Precision-tinted lenses have been used since the 1990s in Britain to help people who are "poor readers," a condition which can have symptoms similar to those of dyslexia.
Researchers have already noted that certain striped patterns can cause migraines in people with aura and even seizures in patients who have epilepsy that involves light sensitivity.
For this study, Huang and his colleagues assessed 11 people with migraines and 11 without the headaches using a functional MRI machine, which captures brain activity in real time. They wanted to see if tinted glasses normalized brain activity in the people who get the pounding headaches.
All participants were asked to look at "stressful" striped patterns (high-contrast stripes a certain distance apart) through three different pairs of glasses, one of which was precision-tinted.
The tinted glasses were individualized for each patient so they would experience the most comfort and least distortion of the pattern.
The researchers noted a normalization of brain activity in migraineurs wearing the tinted glasses while they were looking at the different patterns. The specific type of brain activity is known as hyperactivation and is present when migraines are occurring.
Participants with a history of migraines also reported less discomfort (by about 70% compared with 40% for the other lenses) when looking at the patterns through tinted glasses.
The glasses used here are "regular glasses with precision tints" and can be used as often or as little as the person wants, said Huang, who is an associate professor of radiology at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
This is the first time that scientists have been able to come up with a neurological explanation for why tinted glasses work in preventing migraines, the authors stated. Their research was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
But, don't put on your rose-colored glasses to prevent migraines just yet.
"This is an interesting study, but I would have to see more data and more people," said Dr. Carmen Ramirez, an assistant professor of internal medicine in the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Bryan. "It's a start to more research. It's applicability would have to be explored further."