of this condition before being referred to as water on the brain. The buildup of cerebrospinal fluid puts pressure on the cells of the brain in the ventricles, which are four open spaces in the brain. 

The symptoms of hydrocephalus include headaches due to the pressure, vomiting, irritability and vision problems including papilledema, which is the swelling of the optic nerve and explains sensitivity to light. As the condition progresses and cerebrospinal fluid continues to build up, someone with hydrocephalus may experience urinary incontinence, dementia and have trouble walking. Unfortunately, this condition can be fatal if not treated. Therefore, it is crucial to get a proper diagnosis to determine if your headaches are caused by this condition. 

To diagnose hydrocephalus, a doctor will run a series of tests which may include an ultrasonography, a CT scan, and an MRI. Treatment for hydrocephalus involves the surgical placement of a shunt to drain the excess cerebrospinal fluid from the brain. Light sensitive sunglasses can help reduce pain from sensitivity to light. 

Chiari malformation 

Chiari malformation is the herniation of the cerebellar tonsils at the base of the brain. The herniation occurs in the small opening located at the base of the brain where it meets the spinal column.

The symptoms of Chiari malformation depend largely on if the herniation limits the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid. However, the most common symptom is a headache that starts in the back of the head and radiates towards the eyes. Other symptoms that mimic migraines include sensitivity to light, seeing flickers of light, and dizziness. 

To diagnose this condition, a doctor will order a CT scan to determine if there is a herniation and a cine MRI to determine if the cerebrospinal fluid is affected. A cine MRI is a movie which shows the movement of the fluid. Treatment for Chiari involves lifestyle changes, such as wearing sunglasses for light sensitivity, but may involve surgery to remove a portion of the skull if the cerebrospinal fluid is blocked.