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John A. Moran Eye Center Ophthalmologist Creates New Kind of Light-Filtering Eyeglasses to Combat Migraine

Move over rose-colored glasses: millions of people with migraine have a new eyewear option as spring light and weather changes can increase attacks.

Dr. Katz holds a pair of Avulux eyeglasses.
Moran Eye Center neuro-ophthalmologist and scientist Bradley J. Katz, MD, holds a pair of Avulux eyeglasses.

This spring, people with migraine have a new option for managing light sensitivity thanks to eyeglass lens technology developed by a physician-scientist at the University of Utah John A. Moran Eye Center.

Migraine headaches are a leading cause of disability, impacting around 47 million working-age Americans each year, with women four times as likely to have 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,” says Moran Eye Center neuro-ophthalmologist and scientist Bradley J. Katz, MD. “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 says approximately 80 percent of patients with migraine report light sensitivity during attacks, and 49 percent report that following headache, 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 points out they do not filter the red-orange wavelengths important for reducing light sensitivity, and wearers see the world through a rose-colored hue.

Avulux migraine glasses
Avulux migraine glasses
Avulux migraine glasses
A sampling of Avulux eyeglasses.

Katz has spent a decade collaborating with colleagues and industry to develop a next-generation technology, 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 can 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 headache symptoms.

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, which may, as part of a healthy lifestyle, help people living with migraine. 

The news is welcome in the spring, as patients experience increased attacks as light and weather change.

“I recommend lenses with filters to my patients,” says Moran Eye Center neuro-ophthalmologist and scientist Kathleen Digre, MD, 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. Our patients can try both FL-41 and Avulux in our clinics.”

University of Utah Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Steve Blair, PhD, designed the light filtering characteristics of the lenses and developed the first prototypes of Avulux. The University of Utah’s Technology Licensing Office helped Blair and Katz patent and commercialize the new lenses, and both 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.

“I have worked to develop non-pharmaceutical approaches to the treatment of migraine as I have increasingly encountered patients who are looking for treatments that do not involve prescription medications or procedures,” says Katz. “I hope this provides another useful tool for people living with migraine.”

Moran Eye Center neuro-ophthalmology specialists Bradley Katz, MD, PhD, and Kathleen Digre, MD.
Moran Eye Center neuro-ophthalmology specialists Bradley Katz, MD, PhD, and Kathleen Digre, MD.

About the John A. Moran Eye Center 

The John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah is the largest ophthalmology clinical care and research facility in the Mountain West, with more than 60 faculty members and 10 satellite clinics. 

Physicians provide care in all ophthalmic subspecialties, and Moran supports 20 research labs and centers.