cinemas and migraines

It's occurred to me that quite often when I go to the cinema I end up with a migraine. Sometimes this happens during the film, sometimes the next day. Sometimes I'm probably going to have one anyway, and it's probably the cinema experience that's tipped me over the edge. Television doesn't do this to me, though computer screens & mobile phone screens can.

3D seems to be a big culprit - I don't quite get the special effects & would prefer a good old-fashioned black & white film any day. Last week I had a bad time the day after watching The Hobbit in 3D, and at times had to close my eyes because the action on screen was making me feel seasick. The trailer for the film was an extra long preview of the new Star Trek movie, which made me feel quite ill. (Not a Treckie, so missing this won't be any great loss).

Even a normal film can be a bit much and it depends on where I sit. Too far at the front and my neck's in the ideal position to cause problems. Too much in the middle & higher up & it feels all right in my face. Saw a film a couple of years ago called "The Tree of Life" (with Brad Pitt - wish I hadn't bothered) - the cinematography was great but to me the colours were far too bright & guess what happened?!

I've flicked through Dr. Oliver Sacks' weighty book "Migraine" again, and read that he had a patient who could get migraines from something as innocent as a button on someone's coat being a bit askew. I suppose all those vivid images must be doing something to upset the delicate balancing act going on inside my brain.

But I'm not going to give up rare trips to the pictures -it just means planning it a bit better with regards to getting a good seat, and maybe cutting out the 3D ones. I won't be buying an e-book type machine thingy either, though that's because I'm a Luddite.

18 Replies

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  • Cinemas and migraine: tea drinker's post suggested to me that brightness is a common strand with visual auras and migraines. Wonder whether reactive sunglasses would be helpful? Smartphones and tablets by the way often have automatic or manual brightness adjustment which is very useful.

    I gather that there are special coloured glasses for people who have dyslexia. So perhaps there might be a similar type for migraineurs whose brains get stressed by things like crooked shiny buttons.

  • I suspect you are right. I haven't been to the cinema for 10-15 years because I always left the cinema with a migraine, and even as a young child I remember leaving the cinema with a headache. Flashing lights on the TV screen can trigger a migraine, even travelling in a car at night with the headlights of oncoming traffic have to been know to do so, fireworks too. For me it's a case of avoiding situations which could potentially trigger a migraine.

  • I agree that 3D cinema is an unpleasant experience. Not sure if it is the content or the use of 3D. I dislike crowded noisy scenes in 2D cinema, especially battle scenes. Not keen on night clubs or very crowded London underground either. All these things leave me feeling very drained even if they dont trigger a migraine. As Mosaic says it is best to avoid situations which could trigger a migraine but can be difficult if ones nearest and dearest do want to see the latest film. If I must go to a film I dont want to see I try to doze off or go to the toilet during the noisiest buts. This seems to be more socially acceptable than refusing to go at all.

  • I would echo Mosaics account of cinema and car headlights etc -1st migraine i ever had at 4 yrs watching Bambi at cinema. Spent years having to leave films halfway through to throw up. Now at 48 I rarely go to the cinema and am certainly not going to tackle a 3 hour film -whether in 2 or 3 D. I cannot watch any 3 D by the way it immediately triggers migraine. The British Migraine association based in Leicester were doing a survey via Facebook about cinema and migraine when the Hobbit came out.

    I'm not sure theat Cerium lenses for dyslexia would help that much - both my kids have them and they are for 'visual stress' to stop static letters moving around spontaneously, rather than images that are already moving. Plus they filter out red quite often.

    Teadrinker -don't rule out an e reader -remember they are not the same sort of screen as a computer or TV -there is no background oscillation at all. I was getting to the point of having to give up reading paper books as i couldn't find anything with large enough print that would let my eyes and scalp muscles relax enough to read without triggering migraine - even with reading glasses the black print on white paper is enough to set off migraine - .

    Had a Kindle a year now and LOVE it - don't get any headahes or migraines from reading -unless i just go on too long when i should be asleep!

  • I read something in the paper today about The Hobbit's visual effects being a bit much. I like films too much to give up the cinema altogether, but that is one of the choices I'll make - I can go but maybe not on a work night!

    As for your comments about bright lights, I can clearly remember dreading my parents needing to buy new lampshades in the 70s &80s. (For some reason they seemed to get through a lot of them). It always entailed a trip to the lighting department of British Homestores, and I always felt lethargic, headachey, sick & unwell in there whilst they spent forever choosing them. That's why we have very boring lampshades in my house now - I am quite aware of deliberately spending as little time as possible in that section of B&Q.

    And come to think of it, my very first migraine (which was misdiagnosed as "wax in the ears" & I never thought anything of it until properly diagnosed over 20 years later) occurred whilst watching a video of the film "Heathers" in my student house with the lights off (probably to save money on electricity). Just writing about it I can feel the nausea! That was a real full-blown hemiplegic left arm, unable-to-speak, pounding headache thing which left me sick & reeling for days. Thank goodness I didn't know what a stroke was in those days or I'd have been really scared.

  • Hello - yes I've only recently realised that cinema is a big trigger for me which is completely crappy as I love going to the cinema! If I manage to go and don't have one it's amazing! I think like most things migraine related it's all about the threshold though. So if you are having a good few months then you might be ok - but if you are in a particularly sensitive migraine patch then it's probably a no no.

  • I have never been sure what triggers my migraines but I think that there is some visual disturbance connection. Recently my gym has put in flashing coloured lights which are supposed to enhance the gym experience as the lights flash in time to the music. While I can't say that these have triggered a migraine, they do make me feel very uncomfortable and I have had to ask for them to be turned off. This request has not always been welcomed and I have had to threaten to leave the class for my request to be taken seriously.

  • That sounds awful! I thought going to the gym was about being healthy, that sounds like a really unhealthy environment. I've often wondered what happens to people who can't tolerate strobe lighting effects - there's often signs up at theatre or music performances that say that strobe lighting will be used, and this isn't always made clear when you buy tickets. Do they give last minute refunds to someone who might get a migraine or have an epileptic seizure? I doubt it!

  • That sounds awful! I thought going to the gym was about being healthy, that sounds like a really unhealthy environment. I've often wondered what happens to people who can't tolerate strobe lighting effects - there's often signs up at theatre or music performances that say that strobe lighting will be used, and this isn't always made clear when you buy tickets. Do they give last minute refunds to someone who might get a migraine or have an epileptic seizure? I doubt it!

  • That sounds awful! I thought going to the gym was about being healthy, that sounds like a really unhealthy environment. I've often wondered what happens to people who can't tolerate strobe lighting effects - there's often signs up at theatre or music performances that say that strobe lighting will be used, and this isn't always made clear when you buy tickets. Do they give last minute refunds to someone who might get a migraine or have an epileptic seizure? I doubt it!

  • That sounds awful! I thought going to the gym was about being healthy, that sounds like a really unhealthy environment. I've often wondered what happens to people who can't tolerate strobe lighting effects - there's often signs up at theatre or music performances that say that strobe lighting will be used, and this isn't always made clear when you buy tickets. Do they give last minute refunds to someone who might get a migraine or have an epileptic seizure? I doubt it!

  • That sounds awful! I thought going to the gym was about being healthy, that sounds like a really unhealthy environment. I've often wondered what happens to people who can't tolerate strobe lighting effects - there's often signs up at theatre or music performances that say that strobe lighting will be used, and this isn't always made clear when you buy tickets. Do they give last minute refunds to someone who might get a migraine or have an epileptic seizure? I doubt it!

  • I don't go to the cinema for this very reason; the cinema is a major trigger for me and I will leave staggering around with an attack. It isn't only the visual elements for me, but the volume of the sound.

  • Interesting comments! I don't go to the cinema very often (though I've enjoyed watching Harry Potter films on a bigger screen and I hadn't noticed they give me a migraine (or trigger one specifically - but as I have headaches most of the time it's rather hard to tell). After a disastrous trip to a big multiplex to watch Lord of the Rings some years ago, which left my husband refusing to ever go again due to the tinnitus pain it caused him, I have opted to go to our small local cinema instead (persuading my kids to come along for company) where the screens are smaller and the sound less deafening and it's easier to choose a seat at the right distance for neck and eye comfort. Amazingly, I was able to watch "Skyfall" there without ill effects. I also feel quite virtuous as I am supporting a small local business! I don't think I would dare try a 3D film though.

    I've had a Kindle for two and a half years and love it as it's much easier on the eyes (and wrists) than reading a normal book, especially in the evenings or at night. It's great to be able to alter the font size too, though it does mean moving the pages on every few seconds. Make sure you invest in an e-book that has the proper e-ink though, as reading on an ipad or iphone is awful, I find the laptop I'm using now isn't great either!).

    Driving (or more likely being driven, these days) along deep Devon lanes with strobe lighting effects through the trees can be very unpleasant and I tend to watch telly in the evenings with all the lights off as I find that much more comfortable on my eyes (and my husband's less likely to notice if I fall asleep) I'm due for an eye test next month and suspect my prescription may have altered in the last couple of years - it's always worth checking that and I'm wondering about permanently tinted lenses. Any ideas if that could help, anyone?

    Thanks, Patti

  • I have found I am affected by focusing on various sizes of screens and lighting changes in a day such as looking at the computer, than the TV. I had one Hemiplegic Migraine attack while seeing Batman: The Dark Knight Rises and I am still trying to figure out what caused it. I had to wait it out through blind spots and paralysis of one hand because I didn't want to ruin the movie for my friend and hubby. There are a lot of factors though. I went at night after a long day at work so I was tired, I had eaten a cheeseburger at a fast food restaurant for dinner with friends right before the movie, I had red licorice during the movie (which I later found out has wheat in it). Gluten can sometimes be a trigger for migrainers. I might have been concentrating or focusing to hard on the action scenes with constantly changing flickering images. It might have been too warm or too cold in the theater. Sometimes the excitement of something I enjoy can even trigger it. There are so many variables! I do wear glasses though and have a lot of visual aura constantly.

  • Do you eat popcorn at the pictures?

  • Urgh.

    I haven't been to the cinema in years, but I am feeling sick just thinking about it. Since the brain haemorrhage, I'm more sensitive to pretty much everything, sound, light, smell, all of it, but, even prior, going to the cinema wasn't a pleasurable experience, and I'd generally fall asleep. Classic shut-down for you.

    I had a spate of consecutive migraines a couple of autumns ago, the low-lying sun flickering through railings on my way to work appeared to be the trigger, I had something in the region of 23 migraine-onsets during a period of a couple of months. The triptans took the edge off, and left me just-about-functional, but I've read about triptan over-use/withdrawal since then...

    One thing that did appear to help was tinted spectacles, my optician said that my prescription was fairly negligible, and that she wouldn't advise purchasing glasses to correct it. Here I am, anyway, sitting in rose-tinted glasses, with another optician's appointment next week, the brain haemorrhage has left me with some loss of vision on my left side, everything looks like I have a butter-smeared plasma-ball in the edge of my peripheral field on the left. Worrying, because visual disturbance was one of the parts of my migraine aura, it's almost six months since the aneurysm ruptured, and I've spent most of that time wondering if I'm starting with a migraine.

    The husband is a musician, he has a degree of tinnitus, and a degree of industrial deafness, he can't stand quiet, because then he can hear the 'aeroplane' noise, so insists on having the TV on, as 'background' when he's in. I have to leave the room, because he'll have something he's not watching blaring out of the TV, and the surround-sound, while he plays YouTube videos on his laptop, it's a very unpleasant overload.

    Jack Spratt and his wife come to mind.

  • Having a real problem with theatres now. Sometimes, they have lights pointing at the audience as well as the stage, and anything with flashing lights is an absolute no-no. My worst problem is taking my little grandchild to the theatre, where it seems obligatory now to sell all the kids flashing plastic gizmos, which many of them have on during the whole performance. Totally spoils it, and I think I am going to have to give up going which is a great shame.

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